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Girls and young women are underrepresented in the media. They are often written about from the perspective of adults. The startup Girlhood enables girls to find their voice in the media. An important factor, as the founder explains.
Masuma Ahuja is a journalist who used to work for the Washington Post and CNN. In 2021, she founded the London-based startup Girlhood, a community platform that teaches girls from around the world how to tell a good story and produce it for the media. Girlhood's mission is to bring female perspectives from adolescent women into the media industry. The community platform has worked with girls from more than 20 countries, e.g. Kenya, the United Kingdom and India. In addition to tools for good storytelling, participants inspire each other and benefit from sharing experiences.
Currently, Girlhood is part of the GNI Startups Lab Europe. The program takes place in cooperation with the European Journalism Center and us, Media Lab Bayern. Today on International Women's Day - the founder explains why young girls also need their place in the media landscape. Because until now, adolescent women are often invisible in the coverage in media.
The problems of gender inequality aren't localized to one geography, but are very much global. For me, this was the inception for building Girlhood -- this startup was born from work I've been doing for the last few years. In 2018, I wrote a series for The Lily, a publication of The Washington Post, about the lives of teenage girls around the world. That series then turned into GIRLHOOD -- a young adult book I wrote that was published in 2021, featuring 30 girls from 27 countries. All of these endeavours have stemmed from the fact that girls' voices are underrepresented in media. Very often, girls' stories are written by and for adults -- to explain teens to parents and teachers, to explain the latest trends. But there's very little perspective from girls, that centres them and their perspectives, and helps them feel seen and navigate the circumstances of young adulthood.
As a journalist, Masuma was responsible for digital innovation and storytelling at the Washington Post. Her work has earned a Pulitzer Prize, a Murrow Award, a Webby and an EPPY, among others. Her book Girlhood chronicles the lives of teenage girls around the world. Based on it, the author launched the startup Girlhood.
Social media platforms have been an incredibly powerful tool in helping people who wouldn't otherwise have platforms speak up, tell their stories, and build communities. But, just because social media exists doesn't mean we don't need news and media organizations, culture makers, and curators. I think it's also worth adding that as a girl online, you often face a lot of toxic content, trolls, and abuse. Social media platforms are not built for girls' voices or for their well-being. And traditional media doesn't center ordinary girls' lives, voices, and experiences.
I think of a larger global context. As much as we have moved forward, gender inequality still exists globally. Girls don't have equal access to resources, safety, education, or opportunities globally. That has been the case in all decades until today. As long as inequality exists, it will be a thing that people make movies and music and books about. We all want to be heard and seen, we all want to be treated with respect and equality. And I think it's important to note that our identities aren't segmented, a lot of this is intersectional -- while violence and inequality exists for trans people, non-binary people, while racism and xenophobia and ableism exist, people are going to keep talking about it.
Things keep moving forward, but change and progress are slow. We have a lot further to go.
Equal rights, equal access to safety, education, and opportunities. Where everyone can be themselves and is enabled equally to reach their full potential. Where people don't fear for their safety because of their identities. Where everyone has the same starting point and the same access to resources and opportunities to build the lives they want. Where everyone is treated with equal respect.
Approachable, authentic and sustainable
How the media industry is developing
Girls’ voices are underrepresented in media and in culture. We teach girls storytelling because we want to give them the skills to tell their own stories -- whether they want to be media-makers (journalists or influencers) or something else entirely. Because storytelling is an essential skill -- the stories we tell shape our cultures, our societies, the way we understand each other and the world. And this isn't something most of us are generally taught in school. Literature classes teach us how to analyse books and other people's thoughts -- which is important! -- but we're rarely told that our voices and perspectives are important and matter, or given the tools to use them.
You asked this question differentiating between media-makers and consumers, but I think the two are related.
We need more diverse voices in media, we need more women but also more non-binary voices and a lot of different types of voices, beyond just gender diversity too. Globally, the people tasked with telling our stories are predominantly men. This means, men writing about women or girls, but they don't live those experiences. So they are asking different questions and that shapes the story. If you live something, the questions you ask are very different. Having more women in media organizations across the board changes the content we're producing and serves the users.
I'm the only person who's been working on this full-time, but we have a team of trainers, advisors, volunteers, and a couple of interns, and this includes people of different genders.
We need to pay attention to all underrepresented communities in mainstream conversations and narratives, every day, and not just on one specific day. But if this day gives us an opportunity to start those conversations, I think that's just great.
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I think, as I already said, we need more women across the board. But we also need things to keep them and to empower them. It is not just women, we need more diversity of marginalized and underrepresented identities across the board. And that means allies stepping up and making space for voices and people who don't often get given a seat at the table, or who aren't often heard. And we shouldn't just expect people to speak for or represent one aspect of their identity -- we need them to be our music critics and our political correspondents and our editors-in-chief, too.
It's been helpful to meet other start-ups across Europe who are tackling the same types of questions, and to have a space to engage in conversations and support each other.
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