GirlUp, a leadership development initiative founded by the Women’s Division of the United Nations, helps empower the next generation of women. More than 6,300 GirlUp chapters are registered in 152 countries and all 50 U.S. states.
Psychology teacher Mrs. Lara Herrera advises the Heritage campus chapter, inspiring club members to stand up for social equality through bi-monthly “discussion groups.”
“The club gives girls space to address issues they may feel they don’t have a place to address in the classroom,” Mrs. Herrera said. “Though I do feel that a lot of gender equality issues come up in psychology and sociology classes I teach, most social science classes don’t directly address the fight for women’s rights. I think that it’s helpful to have additional time to develop those ideas.”
Preventing gender-based violence and promoting self-defense are among GirlUp’s main initiatives. According to a 2000 survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice, an annual average of 1.9 million women are victims of aggravated assault. Educating young women on how to avoid and fight these attacks helps spread awareness and eventually lower the number of assaults occurring.
“Teaching girls self-defense was one of the original goals of the GirlUp club, even before I inherited it and became the advisor. [Senior] Nicole Antonietta created a proposal for Kung Fu seminars for a project in a leadership class I taught, and her idea fell in line with the club perfectly. I noticed it was a really great fit for GirlUp and sponsored her idea the following year.”
Antonietta, a Kung Fu black-belt and advocate for women’s rights, uses her proficiency in martial arts to help protect the community. She regularly teaches beginners’ seminars at her local martial arts studio alongside her father Giovanni — a Kung Fu instructor of 25 years. The two began teaching self-defense through GirlUp in the second semester of last year and have held seven seminars thus far. They focus on redirecting common attacks such as hair grabbing and neck locks as well as controlling fear in threatening situations.
“For our main project in the class, students had to create a club or event within a club that promotes leadership and builds the community. I created a series of seminars to empower girls on campus and to help them stay safe,” Antonietta said. “Mrs. Herrera recommended connecting the course with GirlUp club and sponsoring it the following year,”
Antonietta will continue holding weekly seminars in the Core Fitness room every Friday at 3:45 p.m. until the end of April. The course is open to all senior high girls regardless of GirlUp membership. Click this link to register for future seminars.