Girls Lead at Google Science Fair

Editor's Note: This post is authored by Virginia Williams who is the Content Producer of the Global Motherhood Exhibition at the International Museum of Women. You can follow her personal blog here.

Last week, three girls won top honors in Google's Science Fair. According to the New York Times, the first place winner, Shree Bose, started dabbling in science in the second grade, when she theorized and then put into trial the idea that kids would eat spinach, if it were only blue.

What was her winning entry several years later at the ripe age of 17? Oh, just a potential remedy for treatment-resistant ovarian cancer. Think this is an anomaly? Hardly, the other two winners tackled equally challenging public health concerns. Why are we surprised that girls are capable of greatness, even in science, just like boys?

This event reminded of the main reason I moved to San Francisco, to the heart of US technology and social enterprise, in 2008. The prior year, as a fellow with the Bay Area Video Coalition's premiere Producer's Institute for New Media Technologies, me and my team created the prototype for a girls' social network for social good -- a place where girls could create projects for social and environmental change via the support of other females. I was inspired in part by my then 8-year-old niece, Raina, whose Internet aptitude was comparable to a mini- Sun Microsystems engineer but was at the mercy of content limited to Barbie gossip “auto-chat” and Club Penguin. At 9, her frustration and boredom with the available options led her, like many other girls, to drift to Facebook, a site that technically limits memberships to kids over 14 but nonetheless is rife with young victims and perpetrators of bullying and harassment. Tween-age girls (9-13) were, and still are to a large extent, left behind when it comes to quality, monitored Internet content, with the exception of some recent launches like New Moon Girls.

Instead of being afraid of what social media “might do to our kids,” specifically girls, we need to be more proactiv -- accepting, finally, that social media is a part of our kids’ lives, and that they need more information, not less, to learn how to use it responsibly. We need to encourage our schools to develop media literacy programs, and at home, use resources available to parents like Common Sense Media or the Media Awareness Network.

Within the international development context, says Linda Raftree from Plan International on Alternet, social media has been virtually untapped for its potential to empower girls and women. The Canadian government recently launched a 5-year plan to measure the impact of social media on girls, as reported by the Huffington Post’s Stephanie Marcus. But a closer look at the plan, crafted by the Atlantic Status of Women Ministers reveals that strategy does not include media literacy training, just public awareness and education. Do we really need another longitudinal study to tell us the effect of social media on girls?

Since I’ve been working with the International Museum of Women, I have witnessed the power of creative expression to promote gender equality and human rights first hand, and it has reinforced my desire to create a parallel outlet for young girls. Although my start-up idea stalled for various reasons, including the economic downturn and the fact that I wasn’t meeting the right people on the business development end who could help make it happen, the tide may be turning. I recently joined a Bay Area collaborative workspace called the HUB, where social entrepreneurs and social change consultants can collaborate and cultivate projects that will have measurable social impact but will also be sound businesses.

So, I think I’m on the brink of “restarting my start-up.” I guess you could say I’ve been inspired by blue spinach, and as I am frequently, by the power of girls.