Lancashire's Girls Out Loud: 'It's amazing when you see girls get their power back'
It would be disingenuous to start with anything but the tragic Sarah Everard case.
“It’s brought to the forefront the epidemic of violence against women,” says Jane Kenyon, the founder of the award-winning social enterprise Girls Out Loud. “Talk to any woman and she will tell you how she changes her behaviour to avoid feeling unsafe.
“Women have it drummed into them to not do this, not go down there, to be careful how they dress, not to provoke people,” she adds. “And then, if something does happen, we’re made to feel like it’s our fault.”
Founded in 2010, Girls Out Loud works to inspire teenage girls to harness their self-belief and maximise their potential. Herself a successful entrepreneur, coach, author, and campaigner, Jane started the enterprise as a result of her work with women who were all grappling with similar issues such as a low confidence and self-esteem under the glare of modern societal pressures on how women are supposed to look and behave.
Dedicating herself to working with teenage girls in an attempt to help at an earlier age, Jane’s work with Girls Out Loud - funded through business support, corporate sponsorship, donations, events, and campaigns - focuses on personal identity, elevating strong female role models, shifting the focus away from body image, and improving emotional resilience.
“To hear from girls with so little self-esteem can be heartbreaking, but it’s amazing when they get their power back,” says Jane, 56. “You see them physically rise.
“We can’t tell girls not to have a smartphone, engage with boys, look at porn, or have an eating disorder; all we can do is tell them that they’re good enough and empower them so they make the right choices.
“We need to make real structural, societal changes, one of which is acknowledging that we have a problem and another of which is educating boys,” she adds. “We need to push for law changes and have women around the table because the things coming out from the government are laughable.
“And that’s because they’re coming from men who have no concept of what they’re talking about.
“Things like undercover police in nightclubs is a joke,” continues Jane, from Knutsford. “Only three per cent of rape cases actually result in a charge, which is unacceptable, so we need things like better sentencing and more support for victims.”
Jane also says that it’s time for good men to be more than just bystanders, as well.
“This is as much a problem for good men as it is for women and they need to step up as allies,” she explains. “The amount of bad men out there getting away with a lot of stuff is appalling and, unfortunately for women, good men don’t wear badges.”
Operating in schools across the North West, Girls Out Loud initiatives include the Stardom Programme (in-school coaching for at-risk girls aged 13-15), Role Model Relay (a two-hour speed mentoring event for Year 8 and 9), the Big Sister Programme (a 12-month mentoring scheme), and the Girls Out Loud Apprenticeship Programme.
And Jane anticipates a rising need post-Covid.
“Mental health in young girls was not great before lockdown and all Covid has done is magnify that,” she says, stressing the importance of Girls Out Loud’s work being independent of schools so as to provide non-judgmental support. “Online grooming has increased nine-fold, anxiety prescriptions for teenage girls are up 50%, and eating disorders are up 42%.
“On top of that, we’ve seen a decade reversed in terms of social mobility, so the gap between the rich and the poor isthrough the roof.”
Hoping to create a ‘ripple effect’ of positive female role models, Jane says that the work is hard but fulfilling.
“If we change one girl at a time, they become the next set of role models over time,” says Jane. “Girls Out Loud is my legacy, it’s my passion, and my purpose.
“I’m so proud of the work that we do, I just wish we could do more of it.”