In recent years, advocacy has become more of a priority in the work that we do both with the girls, and in the communities our girls inhabit. A crucial component of our advocacy work is that it be girl-led. We know that girls are the experts on which issues affect them most and that girls are capable leaders. With this in mind, and guided by the Taking Action toolkit we created the Teen Leadership Council, or TLC. Made up of interested teens who have been part of our programs for several years, this group develops projects to advocate in many ways in the community and supports teens in their growth into becoming public advocates on issues they care about.
The group’s inaugural project was the organization of a forum for candidates running for the open 3rd Congressional District called “SmartGirls, Bold Questions.” The forum was scheduled for January 2020, so starting in November, the TLC researched, practiced public speaking, and planned. Once the candidates had been invited, the teens focused on which issues were most important to them and then formulated questions to address those issues. Free and open to the public, the event exemplified the meaning of girl-led. Over 450 people attended, including 100 girls from 2 schools, to watch the Teen Leadership Council ask questions that mattered to them to the 8 candidates who participated.
The TLC continued to meet virtually after the start of the pandemic. They virtually testified for and again bills during the 2021 legislative session, but their top priority was HB 142, the Affirmative Consent bill. Affirmative consent is a basic skill all girls learn at Girls Inc. Everyone at Girls Inc., staff, volunteers, and girls, must ask before touching or hugging someone. If someone says no, that is accepted with respect! This promotes bodily autonomy and helps girls learn how to engage in healthy relationships as they get older.
They led a virtual affirmative consent panel to discuss what affirmative consent means, their experiences with it, and the importance of HB 142. The legislation would have required all New Mexico schools to teach communication skills to obtain sexual consent from intimate partners. While HB 142 died in the Senate Judiciary Committee to have the chance to be voted on, the TLC will continue to advocate for making a difference for their community!