21 young women give a voice to 3.3 billion around the world
More than a few organizations hope to influence the G8/G20leadership during their meeting in Canada in June, but very few are backed by over 3.3 billion voices. That’s the number of girls and women around the world who are represented by 21 young women at the Girls 20 Summit in Toronto this week. Not an eye was dry after the opening panel shared their stories and views on the biggest challenge to girls and women today. Lack of safe spaces, lack of education, child marriage, control of assets, and undervaluing are all a part of everyday life for girls and women around the world. The Belinda Stronach Foundation is hoping to elevate these issues on the G20 agenda by bringing together a group of exception 19 to 20-year-old young women from each of the G20 countries plus an African delegate to discuss these issues and offer creative, actionable solutions to the political leadership.
A sun-filled atrium at the University of Toronto was the backdrop for statistics and calls to action – but most importantly stories. Zainab Salbi, Founder and CEO of Women for Women International ended the opening discussion with an inspirational telling of her own journey from Iraq to America and girl to woman. She turned the experiences of her parents’ use of a child maid and the abuse she received during her arranged marriage into the courage to change the lives of women survivors of war in conflict zones such as Rwanda, Sudan, and Bosnia. First, she said, women must speak out – telling their own stories and talking about equality and accountability. Rwanda, since the civil war, has established equality of gender representation in government with legal structures to evaluate and ensure its place on every level. No G8 country can say the same. This will only change if we all speak out and demand that change.
A common thread throughout the day was the amazing feeling that now is a special time. All the grassroots efforts to alleviate poverty, improve maternal health, and educate girls are paying off by proving to developing nations that women are central to their sustainable futures. The excitement of being a part of the global movement to end the cycle of violence and poverty for 600 million women in the developing world was palpable. It is well within the grasp of governments if only they respond.
The final presenter, Reeta Roy, the President of Mastercard Foundation, challenged each young woman to share her own story. For a brief few minutes, the room received a glimpse of the overwhelming energy and strength inherent in each of these girls. Just harnessing their energy for the few days of the Girls 20 Summit is a remarkable achievement. I am listening. Hopefully, the G20 leadership is listening, too.