The First ever Girls20 Summit sends a message to the world leaders
What’s so special about Girls20 Summit?
Recently I’ve had an opportunity to represent my country at the first ever G(irls)20 Summit, held in Toronto, Canada, June16-26. Several things about this summit made it a unique experience for me and other participants.
First, although modeled after G20, the Girls20 Summit focused primarily on the issues affecting women and girls worldwide, including maternal health and child mortality, lack of access to education, gender inequality and lack of economic opportunities for girls and women. Second, the Summit brought together one girl from each of the G20 countries and a representative of the African Union, making it quite similar to the real political setting. Needless to say that it was an honor for me and each of the 20 delegates to have been selected from hundreds (or thousands? I don’t know) as the only representatives of our countries. Third, a significant part of the summit consisted of workshops from leading international as well as Canadian non-profits and businesses, providing us with knowledge and tools to support or start non-profit initiatives in our communities upon return home. Forth, the celebrities who attended the summit to share their views with the delegates created a very special atmosphere during the event.
Why focus on Girls and Women’s Issues? Historical Background
In September 2000, building upon a decade of major United Nations conferences and summits, world leaders came together at United Nations Headquarters in New York to adopt the United Nations Millennium Declaration, committing their nations to a new global partnership to reduce extreme poverty and setting out a series of time-bound targets - with a deadline of 2015 - that have become known as the Millennium Development Goals (http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/bkgd.shtml). These Goals included:
1. Ending Extreme Poverty and Hunger
2. Achieving Universal Primary Education
3. Ensuring Gender Equality
4. Reducing Child Mortality
5. Improving Maternal Health
6. Combating HIV/AIDS
7. Providing Environmental Sustainability
8. Building Global Partnership
As it can bee seen from above, at least three of the eight goals depend on the well-being of girls and women worldwide: maternal health, child mortality and gender equality. The rest of the goals are also connected with women’s and gender issues, for instance according to some of the UN estimates, 70% of the world poor are women and girls, which is an important factor to consider when dealing with MDG #1 – Eradicating Extreme Poverty and Hunger.
The Summit itself
During 3 days delegates participated in closed (=with no media allowed) discussions of the issues on the agenda. Jennifer Hollet, a Canadian TV personality, was invited to act as a Moderator. As a result of three sessions, delegates produced Communiqué, outlining their proposed solutions to the problems. The Communique was presented to the World Leaders at the official G20 Summit in Toronto.
Working in a team of peers from 20 different countries was quite an amazing experience! Honestly I didn’t expect it would be so easy, taking into account the fact that we come from 20 different cultures and backgrounds, and the challenges our countries currently experience might be quite different. Surprisingly, we soon realized that we had a lot in common and collectively generated tangible solutions to the challenges facing girls and women around the world.
How were delegates selected?
The Selection Committee selected one girl from each of the G20 countries, so only one applicant from each of the countries was invited to attend the summit. One of the criteria was that applicants should be between 18-20 years old at the time of the summit. The application process was quite simple; applicants had to answer a few general questions such as: What’s the biggest challenge you had to deal with as a leader? If you could have a dinner with anyone in the world, who would it be? What are your plans for the next 5 years? and so on.
The second part of the summit consisted of various workshops presented by non-profits as well as businesses with the purpose of giving the participants knowledge and experience that they will be able to apply in their home countries.
One of the workshops was hosted by Google Canada. We were explained the principles of Google operation, some of the Google tools for effective online fundraising, means to advertise non-profits in Google for free, YouTube secrets and similar things.
B5 Media hosted another workshop on writing blogs. Our “teacher” of blogging has been called one of the best ten bloggers by New York Times.
Veritas Communications gave us an opportunity to learn media relations from a consultant with 20 years of experience in this area. He told us how to attract media to our projects and how to interact with media effectively.
Junior Achievement taught us financial aspect.
Dove Self-Esteem Fund organized a discussion on the role of role models in our lives and the need to be role models for others in our communities. At the press-conference delegates shared advice with 13-year olds and their parents on teens’ issues. More specifically, we were asked to answer the question: “What advice would you give to your 13-year-old self? What would you do differently?”
Charmaine Crooks, Canadian five-time Olympian and one of the ten women on board of the Olympic Committee, flew from Vancouver to have a workout with the delegates and talk about sports as a way of professional development.
American supermodel Christy Turlington Burns flew to Toronto to organize a special screening of her unreleased documentary “No women No cry” for the delegates of the Girls20 summit.
At the end of the summit we had a dinner with the delegates of “My Summit”, a similar event which brings 7-8 students from each of the G8 and G20 countries to meet with the world leaders.
Senator Frum, who was also on the Selection Committee for the Girls20 Summit, invited the delegates to meet her in Parliament Hill, Ottawa. Together with Senator Andreychuk and Senator Nancy Ruth she held a discussion of her experiences on the political arena. After that Linda Frum suggested attending the Senate Session, which was a big honor for me as well as other participants. At the Senate Session we were explained how Senators are seated in the room and some of the procedures. I never attended anything of such a high level in Russia, so this was really exciting! When the Speaker of Senate asked members of Parliament to welcome Girls20 Summit delegation … well, I can’t find the right word to describe how much excited we were.
A little earthquake occurred while we were getting ready to leave the Parliament Hill. What’s funny about the situation is that I live in an “earthquake-prone” area where at schools we are taught what to do in case of an earthquake, but I’ve never experienced it here. In Canada earthquakes occur once in 25 years…
I met a lot of international students in the US. I remember living with a Moroccan, going out with Germans and sitting at dinner with Indians. However, talking to, sitting at the table, studying with 20 people from 20 countries at the same time is something totally different.
Although we didn’t choose our roommates since it was a random choice by organizers, I was lucky to live with a Mexican delegate, I didn’t even dream of better Spanish practice!
Organizers of the Girls20 Summit
The Girls20 Summit was organized by the Belinda Stronach Foundation and its partners – tens of non-profits and businesses. Farah Mohammed, President of the Belinda Stronach Foundation, has an amazing sense of humor!
At the end of the summit delegates were announced Girls20 Ambassadors. During the next year we’ll be working in groups on projects in our countries. I’ve chosen to design and implement a project on “Introducing Gender and Cultural Sensitivity into School Curriculum”. With the support of experts and several non-profits, we are going to create curriculum for a totally new subject called Gender Studies, and incorporate it into school curriculum on the local level. The projects will be presented at the next Girls20 Summit in France in 2011.
Girls20 Ambassadors will probably be on their countries’ Selection Committee for the next Girls20 Summit in France. I can’t wait the application process to start!
I’d like to thank the Belinda Stronach foundation and everyone (I’m afraid I will forget to mention someone) who made this event real, and the other 20 delegates for an unforgettable experience!
Learn more about Girls20 Summit at www.girlsandwomen.com/