October 11 is the International Day of the Girl Child, a United Nations observance begun in 2011. The day draws attention to the state of girls in the world, which is often a grim picture. Perhaps most important, it also involves girls directly in the work of making change.
In this country, the observance is called the Day of the Girl, and is a movement led by girls. Their website lists their central beliefs:
- Girls are the experts on issues that affect girls. The solutions to these issues must come from girls. Their voices need to be centralized and elevated in social justice conversations.
- Girls from marginalized communities must be central in conversations about social justice issues involving those communities.Truly effective social change cannot come without girls’ leadership.
- Girls’ issues are intersectional. We must intentionally include people who are different from ourselves in our social change work. Otherwise we will not be able to make a meaningful impact — in fact, we could even do damage to huge populations of girls.
This list impressed me as I began my research, and I was curious to meet these girls who understood so clearly a process many of us are still learning. So I contacted them and asked if someone on their Action Team would be interested in doing an interview with me for the Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona blog. I quickly got a reply from someone who said she would bring my request to their planning meeting.
A week later, I got the news that Hannah Hildebolt, age 17, of the Day of the Girl Action Team would talk with me. We made our arrangements, and I am happy to present that interview here.
How did you get involved with activism, particularly the Day of the Girl (DOTG)?
My activism stems from two things: my AP World History class and the camp I used to attend, the Center for Talented Youth (CTY). CTY is a very liberal community, and many of the attendees are activists, so I picked up a lot of interest in social justice while I was at camp. During the school year, this interest was heightened because I was taking a world history course over two years, and the teacher was quite clearly interested in axes of oppression and activism in general. You could say that CTY gave me the modern context for my activism and the history class gave me the historical one. In late 2015, one of my CTY friends recommended that I join DOTG as a way of turning my social justice interests into action. After checking out DOTG’s media, I applied and was chosen for an interview. The rest, as they say, is history.
Your bio at the Day of the Girl website lists LGBTQ rights, mental illness, and racial equality as strong interests. How did these issues come to matter to you?
All three of these issues are [issues] with which I personally struggle. First, I’m bisexual, so I’m hurt and angered by a lot of bi erasure and bi skeptics. Second, I have clinical anxiety and have dealt with depression in the past. I know what it’s like to live with those things in a society which isn’t too accommodating. Finally, I’m half-Korean on my mom’s side, but I’m white-passing, so I’ve thought about race a lot as a concept and [have] seen the way it plays out in the lives of different people. All of these facets of who I am give me empathy for other people who find themselves in the same position, and that’s really why they matter to me. I am fairly comfortable and privileged — I live in a nice town and I go to an amazing high school. It’s the fact that there are loads of people out there who are being negatively affected by who they are which makes me want to create change in the issues which are close to my heart. It’s important that people recognize that things like gender equality, LGBTQ+ rights, mental illness, and racial equality are still affecting people on large and small scales. That’s something I don’t want my generation to forget, and it’s time for us to deal with it.
For the first time, we have a woman running for president for a major political party, and she may well become our first female president. As a young woman, how do you feel about this milestone?
For a lot of people, voting for Hillary is an anti-Trump thing. For my family, it’s a pro-Hillary thing. Despite her faults, Hillary is an amazing candidate — definitely the most qualified one that I know of. Just seeing the rapture on my mom’s face when Hillary came onstage during the DNC was enough to show me that having the first female candidate (and potential president) could be life-changing for plenty of women. Representation is important — we follow role models as humans. We watch each other. Hillary is proving to millions of women, young and old, that the impossible can be done. There is no telling how far that will resonate across our country and across the world at large.
A recent press release from the Day of the Girl addresses needed improvements in sexual education. What has your sexual education class been like? Do you think it was complete and helpful, or what would you like to see changed to make it better?
My sex education class was pretty good. It was part of my 10th grade health class (I’m a senior now), so the details are a little foggy, but I remember it being fairly comprehensive in terms of sexual safety. That said, I would have liked to see more representation of the LGBTQ+ community in those lessons — I think they mentioned something about being gay, like, once. That was pretty upsetting to me as a young bisexual kid. However, I know that my school is a pretty serious exception here, because it’s one of the top public high schools in the nation and it kind of has to have a decent sex ed curriculum or the parents would go berserk. There are many high school health classes across our nation which suffer omissions far more serious, and I’d definitely like to direct most of your attention to those rather than my school.
Recently, there have been several cases in the news in which judges give light sentences to students convinced of rape, so as not to interfere with these young men’s futures, while disregarding the futures of the young women involved. How is the Action Team addressing this issue?
Most of the Action Team is right around college age, so this issue is right at the top of our heads. We are currently working on a campaign called In Solidarity, led by Action Team member Blythe, during which we hope to launch an online space where survivors of rape and sexual assault/harassment can share their feelings and experiences. Unfortunately, there is a lot of legal red tape around doing something like this, but we are doing everything we can to press on and we will keep our followers updated. We have an issue brief on rape culture here in the meantime.
I was impressed to see the central place you give to insectionality in your planning. How do you work to be inclusive in membership and in choosing issues to work on?
Well, obviously, we at Day of the Girl believe that intersectional feminism is true feminism. Thus, when we’re picking members for the Action Team, we take demographics into account as well as the applicant’s activism. We want all marginalized perspectives included in what we do here. Action Team members then take the issues close to their hearts — which are as diverse as the members themselves — and we create campaigns out of them. It’s certainly a learning experience for everyone here, and we’re all much more comfortable when we know we’ve made sure that what we’re doing is in line with our mission.
What kinds of activities are planned for the Day of the Girl this year? How can people participate?
This year, we’re looking at revamping and kicking off several of our campaigns, and you all will have to wait for the day itself to see what we’re cooking. We always have stuff going on, however, and this year we’re looking at the day as a time for our organization to revitalize and begin to expand. We’d love to have anyone on board who wants to help. First of all, here is the link to our Get Involved tab where you can fill out all of the info we’ll need to contact you so you know what you can participate in. The biggest way to get involved with DOTG on a regular basis is to apply to be an Action Team member. It takes commitment, but if you really want to be involved, we’re looking to expand the team and we’d be glad to consider anyone who applies. Besides that, you can always email us about a topic you love and ask to write for our blog, or even to be a regular writer. Checking out our various campaigns is another way to get involved — perhaps you feel like you’d want to do a faculty training session at your school for an issue we’ve got a campaign about, or you’ve found some other way you’d like to get involved.