Raising the next generation of female leaders: The “Academia” Girls Leadership Program

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The new WIZO program, which opened last year in Tel Aviv and expanded to Kiryat Gat, provides teenage girls with the skills they need to lead

Academia (also known as “Manhigut Tzeira” or “Young Leadership”) is aiming to do just that, to raise the next generation of female leaders.

Created by WIZO Israel and generously supported by WIZO USA, Academia is a program geared towards teenage girls who excel in school and who demonstrate leadership potential. Three of the main issues the program focuses on are Gender Equality, Social Responsibility and Community Volunteerism.

Based on the Ministry of Education’s model of community excellence, Academia recently received approval from the ministry as a recognized community service program and its participants will receive certificates of excellence in social matriculation after completing the three-year program.

The Tel Aviv “Academia” Group

The program’s sessions are guided by professional group facilitators, all of whom hold either a BA in Social Work or Education, and come with vast experience working with girls in gender studies. In addition, WIZO volunteer coordinators assist in each of the Academia programs. These coordinators are volunteers from WIZO branches who serve as a liaison between all relevant parties; the parents of the participants, the high schools they attend, and the facilitators.

The goals of the program are to instil motivation among the participants to carry out tasks relating to community leadership, to develop critical thinking regarding society gender issues, to develop a group with which will create impactful social activities, and to develop a group which will focus on Israeli social and gender issues.

Pilot Groups: Tel Aviv & Kiryat Gat

 Academia’s pilot group, which launched last year, consisted of over a dozen 10th-grade girls from the Alliance High School in Tel Aviv. All the participants were referred to the program by their school counsellors and then interviewed by the Academia program facilitator. The group met for 16 weekly two-hour sessions at WIZO Tel Aviv’s Ramat Aviv branch where the participants learned about social justice and gender equality. Eleven 11th grade girls have continued in the Tel Aviv program for its second year. A very committed group; the teens are learning how to invest their time and skills to advance their leadership capabilities and their communities. They have formed a unique and highly skilled unit and will be moving forward together to the third and final year of the program in the fall of 2019.

An additional program opened up this year in Kiryat Gat in southern Israel with 13 girls participating. Thanks to the dedication of the WIZO volunteer coordinator, the diverse group of girls in Kiryat Gat are bonding nicely. More groups in other cities are expected to open in the future.

The Kiryat Gat “Academia” Group

Public Speaking Skills

This program provides teenage girls not just with new knowledge and perspectives, but also new skills,” Chen Roth, WIZO Israel’s Coordinator of Programs for Girls, explained. “Among the many topics we cover, we teach them how to improve their public speaking skills, including the use of body language, making eye contact, and facial expressions. This allowed girls who may not have been comfortable speaking in public to gain confidence, and allowed girls who were already confident, the opportunity to improve and hone their skills.”

Having an opportunity to practice my public speaking in front of my peers, my confidence really grew,” Irit*, one of the group’s participants, said. “I was then able to make a speech in front of my school at an assembly for Yom HaZikaron (Memorial Day for IDF Soldiers).” Dana*, another participant fully agreed. “Because we got to record ourselves speaking, I was able to not only to hear the feedback my advisors gave me, but also to see my own mistakes and see how I could improve.”

Community Service

The teens participated in 30 hours of community service this year on projects relating to women’s issues. In addition, they volunteered in WIZO second-hand shops and tutored children in WIZO after-school programs.

End of Year Project

Throughout the meetings, a variety of topics under gender and social activism were covered. One important component of the program is the end of the year project, in which the girls incorporate what they learned from the discussions into a comprehensive project.

This year, the Tel Aviv group chose to focus on the concepts of beauty and body image. They conducted a survey of 156 girls and women, between the ages of 9-71, on how their own body image affects their shopping experiences and made a short film presenting the results. The movie also includes a section on the false image of beauty presented to women through models in advertisements.

The findings of the survey showed that 54% of the participants shop at least once a month, mostly buying well-known brands. 60% of women who were Instagram users stated they often compare themselves to other women’s photos on the social media platform. A striking 75% of women felt betrayed at least once by the brand they shop from because the clothes looked very different on their bodies than they did on the models. Most women stated that certain types of clothes did not fit their body shape at all and that their shopping experience would be more pleasant if the brands included a greater variety of body types and shapes in their displays and advertisements.

 “I felt empowered” – Group Participants Reflect

“The energy of the group was amazing this year, it always lifted you up,” said Yael* from the Tel Aviv group. “The discussions we had made me think and develop. We learned about women who dared to lead change, and I found many traits that I want to adopt. There are a lot of girls who downplay their capabilities, they need to be confident and speak up!”

Rotem* fully agreed. “Having these discussions with other girls really improved my self-esteem. The meetings gave me the strength to get through the week. I had a difficult year because school was intense and matriculations were coming up, but I felt empowered by these meetings. WIZO taught me to love myself! A woman should first appreciate herself in order to demand and accept the treatment and equality she deserves.”

We studied femininity and feminism in depth”, said Talia*. “The discussions helped me discover myself and a lot of sides I did not know I had. Thanks to WIZO and all the girls in the program who supported one another, I now realize how important it is to appreciate yourself as a woman.”

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