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April 10, 2012

Every Last Girl

As I walked through the narrow streets of Sonagachi in Kolkata, she and I caught each other’s glances. Sunita?

I could have sworn this was the teen that lived with us at Asian Women’s Shelter in San Francisco after she had spent most of her childhood enduring sexual abuse, forced labor, and imprisonment as a victim of human trafficking. At first, I felt a moment of relief to realize that this girl was, in fact, not Sunita. Then, a sinking feeling of guilt and despair set in as I reminded myself that this girl, as much as Sunita and every girl, deserves a life free from abuse.

The next day we sat in circles together with woman and girls who were part of Apne Aap, our host NGO in India. Apne Aap organizes women and girls in small circles of 10, where they come together to support one another, make change for themselves and the next generation. The power of these groups coming together and then joining with other circles in regional and national advocacy:  it is the power of the last women and the last girls.

MEV cohort members join in an Apne Aap motherhood circle

I thought back to my work in the U.S. I thought about Sunita. Our work together led to her and her family’s liberation from trafficking; led to important shifts in our own work; and impacted anti-trafficking legislation and policies.

How can we build on the individual, organizational, and policy work we accomplished with Sunita to further movement building?  How does this work support the collective power of those most impacted by the problem to be at the center of our strategies, policies, and solutions?

Sunita was part of a women’s support group, but that is not the same as a group of girls her age who can become friends and activists for themselves, each other, and for larger social change.

Can we help organize groups of ten, and in doing so create beloved community that will reweave the torn fabric of our communities into something more beautiful because it values women and girls?

For many of us in the Move to End Violence cohort, and for many in the margins of the movement to end violence against women in the US, the concept of the last girl resonates deeply. We understand the importance of working with the last girl. By working with girls facing the most challenging situations at the intersections of so many vulnerabilities, we are building creative strategies and change for every girl.

Can we make the pivot to dedicate and measure our efforts to their meaning and success for the last girls in our communities? Can we advocate for the larger movement to end violence against women and girls in the US to make the pivot with us?

We are already on our way. We have had the opportunity to see the power of the last girls and last women in India. We see this in the work of cohort members like Joanne at Girls for Gender Equity, Aimee at Close to Home, Corinne at Tewa Women United, Priscilla at Domestic Workers United, and many more.

I feel hopeful and grateful to join with Apne Aap, MEV cohort members, and each one of you who are reading this now to be part of this pivot, this great turning in our movement to end violence against women and girls. Because when we shift our purpose to every last girl, we create the hope and the future for every last one of us.

Art by lizar_tistry