By Gabriela Baron

A global youth-led campaign is demanding equal power, freedom, and representation for girls and young women all over the world.

Plan International’s Girls Get Equal campaign #RewriteHerStory is a call for equal representation and recognition on how girls and young women are portrayed in the media, in textbooks, in advertising, on-screen, in video games, and in other forms of communication.

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Through the global youth-led movement, Girls Get Equal, Plan International demands power, freedom, and representation for girls and young women in the Philippines so they can be free from violence, access adolescent-friendly sexual and reproductive health and rights services, and reduce their vulnerabilities during crises (Photo courtesy of Plan International Philippines)

“Stories and images of girls and young women’s power, leadership, and activism are rarely told or seen. They are rarely told by girls themselves,” said Plan International Philippines, a non-profit organization that champions children’s rights and equality for girls.

“Older men still dominate decisions over which stories to tell and how to tell them. This perpetuates inequality and prevents the world from waking up to the power of girls.”

Narratives influence self-image

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“Be a Girl Champion” author Chloe Reynaldo and host Ceej Tantengco during Plan International Philippines Media Awards on Tuesday, January 28 at Sulo Riviera Hotel, Quezon City (Gabriela Baron / MANILA BULLETIN)

Young author Chloe Reynaldo, speaking at the Plan International Philippines’ Media Awards launch on Tuesday in Quezon City, said she was fortunate to have found cartoons she believed exhibit feminine power, from which she took inspiration growing up.

“In Spongebob Squarepants, there is a girl named Sandy, she is a scientist and [that’s] never [been] a big deal. She’s just shown as someone who’s intelligent, hardworking, passionate about what she does.

“Another cartoon that I personally like was Totally Spies, about three girls who are spies; each girl kind of represented an archetype of a girl. Like, Sam was the smart one, Alex was the tomboy one, and Clover was the girly, chic, feminine one.

“[An] important message there is that, none of those girls were ever told as being better than the other,” Reynaldo said.

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(Photo courtesy of Plan International Philippines)

A 2017 research authored by Amanda Shendruk in The Pudding showed that only 26.7 percent of all DC and Marvel characters are female and only 12 percent of mainstream superhero comics have female protagonists.

The problem does not affect only comics; media in general, including children’s literature, cartoons, computer games, and even coloring books, have a history of poor female representation and gender imbalance.

Reynaldo underscored the importance of empowering and truthful representations of the female in cartoons in honing young girls’ mind and perception of themselves.

“What you see is what you believe, so when I was younger and I saw Sandy as a scientist, I thought ‘Yeah I could do that too,’ and that’s how simple it is. What many people do not realize is how much kids internalize these stories, because it’s what they see. Many times [kids] listen to the cartoons on the TV or iPad more than they listen to their parents or teachers, that’s what they’re exposed to.”

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(Photo courtesy of Plan International Philippines)

Reynaldo added that she wants to see more stories portraying how girls form healthy relationships with others and with one’s self. “A lot of the media represents girls as emotionally repressed. I want to see more stories about healthy connections and healthy ways of expressing emotions.”

Reynaldo, who started writing at four, authored “Be a Girl Champion,” a compilation of stories about seven young girls who faced hardships in their lives but came out stronger and wiser.

Carolyn Cocca, author of the Eisner-nominated book “Superwomen: Gender, Power, and Representation,” highlighted the concern about women’s lack of representation in media.

“If the constantly repeated story is that women and girls are not leaders, are not working in professional settings, are not agents of their own lives but merely adjuncts to others, and are sometimes not even present at all, it can reinforce or foster societal undervaluing of women and girls.”

A 2011 documentary film “Miss Representation” makes the point that girls and young women need to see women represented in the media as powerful in order to envision themselves in such positions.

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Plan International Philippines launched the first-ever Plan International Media Awards on Tuesday, January 29, 2020 at Sulu, Rivier Hotel in Quezon City (Photo courtesy of Plan International Philippines)

#RewriteHerStory is a vision and ambition toward ensuring that every girl or young woman in the Philippines is recognized, empowered, and truthfully represented in all storytelling platforms.

Among its goals are to promote diversity and inclusion across all genders; for women to take the lead in challenging stereotypical and sexist media portrayals; for storytellers to actively advocate for gender equality through their works; to pursue gender-equal and inclusive stories; and to shape media representations and stories to be gender-equal, inclusive, and empowering.

Plan International has been working in the Philippines since 1961.

READ MORE: Child rights org urges media to be ‘equality allies’, launches first media awards

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