This week we celebrated International Women’s Day, 2022.

Every year I find myself with a strong desire to somehow put words around my work and insight into the worlds of the young women that I work with. Every year I struggle.

What can I say? What should I say?

More than ever before, body image issues run deep in the hearts and minds of young women. It’s almost as though the powerful, misconstrued belief that I need to look a certain way has become ingrained and (heartbreakingly) normal for our girls.

Let’s be clear; this goes beyond adolescent ramblings. We are doing young women far more than a disservice to palm this off as just a ‘normal phase’ within the crazy, teenage years.

No, this belief is something they have been taught; a lesson learnt through the heartfelt and powerful messages projected by the world and its cultures.

Whilst we’re seeing glimmers of hope more and more in the way girls are pushing back and questioning these damaging messages, there still lies a great challenge with this…

Embracing a counter-cultural message takes work, hard work.

It’s a job that in many ways rests on the shoulders of older, more experienced women who can intentionally lead them and lay out a life-sized, “How To Guide”.

I suppose it really shouldn’t come as a surprise then, that alongside the messaging around body and the powerful way it has been received, we have seen such an alarming increase in sexting practices amongst young women. Despite the shocking research that 1 in 3 Australians have been victims of image-based abuse, the silence around this topic is deafening.

Our scripting, “did you know it’s abuse if someone shares an intimate image of you without consent? Did you know that it’s a crime?”

The response, “No. We didn’t know because no one has ever told us.”

More and more we find young women engaging with pornography; a rise in their engagement with this explicit content.

When having conversations with girls, they often express the way they’re drawn to porn because of the belief that ‘all boys are watching it!’ (which is not entirely true). They’re curious and in many ways, eager to know what is required of them, their bodies and their sexuality.

Pornography as an educator has, is, and will continue to leave this generation of girls broken if something isn’t done to dramatically shift this culture. Its impact on young women seeps into so many facets of their lives in so many powerful ways; relationally, self-esteem, self-worth and of course their understanding of sex and relationships.

Girls are craving true and meaningful connections. They’re longing for health in their friendships. They’re desperate to feel seen and to be heard in their family relationships.

Girls are very much aware of the issues that other women around them are facing. Many could tell you the number of how many women have been killed by intimate femicide. Many could quote the definition of harassment, and the statistics around assault. They push back on ideologies that are damaging for them and their female friends, sisters and mothers.

I remember speaking in a school a few years ago. It had been a tough week as a number of women around Australia had been lost to domestic violence. I asked the girls to share with me about the pressures that girls are facing. One brave young woman raised her hand:

“Boys feel like they have a right to us, however, they want. They feel like they can say things about our bodies, harass us for nudes, make us feel bad for not having sex and… (under her breath) kill us.”

This comment hurt in a way that I still struggle to put into words.

In the same way that I want to protect my own daughter from the knowledge of these things, I want to protect these young women too. But beyond this; in the same way that I want my daughter to arise and become a fighter for herself and others, I want this for these young women too.

My work and my commitment to young women is stronger than ever. My hope for girls and young women grows every day. My belief that this generation of girls will change the world burns bright in my heart, every minute, every day.

May we know them. May we be them. May we raise them.

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