“The most amazing thing that I’ve seen through EmpowHER is that the young women don’t realise the significance of sisterhood until they’re in it, and then by the end, they do! And the love they have for each other at the end is phenomenal!”
These are the words of a youth worker talking about their experience of working with young women and girls on the EmpowHER programme. For me, it perfectly sums up EmpowHER – developing that sense of togetherness, purpose, and self-confidence that’s so important for young women today, as they take on the challenges of the twenty-first century.
Launched in 2018 to mark the centenary of women’s suffrage, EmpowHER is led by UK Youth in partnership with the British Red Cross and Young Women’s Trust. The programme provides social action opportunities for young women and girls to increase their wellbeing and self-confidence, improve their connection with others, and empower them to lead change in their communities.
The first phase, jointly funded by Spirit of 2012 and the #iwill Fund, is now complete, and you can read the final evaluation report here. I’ve been part of the Steering Group for the project since November 2020, first in my role as a Spirit of 2012 Youth Advisory Panel member and now as a Director of the Board.
“Nearly a third (64%) of EmpowHER participants reported an improvement in their wellbeing, measured using the Office for National Statistics personal wellbeing survey (ONS4).”
EmpowHER was developed in response to concerns about the wellbeing of young women and girls, particularly those from low-income households. Poor wellbeing and low self-esteem are problems for young people in general, but girls report lower wellbeing and higher depressive symptoms than boys, and are twice as likely to self-harm.
There is a gendered perspective to youth leadership too. When given the opportunity, young women and girls speak up, take the lead, and act on issues they’re passionate about. But all too often self-doubt kicks in, sometimes caused by internalised negative gender stereotypes. EmpowHER aims to change this by giving young women and girls a safe space to learn and talk about what’s important to them, and support one another in leading change on these issues.
So, these were some of the outcomes EmpowHER set out to achieve: improve wellbeing, challenge and change limiting self-perceptions, and empower young women and girls to identify and lead change. With the evaluation of phase one in hand, what can we say about how far EmpowHER achieved these lofty ambitions?
First, how did the programme perform against its aim to increase participants’ wellbeing? Nearly a third (64%) of participants reported an improvement in their wellbeing, measured using the Office for National Statistics personal wellbeing survey (ONS4). The evaluation identified that a key to improving participants’ wellbeing was creating a safe space to discuss and learn about issues with your peers, and participate in fun and enjoyable activities.
“Nearly two-thirds of participants (63%) saw an increase in their confidence.”
The programme was also successful in challenging and changing young women and girls limiting perceptions of themselves and their gender. This was measured through asking participants to rate on a scale of 1-10 how far they agreed with two statements: “young women and girls can do anything they set their minds to” (which measured perceptions related to gender), and “I can do things as well as most other people” (which measured self-perception).
Three-fifths (60%) of participants saw a net improvement across these two questions when comparing scores before and after involvement in EmpowHER, with average perceptions of self-efficacy improving by 20%. Evaluators noted that including specific confidence-building exercises and providing opportunities for young women and girls to meet relatable role models were the most important enablers of these outcomes.
What about the EmpowHER programme’s aim to empower young women and girls to identify and lead social change? The evaluation measured this by asking questions around confidence, resilience, responsibility, and preparedness to take the lead. Over two-thirds of participants (68%) saw an increase against these metrics, and 63% increased their confidence. Providing opportunities, leadership support, and giving YW&G the freedom to decide what their social action would focus on were identified as key in developing confidence and empowering YW&G.
“We funded EmpowHER to learn what would happen when YW&G were given opportunities and supported to lead change, the way the suffragettes did a century ago.”
The outcomes of EmpowHER are impressive – I’ve listed just a few that jumped out at me. What’s also emerged from the programme is some strong recommendations for designing a programme that addresses low wellbeing through social action. Have a read of these in the full evaluation.
Spirit of 2012 has already pledged a grant of £500,000 to UK Youth to build on the significant impact of phase one and capture and embed the best practice principles developed. A member of the Spirit team will be delving a little deeper into the learning for the funding sector in a future blog post.
We funded EmpowHER to learn what would happen when YW&G were given opportunities and supported to lead change, the way the suffragettes did a century ago. It feels fitting that the programme has empowered the next generation to make a difference in their communities, build sisterhood with their peers, and see positive changes in their own wellbeing and confidence. We’re going to need strong women working together to change the world over the coming century too – reading about EmpowHER, I have every confidence they will.