Bernadette Lim has received a grant to spearhead research on the status of girls and women in Boston.
Harvard University undergrad students are spearheading a women’s think tank policy group to research and publish a report on the status of girls and women in Boston. The results will be used for a widespread girls’ empowerment initiative designed to inspire young women to reject sexism and excel in challenging career fields.
Harvard sophomore Bernadette Lim, who is coordinating the research team alongside Harvard graduate Annie Ryu, says she is a passionate advocate for women and girls. She aims to identify the key obstacles Boston females face — health, family, career or otherwise — and determine effective strategies to combat them.
The team also is developing novel toys and games with positive messages for young girls, which will emphasize leadership and help girls build a strong sense of self-worth, she says.
The inspiration came from a class Lim took during her spring semester, “Philanthropy and Public Problem-Solving.” Funded by a $100,000 grant from the Make-a-Wish Foundation, students break into teams and research a social issue in Boston. Each group is allotted a portion of money (Lim’s received $7,000) to donate to causes they deem effective at addressing their social issue after studying their chosen issue.
“We realized there was very little information on the subject (of girls’ empowerment), and what we did find was very scattered,” Lim says. “We decided we really wanted to fund this research … and use that information to help organizations create more effective programming and opportunities for girls in Boston.”
Related projects are in the works, including a girls’ empowerment board game and a consultancy that would advise major toy and game manufactures to include more of a gender lens. Lim has reached out to Hasbro to collaborate.
“When we were younger, we never had any toys that helped us expand our career options,” Lim says. “These games would show different careers and pathways a girl can take, and we want to introduce those ideas at a young age.”
Her group drew inspiration from toy company GoldieBlox, founded by Debbie Sterling, a female engineer from Stanford University.
GoldieBlox and the Spinning Machine is the story of a girl engineer who builds a machine to help her dog chase its tail. The storybook comes with a pegboard, wheels, blocks, axles and other equipment that girls can use to build the machine themselves.
The company came to life just last year, and already GoldieBlox is available at Toys”R”Us and is a top-selling toy on Amazon. Sterling says the story will expand into a series and other products that take GoldieBlox on different adventures.
“I think the reason we’ve had so much success so quickly is because people are hungry for this kind of thing,” Sterling says. “There’s nothing out there like it.”
Sterling has received “photos, videos, e-mails, cards — parents are raving about the impact the toy is having on their kids. We’ve been getting messages about girls who, after playing with the toy, are now inventing and building their own things.”
Lim’s goal is similar: to create products that emphasize a positive self-image and encourage girls to pursue interest areas beyond stereotypes. She notes the media’s role in empowering young women, a subject her team focused on while conducting their research. One of their key goals is to encourage the media to project positive perceptions of women as opposed to ones with sexualized or demeaning connotations.
After researching organizations throughout the semester, Lim’s group selected social action campaign MissRepresentation as one of its grant recipients. Jennifer Siebel Newsom’s documentary of the same name generated major buzz at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival and later aired on the Oprah Winfrey Network. The film explores the media’s misrepresentation of women and the underrepresentation of women in positions of power.
“After Sundance, we went on to start a movement,” says Imran Siddiquee, MissRepresentation’s social media and communications director. “The non-profit campaign, MissRepresentation.org, focuses on calling out sexism in the media and empowering individuals to challenge the media to do better.”
Lim believes strongly in the campaign’s message and hopes her team’s continuing work to empower young girls will change the nation’s understanding of what it means to be a female.
“We want to see girls creating solutions for themselves and for their communities,” Lim says.
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