Meeting a new generation of leaders on Day of the Girl | ActionAid UK

Dorcas Erskine

Director of Policy, Advocacy and Programmes

Dorcas Erskine, our Director of Policy, Advocacy and Programmes, met girls for a mentorship session on the London Eye as part of Women Of The World's celebration of the Day of the Girl. She describes meeting inspiring young girls, why she thinks mentorship is important, and what she wanted to be when she grew up. 

Tell us about mentoring girls at Women in the World festival this morning

Jude Kelly, the founder of Women in the World festival, came up with the idea that if girls are able to see role models of successful women coming from their own communities - despite the odds being stacked against them - it shows that they can do anything, that anything is possible. It's an idea very close to ActionAid. 

This morning, some mentors were telling the girls: 'You may just be 13, but there's an 8 year old already looking up to you." These girls are future leaders and they are present leaders. It was very empowering, and there were girls buzzing with energy from that. 

Were you inspired by the girls that you met? 

I was inspired by how aware the girls were about women's rights, in the UK and in the world. I was prepared to come along with some shocking statistics and stories, but they already had such a high level of knowledge about issues that affect girls everywhere, like body image and sexual harrassment.

These girls are future leaders and they are present leaders.

It's sad but it's also strengthening to listen to the struggles of women and girls elsewhere. Some girls were almost apologetic at first, saying that although terrible things happen in the UK, like sexual harrassment and lack of gender equality in Parliament, we go to school and we don't face issues as bad as girls in Afghanistan or the DRC.

But when I told them about the aspirations of girls in Afghanistan or the DRC, and that they shared the same aspirations as girls in the UK, there was a sense of solidarity and delight that girls have the same aspirations even if they face different barriers.

Why do you think it's important to mentor young girls? 

I remember how important it was for me growing up in Ghana to have women that I looked up to: we had a history of mentorship. I read books by Maya Angelou and Toni Morrison, and went to their talks when I was older. It made me realise all the things that could be achieved, and how I could transcend the barriers of the context I grew up in.

It's so important that young girls can look up to women who, despite tremendous odds, have succeeded with humour and kindness. 

What does International Day of the Girl mean to you?

It's a day where we celebrate all the things girls can do. It's pretty extraordinary, with all the odds stacked against girls how creative and inspiring they can be. They're smashing ceilings all the time.

It's so important that young girls can look up to women who, despite tremendous odds, have succeeded with humour and kindness. 

I love to see girls coming together and realising: wow, there's so much we can do.

They also understand that they're not alone. Girls can feel that they're alone: when they face violence, when they see their brothers go off to school, when they're married off to someone much older, when they're trafficked.... it's important that there is a day when girls can realise that they are not alone, that there are other girls are facing and pushing past these obstacles.

And just as importantly, adult women are pushing to ensure an end to this suffering. 

What did you want to be when you were growing up? 

I wanted to be an writer like Toni Morrisson. But she's a Nobel Prize-winning author.... I decided to become an aid worker!