Kelli Slogan | Contributor

“I am a girl, and I am better than you think, sturdier than I look, smarter than you know, braver than I show, and stronger than you believe.”

Deepa, a scholar supported by She’s the First

As intersectional feminists, we know two of the most crucial factors to achieve our goals are solidarity and education. What better way to pave a path for global equality than by directly empowering one of the world’s most at-risk groups: girls from low-income nations.

Meet two such students. Mehret from Ethiopia loves going to church, seeing movies, and hanging out with her close friends. Rosalinda from Peru loves vacationing with her sister, cooking, and caring for her niece. Without the help of Pitt students, these two girls would not have the means to continue their passions through basic schooling. Because of the funds raised by Pitt’s branch of She’s the First, Mehret and Rosalinda can avoid the poverty and violence that often strike their communities and instead be assured that they will receive a quality education.

She’s the First is a worldwide organization with various branches in high school and college campus chapters. 100 percent of each branch’s donations goes towards scholarships to fund girls from developing regions across the globe, empowering them to be the first in their family to graduate high school or pursue higher education. As the official She’s the First website states, “We’re about more than getting girls into the classroom- we ensure they get the tools, mentors and support system to succeed… We partner with international programs led by locals who know their communities best.” The goals of the organization are to bring attention to the fact that, despite much effort, many girls around the world don’t have the tools they need to even attend school made readily available to them.  In 2018, we still live with the statistic that 31 million girls at primary school age are not in school and that 17 million of them will likely never get to go.

Countless barriers often stand in the way of girls everywhere from gaining an education. The cost beyond tuition, such as textbooks, bus fare, or uniforms can be a deterrent, especially in areas with high concentrations of poverty. Harmful gender stereotypes also stand in the way of girls attaining knowledge, and many are compelled to complete domestic duties rather than attend school. Others face even more dire challenges, such child marriage and early pregnancies that carry a negative stigma and often force them to abandon their plans.

Some girls have access to education on the surface, but in reality face excruciating circumstances detrimental to their learning. Secretary Deanna Gross recalled a story from her time volunteering in Peru. She worked for a day at a self-sufficient community, one that grew and harvested everything they ate and was very isolated from the outside world. They helped out various families, and two girls really resonated with Gross. The pair hadn’t been able to attend school in three months because of a massive strike across communities. They had to walk several miles down a secluded mountain just to receive an education, and even after completing this perilous task, they still could not go to school because of the corrupt forces in charge. “We had heard that all of the teachers were on strike because the government wasn’t paying them nearly enough; they were receiving about the equivalent of 10 cents an hour. And the next day, we saw the teachers protesting. It was the largest group of people I’ve ever seen, all just walking down the road and chanting,” Gross recalled. “What She’s the First does is really great because there are so many children who have absolutely no control over their education, like those two girls.” The smallest amount of help can truly have a ripple effect, and if even just one more girl gets a quality education then I would consider that worth it.

Even a female student with merely one extra year of education can earn 20% more on average as an adult. When the world educates girls, oppressive forces are less likely to impact her. Rates of forced child marriage, female genital mutilation, and the spread of HIV all decrease significantly due to greater awareness of individual rights, safety, and freedoms. Girls who receive an education can bring economic stability to and share their knowledge with their families, and in turn, their entire community.  

What makes the club so appealing to many and so unique compared to other feminist organizations is that it has a notably direct impact. All money goes straight to the scholar’s education funds, and the founders and others involved actually engage with the girls themselves. Each campus also has direct communication with the scholars they support, which allows for an incredibly personal connection not offered in many organizations.  She’s the First reaches out to 11 different countries, and has awarded 923 scholars with 3,350 scholarships, all since 2010.

It is truly amazing that this global organization took off at Pitt and had such success, especially considering its humble origins. Tammy Tibbets founded the club when she and a colleague were just doing a bake sale, which is how She’s the First got their cupcake logo. “A bake sale and a social media campaign in November 2009 got this whole thing started, so it’s crazy to see how the use of social media can really spread messages,” said Vice President Erika Rasmussen.

Each chapter must adhere to two main fundraising events- a bake sale and a sweat event (a fundraiser in which members and non-members alike are encouraged to perform a feat of physical activity)- but each campus can put their own unique spin on it. She’s the First, though mainly concerned about education, prides itself in working to achieve other intersectional feminist aims. President Randi Purser explained, “We really try hard to tie the meetings and goals into other current and international events, such as the Malala Fund teaming up with Apple to help girls education, and occasionally domestic issues facing girls education, such as the recent shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School.”

All board members were steadfast in their desires to incorporate She’s the First ideals into their future careers. Treasurer Fiona Kean stated that, “My dream is to be successful in business school and hopefully become a CEO so I can empower other women in the workforce.” As a first year student, Gross stated, “I’m very passionate about the goals of She’s the First, so even though I’m not sure what career I may pursue in the future, I know I will integrate feminist ideals and work to help spread girls’ education.” It is truly an inspirational dynamic to see college students using their resources, though somewhat slight themselves, to help impoverished young girls around the world. These young women prove that change can happen when it is for a cause people feel so passionate about.

Everyone who wants to help this club can easily do so by donating directly, keeping up with the Facebook group, and attending events. Pitt STF is hosting a Cardio Dance Fitness class (March 25th at 6:00 pm, location TBD) and a fundraiser at Stack’d (March 30th from 5-10:00 pm, Shadyside location) to continue supporting their students. Most importantly, anyone is welcome come to the meetings.  Pitt’s chapter meets every other Monday at 9pm in 105 David Lawrence Hall, and with the next meeting is March 12th. She’s the First is also always looking to collaborate with other groups and clubs for activities and promotional events. E-mail for more information or any inquiries.

New members and external support are critical to the preservation and success of She’s the First! From cupcakes in a college dining hall to textbooks in the hands of eager pupils around the world, educational opportunity is something that should be supported everywhere- why not start at Pitt?