The Women and Girls ExCEL (Exemplifying Change, Empowerment, and Leadership) Program is focused on empowering women and girls to address the issue of preventing sexual violence in our communities. Over the next three years, the Women and Girls ExCEL Program will engage six cohorts of women and girls across the northern, central, and southern regions of the state in a leadership development program that will strengthen individual participant capacity to communicate, advocate, and see themselves as a change agent.
New Jersey’s Department of Children and Families (DCF) Division on Women (DOW) applied for and was selected by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to receive Rape Prevention Education Program (RPE) funding to address the risk and protective factors associated with gender-based violence. The NJ RPE initiative works collaboratively with diverse stakeholders across the state to guide the implementation and evaluation of the prevention of gender-based violence efforts. New Jersey selected three focus areas from the CDC recommended strategies included in the STOP Sexual Violence Technical Package:
- Empower and support girls through culturally responsive leadership development for girls
- Creating protective environments for the LGBTQ community
- Engaging men and boys as allies
The state currently works from the premise that ending gender-based violence requires a survivor-informed approach with collaboration across sectors and disciplines. Through this funding opportunity, New Jersey is addressing the prevention of sexual violence perpetration and victimization by selecting and implementing evidence-based, evidence-informed, and/or promising strategies through engagement and collaboration with community-based public and private stakeholders and partners.
In order to carry out the work under item #1 outlined above, DOW has partnered with the Rutgers Center for Women and Work to develop and implement a skills-based learning and relationship-level bystander approach (e.g., those strategies that are only targeted at changing peer norms through bystander education and training) that addresses girls leadership development needs within each of the three regions identified.
As part of a multi-year project, Rutgers Center for Women and Work (CWW) has begun working with regional partner agencies in Northern, Central, and Southern New Jersey to roll out the ExCEL (Exemplifying Change, Empowerment, and Leadership) Program. Through this program, we have engaged cohorts of young women/girls in each region (herein referred to as ExCEL groups) across the state in a leadership development program. This program is designed to strengthen individual participant capacity to communicate, advocate, and see themselves as a change agent; increase group empowerment and collective efficacy within each cohort (and eventually across cohorts); and work toward achieving positive girl driven changes in the community.
With support/ guidance from the staff of the DOW, CWW, and partner agencies, committees will develop a “Call to Action Project” (CAP) that is entirely created by them and implemented in their own schools/communities. Each girl-led action committee will develop a CAP to combat the injustices and unfair practices within their schools and/or communities by addressing the shared risk and protective factors (listed below).
The CAP will focus on at least one (but can include more) of the following overarching outcomes DOW and CWW have prioritized for this program:
- Decrease in societal norms that support sexual violence (SV)
- Decrease neighborhood disadvantage (e.g., high poverty and residential stability)
- Increase Institutional support from law enforcement and the judicial system
- Decrease in community violence
- Decrease harmful norms around masculinity and femininity
- Decrease adherence to traditional gender norms
- Decrease general tolerance of sexual violence within community
- Decrease general tolerance of sexual violence within the community
- Increase community support and protection
- Decrease in societal norms that maintain women’s inferiority and sexual submission
- Increase coordination of services among community agencies
- Increase institutional and community strategies that are intentional and informed and led by girls
- Increase girl’s engagement and citizenry in community leadership and advocacy roles
- Decrease rates of SV perpetration and victimization
- Decrease disparities in sexual violence victimization across New Jersey (by race, ethnicity, class, gender, sexual orientation, age disability
CAPs may consist of things like social media campaigns, poster campaigns, school/community surveys, workshops/guest speakers, podcasts/vlogs, video projects, or other artistic projects (i.e., murals, songs, poetry, etc.), to name a few.
As cohorts are building their “Call to Action Projects” throughout the year, partner agency staff members and program participants will participate in several training workshop modules focused on building their skills and knowledge in relevant areas. Tentative training module topics may include, but are not limited to:
- Exploring Women/Girls’ Leadership Development
- Introduction to Change Agency and Transformational Leadership
- Teamwork and Communication Skills
- Advocacy and Community Building
- Planning for Personal and Professional Success
- Media Influence in our Current Society
At the culmination of this program in year 3, each committee will also plan and implement a regional leadership summit for a minimum of 100 girls, ages 10-23, residing within that specific region. The workshops at each conference will be age appropriate for the various age groups of girls, as well as have specific tracks to address marginalized populations (communities of color, LGBTQ populations, individuals with disabilities, etc.). The logistics of the summits will be planned by the girl-led action committee, with assistance from partner agencies, CWW, and DOW, as needed (including, but not limited to the conference themes, workshops, workshop presenters, locations, etc.).