By Yollanda Zhang
Original publication was printed in the Neighbours Of Lawrence Park South Magazine and Neighbours of Leaside & Bennington Heights
A little while ago, I was walking my daughter to school and, as usual, she was talking a hundred words a minute! She’d had an idea that was, in her words: “really, really, really..." But before I could find out just how "really" it was, she stopped talking. Why? She overheard a boy on the other side of the playground fence we were passing, using a squeaky, high pitched voice and parroting "really, really, really" and then laughing.
When I asked her to tell me how “really” her idea was, she refused. I asked her if she was upset because the boy had imitated her. She wouldn’t answer. My usually confident, fearless 6 year old little girl was silenced by the voice of another, and it made me feel angry, and a little worried too.
Yollanda with Daughter
After I calmed down, I came to the realization that girls being silent was entirely learned behaviour—too often acquired young and persistently reinforced through the teen years, when girls are most vulnerable. I realized that if girls can learn to hide their voices, they can learn to use them too. This notion became the driving force behind my girls empowerment program: Girl. Strong. But really, the whole idea started with my grandmother.
Learning from the past
Kang Zhi-Min, my grandmother, was kind and selfless, which belied her tough upbringing. Raised by her grandmother, abused by family members, she was not allowed to be educated and, instead, was placed into an arranged marriage at a young age. As a result, my grandmother had no confidence in her intelligence or abilities.
Yollanda’s Grandmother and Daughter
The greatest tragedy of her life was that she never understood how wonderful, smart and courageous she was. We all saw it and even though we told her, she didn’t believe it. With even a little bit of confidence, she would have been a force for good, but with no role model, it didn’t happen.
Building Girl. Strong.
A few weeks after my grandmother died, I knew I needed to find a way to honour her and everything she had given to our family, and to be the role model that my daughter needed. I built Girl. Strong. as an empowerment program for girls 6 – 12 years of age that helps participants learn to use their voice before gender stereotypes become too ingrained. Some of the areas we discover at Girl. Strong. include:
STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math)
Positive habits and growth mindsets
A growth mindset to take girls forward
When girls have confidence, they can achieve anything. Parents can support this by helping them to develop a growth mindset, learning that while they may not understand how to do something, or may not feel confident about it, they can and will. Simply adding the word ‘yet’ to positive response statements shared with girls helps them to understand that learning is a lifelong skill.
Enrolling girls into positive programming like Girl. Strong. is so powerful. They will not just hear that they should be confident but will actually learn the skills that will enable them to be confident.
Women are breaking through the glass ceiling in all industries: showing girls that they can too will help them have the confidence to step onto the first rung of the ladder.