As women working to empower young women and girls in three African countries – South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya – we see the potential of young women. Their talents, resilience and ingenuity.  We also see the overwhelming challenges that many women and girls face. Looking at these, we can feel overwhelmed. What can we do to address these?

Youth Work that Builds Female Leaders

We have all heard the phrase, “Give a man to fish, and he will have food for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he will have food all his life”. Sometimes in our approach to empowering young women, we are still “giving fish”. We give them information but don’t give them opportunities to practise this. We are telling them what they should do or what they should become, without teaching them how to make decisions, learn from mistakes and consider the futures they want to see. We are not giving them the tools to dream, set goals and reach them, either in their lives or those of others.

Each Girl Matters

Many of the young women we work with have never been allowed to dream. We know that many of them have almost no self-confidence and self-belief. Throughout their lives they have been treated poorly or neglected, with family members who are struggling to meet their basic needs or worse. The first thing young women need to know, if they are to become leaders, is that they matter.

One of the things we realised in preparing this toolkit was the importance of small things in helping a young woman to recognise her value. You, as a youth worker, can make her feel that she matters through:

  • Remembering, as a minimum, her name – we were surprised in conversations with girls by how much this mattered to them
  • Listening attentively to her – often young women from challenging backgrounds have never had an adult around them with the time
  • Focusing on her potential, and what she has already achieved, rather than what she doesn’t have, or seeing her as just a problem to be solved

Opportunities to Lead Matter

We know that many youth organisations seek to teach young women to lead, often without building the foundations for young women being able to lead in their own lives. And we also know that many youth organisations teach leadership, rather than enabling its development.

The next generation of female African leaders need mentors

Mentoring is a useful tool for building young leaders and this resource focuses on it. Empowerment is empty if young women and girls are unaware of the options available to them, and do not know how to make informed choices. Even good options should be chosen, not fallen into by default. Women who are able to set goals and know how to plan to reach them become leaders in their own lives. They become women that others around them admire and are inspired to follow. It is the first step of leadership – leading in her own life. The second part of this toolkit gives tips specifically on mentoring. 

This isn’t a rule book

You can use this tool on your own or as a team to reflect on and develop your youth activities. Use it to:

  • Celebrate what you are already doing well, and everything you already know! 
  • Identify what you could do better
  • Spark your creativity
  • Inspire your team

So are you ready? 

You can read this guide as a book, or dip in and out. Each page can be shared with your friends and colleagues from your mobile. And each page has reflection questions so that you can relate the fruits of our experience as youth workers with your own project – essentially you can use this as a training course.

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