National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI)

DISRUPTHER: Powering Girls’ Civic Engagement for a More Equitable World

Civic participation

DISRUPTHER will build a cadre of politically active adolescent girls who are engaged citizens, civic leaders, and changemakers in their communities and countries.

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To learn more about – or provide significant funding to – this project, please contact Lever for Change.

Project Summary

When women are fully engaged in public life and hold positions of political power, there are stronger economies, cleaner environments, and greater gender equity. Yet, around the world, women are underrepresented in political leadership. If we want to achieve development goals and build healthy democracies globally, there is an urgent need to deepen the pool of adolescent girls with political skills and aspirations. Traditional leadership training alone is insufficient. DISRUPTHER offers targeted civic engagement training for adolescent girls aged 12-20. The program integrates successful programs on girls’ leadership, rights, and political participation; strengthens women’s organizations; and works with families, schools, and communities. DISRUPTHER will increase the agency, confidence, and capacity of adolescent girls to participate in political life. Ultimately, DISRUPTHER will build a global pipeline of adolescent girls who will disrupt the current system and serve as active citizens and leaders to advance their rights and a more sustainable future.

Problem Statement

Increased participation of women leads to more inclusive and resilient democracies, balanced economies, and stronger peacebuilding capacities. Yet, worldwide, only 20% of political leaders are women. Globally, girls and women are marginalized from the political sphere due to restrictive laws and institutional barriers, discriminatory cultural practices, and disproportionately low access to quality education, healthcare, and resources. In many parts of the world, women do not see a role in politics as a viable option from the time they are young. In the U.S., for example, while 62% of girls are confident in their ability to lead, only 20% aspire to national leadership, and only 19% want to be a community leader. Levels of engagement in party activism among young women are lower than young men. Gaps in confidence and a decline in political ambition happen early for girls. To expand the pool of talented women with political confidence, it is vital to reach young girls at a critical juncture—before voting age—and provide an enabling environment, exposure to political literacy, an understanding of their rights, and belief in their abilities. Until adolescent girls are empowered to exercise and uphold their rights as citizens, the goals and efforts underway to improve key development areas, such as health and education, will not be fully realized or sustainable. We cannot wait for adolescent girls to come of age. We have to be nonconformists to reimagine leadership development and equip them with political agency and confidence today.

Solution Overview

DISRUPTHER provides a game-changing and globally-scalable solution to increase the political engagement of adolescent girls. The robust, civic-based curriculum will bolster existing programs with girls aged 12-20, fortifying their confidence, laying the building blocks for political engagement, and instilling principles of public service as beneficial and attainable. These non-partisan programs will emphasize voice and assertiveness; decision-making; self-confidence and resilience; organization; and vision and ability to motivate. Adolescent girls will liberate their capacity to disrupt impediments and occupy civic and political spaces.Girl-centered programs will employ girls’ leadership and empowerment as a fundamental principle. Peer networks will provide safe, dynamic, girl-led spaces for adolescent girls to learn, engage, and support each other’s growth as leaders and political activists, creating a sense of belonging and inclusion. Participants will have opportunities to practice newly acquired skills in political forums and to courageously take action in their communities. The program will build buy-in among the individuals and institutions which may otherwise impede adolescent girls’ political activities and ambitions—including families, schools, and community leaders—in order to foster an enabling and sustainable environment. DISRUPTHER will work with and through established women’s organizations, simultaneously empowering adolescent girls and bolstering women-led local partners. Our work will lead to adolescent girls’ increased capacity to participate in civic and political life; create an enabling socio-cultural environment for adolescent girls’ leadership potential and political participation; and funnel support to existing local women’s institutions and movements who champion and reinforce adolescent girls’ ability to be agents of change.

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