What's the best way to spend $1 billion on women? These teens have some thoughts

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afghanistan model un

The Afghanistan delegation of Lawrence High School's 9th Grade Academy fills out their Model UN worksheets. 

Isis Madrid

Last week we asked ninth-graders in Lawrence, Massachusetts, which gender issue is most important to fix around the world: violence against women, lack of literacy and education for women, or the lack of women in leadership and power positions.

The Lawrence High School Ninth Grade Academy participated in a Model United Nations event to determine which of these issues to spend $1 billion fixing. Across Women's Lives coordinated the discussion as part of our Balance of Power series.

Why $1 billion? The US State Department spends about that much every year on gender programs around the world. We wanted to ask girls of color how they would go about doing that themselves. What did they think mattered most? How could they best work toward gender equality and women's advancement?

Lawrence is called "the immigrant city,” and LHS students are 94 percent Latinx. The class we worked with was co-ed, and that was even better — one of the boys was even inspired to buy a book on the history of women who've made an impact.

We partnered with the United Nations Association of Greater Boston to write a curriculum for the students  — mostly based on our own reporting — and then we took over Mr. Hick's AP human geography class.

The class broke up into groups representing nine countries, including Colombia and Pakistan, where we have reporters.

They discussed within their groups which issue to support. By the end of class, most of their concluding statements shared a theme: "It's all connected."

For example: If you increase education and literacy for girls, they can better speak out or defend themselves against violence. If they're not hindered by violence or illiteracy, they might be better poised to enter positions of power and leadership. And this is what the students learned.

We'd love for you to hear our session with them in the audio player above.

Interested in holding this Model UN discussion with your students, friends or family? Download the full list of materials, all up to common core standards, here.