Every day in San Francisco, the most marginalised girls and young women are told they have little chance of success, that they are criminals, damaged or broken.
Women and girls of colour, lesbians, bisexuals, transgender and non-binary young women often suffer the destructive impacts of misogyny, racism and poverty most. Many have been victims of violence or trafficking. Some have engaged in sex work. Others have struggled with drug addiction and homelessness.
Instead of being treated as victims of trauma, they are often dismissed as delinquents and criminals and pushed into in an already overburdened system such as the criminal system or child protective services, which neglects their vulnerability and mental health.
A report by a task force comprised of US government departments, academics and mental health experts states that “on any given day, more than 100,000 youth are under the jurisdiction of California’s juvenile justice system - in secure facilities, private treatment programmes or on probation or parole.”
Gay, transgender and non-binary youth are significantly overrepresented in the juvenile justice system, of which more than 60 percent are Black or Latino.
The Young Women’s Freedom Center (YWFC) was set up in 1993 to help empower girls and young women to overcome the conditions that have held them back. Based in San Francisco, the organisation works to contribute leaders to movements for social change through support for girls involved in systems and raises awareness via campaigns, advocacy and research.
YWFC is proactive about meeting girls wherever they are and provides resources, support, training and networking opportunities. YWFC offers paid internships for young women and girls aged 14-24 who have been incarcerated, who have lived and worked on the streets or who have become isolated young mothers. Participants acquire the tools to become community organisers and are taught leadership skills to help them heal and undergo personal transformation.
YWFC is comprised of system-involved girls and young women, most of whom are girls of colour. More than half are lesbian, bisexual and non-binary, 53 percent have been trafficked or worked the streets as sex workers and 100 percent have been victims of violence.
YWFC is a girl-led, girl-focused organisation that has a strong holistic approach to addressing girls’ needs. It has had an outstanding impact on the lives of its participants, who have been empowered to participate in the life of the community as fully independent girls and women.