In summary

To make California stronger, we need to invest in girls and gender-expansive youth, and we need to amplify their leadership potential.

By Desiree Victor

Desiree Victor is Santa Clara County site director with the Young Women’s Freedom Center, desiree@youngwomenfree.org.

Haleema Bharoocha, Special to CalMatters

Haleema Bharoocha is advocacy manager with Alliance for Girls, haleema@alliance4girls.org.

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the unique needs of girls, particularly Black girls and girls of color, are growing more urgent by the day.  As state and local leaders work to help communities endure the COVID-19 crisis, it is critical to pay attention to the needs of our most vulnerable youth. 

Over the decades, counties across California and nationwide have invested millions in punitive systems that reinforced poverty and built barriers around the resources and opportunities that young people need to lead self-determined, fulfilling lives. But as counties grapple with budget shortfalls and the economic impact of the public health crisis, we must divest from these failed systems and invest in solutions to reverse generations of harm.

That’s what Alliance for Girls and Young Women’s Freedom Center have been pushing Santa Clara county to do – and we are making progress. 

In September, the Santa Clara Board of Supervisors voted to move forward a proposal to provide financial support to young mothers experiencing financial hardship between ages 12-26 in East San Jose and Gilroy. These young women urgently need support during the pandemic so they can keep their children safe and healthy. If supervisors give final approval in November, young moms will receive direct cash assistance, along with technology support and childcare. 

In addition, the board of supervisors requested a comprehensive analysis and recommendations to close the inequities to accessing period products during COVID-19 for vulnerable women in communities, including youth impacted by the juvenile justice system, unhoused youth and youth with low income. 

The office of Women’s Policy in Santa Clara County has remained an unwavering ally and advocate for community organizations. Now, we need more leaders across California to join us to ensure that those with the greatest need have access to resources and opportunities that they have been denied. In our call for practices that reflect true equity, here is what we are asking for:

  • Invest in community-based organizations that provide access to good jobs, safe housing and culturally responsive services. 
  • Release young people from county facilities and connect them to community support. 
  • Ensure young people are getting the community-centered, culturally and gender-responsive care they need by separating juvenile probation from adult probation. 
  • Include resources in the county budget for direct cash assistance to young mothers until it is safe for them to go to work. 
  • And, based on a successful model by the Oakland Unified School District, budget funds to make sure period products are available at school sites and community centers. 

As part of its #WhenGirlsThrive youth-led research initiative, Alliance for Girls surveyed 800 girls in the Bay Area. What we found is that 22% of girls have lost their jobs and need a source of income to support the needs of their families. Girls and gender expansive youth report needing or not having access to food and groceries (12.50%), birth control (7.8%), and period products (8.30%), and 6.25% don’t have a safe place to live. Respondents of color are being impacted at a higher rate than white respondents, with Latinx respondents having the highest overall need. 

Meanwhile, during this incredibly difficult time, services available to girls are decreasing, with organizations serving girls facing severe financial shortfalls. When girls have nowhere to turn for safety or support, and their basic needs are not met, we are perpetuating the cycle that leads to harmful outcomes for many of our young people. That is why it is critical that regional and statewide leaders invest in gender and culturally responsive services so that girls have what they need to be safe, healthy and to thrive. 

To make our state stronger, we need to invest in girls and gender-expansive youth – and we need to listen to their needs and amplify their voices and their innate leadership potential. In this pivotal time, let’s build systems that empower our girls, transgender and gender-expansive youth, and by extension – all of us. 

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