The Last Girl

By Amy Torchia, Children’s Advocacy Coordinator, Vermont Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence

(Excerpted from the Spring 2016 Vermont Network Newsletter)

A world where every last girl is valued, safe and able to reach her full potential

As the Network moves forward to actualize our purpose to create a world free of oppression, we envision a world where every last girl is valued, safe and able to reach her full potential. The “last girl” is a helpful metaphor that we use to understand the complexity of oppression and focus our efforts.  Where the last girl thrives, so too will her entire community because she is the most marginalized of them.  As a child advocate who has worked in the violence against women’s movement for many years, I feel hopeful.  I see that we now have an opportunity to talk about and engage young people in a way that we have not before – all because we have said that we want the last girl to thrive.

The Network is committed to examining how multiple forms of oppression compound to impact individuals and communities.  This path leads us right to the last girl.  She is oppressed because of her gender, further oppressed if she is a person of color or may be oppressed because of her ability or class.  She is also oppressed because she is a child.  Although her status as a child is a part of her identity that she will outgrow, it is connected to her other identities – and together they can create a deep rooted set of barriers.

Ultimately, we cannot make the world a better place for the last girl unless we look at all that oppresses her including the power that adults have over children – adultism.  On one hand, it is the hardest form of oppression to confront because it is us who are the oppressors.  Adults do not want to see ourselves as oppressive, especially in the anti-violence field.  It can be painful for some of us to remember what it was like to be a child.  On the other hand, adultism is easy to discuss because it is the only form of oppression that all people experience.  At some point in childhood or in our teenage lives, we have all felt devalued by adults, disregarded, talked down to, relegated.  Some of us have even been neglected, abused, exploited or sold.

If we are truly interested in the last girl reaching her full potential, we must include along with our fight against racism and gender oppression real conversations about adultism, child abuse and corporal punishment.  This is where children and youth join our pivot toward social change and toward a world free from oppression of all people.  This is where young people and their advocates become a more visible and vocal influence on our work.

We are seeing positive shifts in our advocacy for children and youth in Vermont.  Our long and strong collaboration with child welfare through our effective work with the Department for Children and Families continues to elevate the safety of both child and adult victims. The children and youth advocates of our member programs continually work to amplify and support the voices and experiences of young people through advocacy, prevention education and community work as well as our Youth Advocacy Task Force Blog which includes youth as contributors.

There is much more to do.  There are opportunities for us as adults, as a state, as a coalition and as a movement to actively lift up and hear the voices of young people who have experienced violence and oppression perpetrated against them.  It will require a new way of listening and opening up rooted in love, compassion, and grace.  If we can embrace this as one of our powerful strategies to help achieve our vision of a world free of oppression, I have hope that someday the last girl will truly be valued, safe and able to reach her full potential – and that will be a beautiful day.