Girls for Gender Equity (GGE) works intergenerationally, through a Black feminist lens, to center the leadership of Black girls and gender-expansive young people of color in reshaping culture and policy through advocacy, youth-centered programming, and narrative shift to achieve gender and racial justice.
GGE uses a powerful “three-legged stool” model, which combines policy change, direct service, and cultural change as tools for liberation. Each of GGE’s legs uplifts and centers the lived experiences of Black cis and trans girls, nonbinary and gender nonconforming young people of color, and issues that they find most important to their livelihood. The three legs reinforce each other and allow the foundation to stand; they cannot exist without one another. Through this framework, GGE works with partners and program participants to identify collective healing strategies from past trauma and systemic injustices, remove institutionalized barriers, reshape power structures, and create the conditions for girls and gender-expansive young people of color to live safe, joy-filled, and self-determined lives.
GGE’s work to end girls’ incarceration, just one of the many interconnected issue areas GGE works on, illustrates their model in action:
- At the community level, GGE holds group programming and supportive services for JustUs, New York City Administration for Children’s Services’ first gender-responsive diversion program for trans- and cis-girls and lesbian, gay, bisexual/transgender, and gender nonconforming (LGB/TGNCNB) young people involved in or at risk for involvement in the juvenile legal system, in Brooklyn.
- At the city level, GGE launched a participatory action research process called The School Girls Deserve, which resulted in a report and campaign by the same name that highlighted the pathways in which young people in NYC experience criminalization in schools and the strategies for school transformation young people designed. The School Girls Deserve work directly led to GGE’s advocacy to eliminate language in NY state law labeling youth ‘incorrigible,’ which resulted in the passage of New York State Assembly bill A5873, “The Incorrigible Bill,” in March 2021.
- At the state level, GGE released The 2021 State of Black Girls In New York State Report and Issue Brief II: Ending Girls’ Imprisonment as a call to action for New York State to invest in care and divest from youth control.
- At the federal level, GGE worked with Dr. Monique Morris and Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley to introduce The PUSHOUT Act, which addresses the discriminatory use of suspensions, expulsions, and school-based arrests that ultimately push girls of color out of school.
The policy work, issue brief, campaigns, and program each engage different stakeholders and use different methods to move us closer to a just and equitable world.
Trinity has supported GGE’s important work through $350,000 in grants over the last four years. In addition to providing general operating support, Trinity was an early partner and investor in the JustUs program, which was launched in December 2020 in collaboration with the Vera Institute of Justice, Rising Ground’s STEPS to End Family Violence, and the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS).
JustUs was developed following the work of the 2017 NYC TaskForce on Ending Girls Incarceration and the 2015 New York City Council’s Young Women’s Initiative Work Group on Anti-Violence and Criminal Justice. The work of these groups found that girls in the juvenile justice system—who are disproportionately girls of color and/or LGB/TGNCNB youth—did not have access to many resources, and programs that were available did not address their unique needs and lived experiences. This is due to the fact that there are fewer girls in detention relative to boys overall; about 600 girls enter detention annually and make up about 20% of the youth population in detention. The low number of girls in detention paired with the fact that most girls face low-level charges means that they’re often overlooked and left out of reform measures and support programming. However, the data also shows that ending girls' incarceration in the not-so-distant future is within reach. In light of these findings, JustUs was developed to provide gender-responsive supportive services to reduce girls’ legal involvement and eventually help eradicate girls’ detention in NYC altogether.
The JustUs program aims to help youth participants develop skills that promote self-sufficiency, self-reliance, and personal growth in addition to decreasing their feelings of isolation. JustUs does this by centering the experiences of its participants, focusing on their healing, and providing financial stipends to participate. The program blends one-on-one coaching and individual support with opportunities for young people to come together to build community with other participants and trusted adults. JustUs programming covers a wide range of topics including civic education, conflict management, workforce development, economic empowerment, and advocacy training.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the first year of the program was virtual and brought its own set of challenges. Over the last two years, the program has steadily seen an increase in attendance, participation, and peer referrals from the young people in the program due to staff consistency and their ability to transition back to an in-person model. JustUs groups are now fully enrolled and participant enthusiasm has led GGE to begin designing an alumni network so that participants can stay involved after they finish the program.
The growth of JustUs over the last two years, as well as participant engagement and feedback, indicate that there is a desire from girls and LGB/GNCNB young people who are involved in the juvenile legal system to receive this type of support. As GGE and its partners gain more insight from program participants and look ahead to the next phase of the program, we hope that scaling this work will continue to help move us closer to ending girls’ incarceration in NYC altogether. Furthermore, as part of GGE’s multi-pronged approach, it is developing leaders and advocates who will lead us to a world that better supports the needs of girls of color and LGB/TGNCNB youth for future generations.