The Indigenous Adolescent Girls’ Empowerment Network (IMAGEN)

The Indigenous Adolescent Girls’ Empowerment Network (IMAGEN) seeks to equip Native-serving organizations with tools to reach and empower adolescent Native American girls through programs that are intentionally designed for girls instead of merely for young people more broadly.

The Issue

Adolescent Native American girls are distinct from every other segment of young people in the United States, from the assets that their ancestors have passed down to them, to the unique challenges that they face. Native women and girls carry immense responsibilities in tribal communities, yet school alone cannot prepare adolescent girls for the obstacles many will soon face as they transition to womanhood. Native young people rank lowest in the U.S. for high school graduation. One in eight American Indian and Alaska Native high schoolers report experiencing sexual coercion, and one in three Native American women reports having been sexually assaulted in her lifetime. Native girls have the highest rate of teen births nationwide, and growing evidence suggests that Native girls face high risks of trafficking.

Many current programmatic initiatives serving Native American young people often regard Native “youths” as a monolithic group. Programs rarely distinguish issues faced by girls versus boys, and most do not differentiate the multiple human development stages between ages 10-24 years. A gap remains in understanding and addressing the specific needs and experiences of adolescent Native American girls. Therefore, capacity needs to be enhanced to plan, design, and undertake local culturally-relevant programs designed specifically for indigenous adolescent girls.

The Progress

The Indigenous Adolescent Girls’ Empowerment Network (IMAGEN) strengthens the protection, safety, and resilience of Native American girls by providing tools, training, and space in which to rekindle indigenous matrilineal traditions and share knowledge between generations. The “girl-centered” group mentoring approach has been rigorously evaluated in countless studies, including by our project team in indigenous communities. IMAGEN utilizes on-going consultative and collaborative processes that are highly valued in indigenous culture. At weekly Girl Society gatherings, girls receive various types of support, as sovereignly determined by the unique needs of each group. The schedule, location, members, and leadership of every Girl Society are decided by that locality, with continuous technical advisory input from fellow network members.

Topics include:

  • Tribal history and cultural traditions taught by female elders
  • Social, spiritual, educational, heath and economic connections and skills
  • Physical and mental wellbeing and self-defense skills

IMAGEN does not have a pre-determined curriculum. It is instead a set of strategic tools for finding, recruiting, and engaging girls who may otherwise remain invisible due to family stress and trauma. With a collection of 30 themed sessions adapted from previous successful girl-centered programs, each curriculum can be flexibly sequenced and adapted.

IMAGEN brings locally-led indigenous organizations together in bi-weekly mutual support virtual gatherings and annual in-person workshops to propose innovative ways to reclaim female social infrastructure and matrilineal traditions. Through this framework, girl-centered programs adapted to the local context are built to impart important skills, safe havens, and mentor networks to Native American girls. IMAGEN supports the efforts of different organizations by providing access to resources, organizing workshops, and awarding grants.

The Impact

Since its inception in 2017, IMAGEN has trained over 140 Native American women as Girl Society group mentors. They have created 45 Girl Societies in 15 U.S. states that strengthen the cultural, social, educational and health resilience of over 600 Native American girls. IMAGEN has convened over 30 bi-weekly virtual gatherings and eight in-person gatherings among partner organizations which enable groups to strengthen and learn from one another and form alliances that will endure beyond the project. The members of our network describe our frequent virtual convenings as one of the greatest benefits of our program.

Learn more about IMAGEN at 

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