Women SPEAK was founded in May 2014 by Bernadette (Bernie) Lim, Danielle Cooney, Kristin Jones, and Anna Sugiura. All were alumni and friends at St. Lucy’s Priory HS; however, the four didn’t come together as a team until Summer 2014, two years after graduation.
Bernadette had the idea of originally creating a university network of college campuses dedicated to fighting gender stereotypes and sexual assault. Coming together the summer after their second year in college, the team collectively realized that the multi-faceted problems that women faced in the adult years stemmed from the social and cultural pressures that young women and girls face as they grow up.
With a belief in the power of young women's abilities to maturely discuss difficult topics related to gender, identity, and social justice, the team created Women SPEAK as a way for young women to begin the opportunity to spark change in themselves and their communities. In particular, the team chose to focus on four main focus areas: Positive Body Image, Media Literacy, Healthy Relationships, and Youth Leadership.
WHY do we do what we do?
Society tells us a lot about who women are and should be. Women are constantly bombarded with images, advice, and peer pressure on how to look, think, and feel. Women and girls are sexualized, airbrushed, and photoshopped in magazines in order to fit standards of unattainable and unnatural beauty. Women are encouraged to be in competition with each other in order to compete for "limited" spots. Worst of all, women are forced to compare themselves in order to “uplift” themselves.
By recognizing the contradictory messages and standards of beauty by the media and our peers, we as young women can reject false standards of beauty. We can empower ourselves to choose who we want to be. We can support one another in our successes and failures. And we can be who we want to be, regardless of the expectations of others.
Women SPEAK is addressing a real-time problem. According to The Representation Project:
- Only 21% of girls believe that have what it takes to be a leader.
- 3 out 4 teenage girls feel depressed, guilty, and shameful after spending 3 minutes leafing through a fashion magazine.
- More than 1 out of 7 women experiences sexual dating violence.
- Globally in 2014, the number one leading cause of death among teenage girls was suicide.
After weeks of conversations at a local coffee shop in summer 2014, the founding team decided to hold start Women SPEAK as a local Girls’ Leadership Summit open to girls of the greater Los Angeles area.
Today, thanks to the partnership of generous media and the Clinton Foundation, Women SPEAK has extended the mission of Women SPEAK to include yearlong opportunities to engage in a sustained dialogue about our four mission areas. This is done through our national chapter network, pipeline program for young women, and internships. The program concentrates on cultivating peer dialogue and establishing intergenerational mentorship relationships among women and girls.
One of the greatest strengths of Women SPEAK is its commitment to representing a range of racial and socioeconomic diversity in order to broaden the mission of Women SPEAK to young women of all ages.