Why it’s more important than ever to listen to teenage girls

The month of March has been another vicious reminder of the perpetual injustices of being a woman. From Megan Markle's exposure of racism in the Royal Family and her subsequent treatment, to the murder of Sarah Everard and still unsolved cases of Blessing Olusegun and Belly Mujinga’s deaths, we have been reminded that the perceived ‘irrational’ fears for our safety aren’t so irrational after all.In her 2017 book, “Trainwreck: The Women We Love to Hate, Mock and Fear…”, Sady Doyle explores women throughout history - much like Megan Markle - who have been ridiculed for daring to be anything other than the oppressive, submissive housewife that is too often considered the safest version of womanhood for society to deal with. But there was one particular sentence that - for me - echoed everything the girls on our programmes have been saying over the past few months: “The privilege of controlling your own narrative is easy to take for granted.” Teenage girls have never been able to control their own narratives. Their unique experiences fail to be recognised in policy or data, with them falling into the gender neutral category of ‘children’. This means their needs and voices remain hidden, overlooked, or ignored. At a time when the nation is focused on recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, we must ensure that teenage girls' experiences take centre stage.That’s why we’ve launched our campaign, “FBB Presents: Herstories”, to pass the mic to the teenage girls of London and the North West of England to share their stories, hopes, fears and challenges as we emerge from one of the most difficult periods of history. It is only by taking a gender-aware approach and centering their lived experiences that we will be able to provide the specific and tailored support teenage girls need to thrive.

Over the next few weeks, you can hear from them directly at our roundtable event, read their insights in our forthcoming report, and see their stories in our latest coffee table book. The book documents girls on our programme alongside the women in their lives who have supported them, in what follows as an artistic depiction of shared womanhood that cuts across generations.In the classroom, the girls are flipping Doyle’s “Trainwreck” analysis on its head in our latest project “Unapologetically Us”, which explicitly develops the social and emotional skill of self-regulation. They are currently exploring examples of women throughout history who have used their emotions to create: art, music, literature, social change and much more. From Audre Lorde to Warshan Shire and Nina Simone to Beyonce, they have been acquainting themselves with feminist figures who’s work has paved the way for them to tell their own stories in 2021.

The stories of the past few weeks will inevitably play a leading role in the narratives about women in Britain for years to come: they are integral in understanding the lived experiences of being a woman in a patriarchal state. But when you have the privilege of working with teenage girls everyday, there is always cause for optimism. The stories they have told and will continue to tell are filled with courage, joy and love. I hope that their messages resonate with you.Word by Ceylon Andi Hickman. Head of Impact & Female Participation

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