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Meet Girl Security: Empowering Girls to Personally Engage with National Security

By Gabrielle Chishinsky

What comes to mind when you think of the national security field? You may picture the Situation Room, which plays an essential role in Washington’s network of national security operations. Perhaps you think of movie figures such as Jason Bourne, a dangerous former CIA operative, or James Bond, a highly skilled M16 agent. Or maybe you recollect images of former FBI Director James Comey testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Those examples all have something in common. They are dominated by men.

Women, simply put, are underrepresented in U.S. national security. Less than 20% of the most senior positions at the Department of Defense are held by women. But there is hope, particularly for today’s high school students.

Organizations such as Girl Security are working diligently to close the gender gap in national security through learning, training, and mentoring support for girls. Through these efforts, the future of national security is already looking much more diverse.

Lauren Buitta formed Girl Security in 2016 to empower girls with an innovative, critical mission. Buitta understands that a new construct for security is needed one that believes in the power of girls’ voices to redefine outdated notions of security. What exactly does this mean? Consider how men have long defined national security as a mission to protect physical borders, bodies, and boundaries. Girl Security is looking to change that through direct dialogue with girls about what security means to them outside of war and conflict.

Leading up to the launch of #EmboldenMe’s tuition-free student leadership program in national security, I will be writing a three-part blog series introducing Girl Security’s work. Why? Because at #EmboldenMe we believe that its mission and work is pivotal to advancing women’s representation in national security.

So, what makes Girl Security unique? In this first post in the blog series, I will answer that question by diving into the first pillar of its mission securing with knowledge.

The organization’s mission is built upon the foundation of the SEA model: Secure, Empower, and Advance. This model empowers girls to engage with complex national security concepts in programs, training, and through mentorship. This holistic approach helps make national security accessible to girls. But how does Girl Security’s work secure girls with an intensive understanding of national security?

First, girls are provided with the necessary tools to explore and strengthen their own understanding of personal security within the context of national security. National security is not a one-size-fits-all definition, but instead ought to be inclusive and reflective of girls’ lived experiences.

Furthermore, Buitta explains how the concept of “national security” often remains a foreign idea to many despite its regular appearance in the media. Girl Security is providing girls not only with accessible public education, but also is supplying schools, corporations, communities, and families with this knowledge so that every girl can first engage with national security and then subsequently comprehend its connection to her own personal security. Buitta further shares that in order for girls to receive education about national security, “we must understand how girls think about security, and this begins with two simple questions: What does national security mean to you and how do you personally experience security?”

Through the organization’s work, girls are never told what security is or what it is not. Girl Security engages in conversations with girls about their own lived experiences within the framework of when they felt safe or unsafe. Thereby, the organization can comprehend what makes girls feel secure. For instance, in their discussions with participants, girls will often include issues such as healthcare or housing when discussing security, originating from their own experiences. These conversations inform Girl Security’s inclusive definition of what national security looks like.

Second, through Girl Security’s programming, girls gain essential information on U.S national security definitions, concepts, and principles. The organization focuses on five core competencies: ethics, strategy, critical thinking, innovation, and collaboration. Furthermore, its programming is designed with help from female national security experts, adolescent mental health professionals, and girls themselves. Because Girl Security’s programming is shaped by national security experts, the organization is able to provide girls with basic national security definitions and concepts, which evolve from discussions with girls they work with and connects directly to girls’ lived experiences. For instance, Girl Security provides girls with some working, conventional definitions of national security such as, “defending or protecting U.S. interests and making Americans feel safe and secure.”

On the other hand, the organization is working to broaden the scope of what national security means to girls through an exploration of personal security. For instance, one way to interpret personal security is to imagine a resilient individual “bouncing back” after loss, trauma, or disappointment.

From the global refugee crisis which includes nearly 80 million people who have been forcibly displaced from their homes as a result of conflict, persecution, violence, and human rights violations, to how the app TikTok poses national security risks to U.S. citizens stemming from its collection of data on federal employees and from private citizens that exposes their personal information and security-sensitive corporate activities, national security can be very personal for girls.

Take for instance the global refugee crisis, which the United Nations explains is underpinned by a “stateless people, who have been denied a nationality and access to basic rights such as education, healthcare, employment and freedom of movement.” People fleeing persecution and conflict face trauma that puts their personal security at risk, specifically threatening girls’ access to all of the essential elements they ought to be guaranteed to lead healthy lives including fundamental human rights such as entry to education, necessary healthcare infrastructure, food security, and basic housing for themselves and their families.

These incidents and others can pose significant personal security consequences for girls’ personal lives and those of their families and friends. Because of this, Girl Security believes we must consider them a part of national security.

Third, by focusing on the diverse application of national security, Girl Security programming informs girls on the industry culture and opportunities in the field. There are numerous opportunities in the national security field, spanning from STEM, to policy, computer programming and business. National security is not limited to one place or professional experience, and Girl Security helps girls understand the diverse opportunities present. Its mentoring network provides girls with “in-depth exposure to various facets of the field and the diverse national security culture." Rachel Jones, the associate program director for mentor network and program operations, describes how Girl Security’s mentorship program serves as a “space for conversation around women’s personal experiences and perspectives within the national security field.”

Girl Security is also leading timely initiatives to inform girls of the importance of election security and disinformation, as well as how it uniquely affects girls and women in the U.S. Amid an election year, Girl Security is working to combat disinformation false information that is designed to mislead its audience. Disinformation is often spread by bad actors on social media platforms to create confusion and panic and undermine our electoral system. It is designed to sow fear, to manipulate, and to silence voices. By launching #defendurreality, a social media campaign on disinformation, the organization is providing girls with the necessary tools to identify and report disinformation as they see it.

You — whether you are in high school, college, or have already embarked on your career — have the power to vet the information you see online and determine what you share. If you see a source that appears deceptive, check out the date to see if the information is current. If it doesn’t seem real, you can tag it on social media with #defendurreality.

As a result, girls are empowered with the knowledge to defend their own realities, ultimately contributing to the national security field. Girl Security ensures that its resources are free and accessible to girls, and specifically, to communities of color. It is critical that girls attain the necessary tools on not only how to verify information, but also how to stop its proliferation online. Girl Security encourages girls to report disinformation through its platform.

Are you a girl or woman interested in learning more about election security? If so, you can also check out Girl Security’s debut guide. A Girl’s Guide to Election Security includes training on national security, election security, and disinformation. According to Buitta, this guide is more important than ever right now because “threats to U.S. elections, including disinformation, risk undermining girls’ civic engagement and silencing their voices at a time when they are most needed.”

Between the election cycle, COVID-19, and social media platforms, disinformation is playing a prominent role. Protect yourself from toxic online environments and damaging information by connecting with Girl Security and its election-year resources.

Girl Security’s mission is motivated by demonstrating that the diversity of girls’ voices in national security matters to our democracy. The national security field has many avenues for girls to start and advance their careers. To build future generations of national security leaders, we must begin with empowering girls in national security. That starts by securing girls with the necessary knowledge of how their own personal security fits within the larger context of national security. If you like what you read here, consider submitting an application to our SLP in national security and if you would like to learn more about Girl Security, visit their website.

Gabrielle Chishinsky is Embolden’s blog managing editor and is responsible for overseeing the day-to-day operations of Embolden’s blog. Gabrielle helps manage blog pitches, assigns due dates, and edits pieces, working with the marketing and communications team to elevate the blog’s presence on all social media platforms.

Learn more about Girl Security on their website girlsecurity.org and follow them on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

Have feedback or questions you'd like to see answered in future posts? Contact us at blog@emboldenme.org.