Lifestyle & Belief

Toronto hosts G(irls)20 summit


Photo caption: A school girl walks on a road in Mumbai, Dec. 3, 2009. (Arko Datta/Reuters)

TORONTO, Canada — A week before leaders of the world’s most powerful countries were set to gather near Toronto, a group of young women presented their own plan to tackle global challenges.

The 21 young women, all chosen for their leadership skills, had spent days discussing many of the same issues to be debated at the G8 and G20 meetings, in an event of their own dubbed the G(irls)20 summit.

Now sitting in front of a room packed with reporters, four of them presented the results of their efforts: a blueprint that stressed the role of women and girls in solving the world’s economic, social and medical crises.

“What we’ve noticed during our discussions … is how interconnected everything is,” 19-year-old Leah Stuart-Sheppard, Canada’s voice in the group, told reporters.

“And how important it is to have education so that health care can be improved ... and women (can) have the economic potential and capability, because they’ve been empowered through education, through vocational training and things like that.

“We hope every G20 leader and country, and expanding beyond that, all the change-makers in every country will … take some of the recommendations we’ve made,” she said, referring to the document drafted during their discussions.

The inaugural G(irls)20 Summit brought together delegates from every G20 nation and one from the African Union, each of them already engaged in grassroots projects and international campaigns.

The goal, organizers say, was to remind world leaders that women have a crucial role to play in solving the world’s greatest problems.

Part training and part advocacy, the unique new program explores what it takes to educate girls — and how that learning ripples through a community.

While delegates pondered how to best help educate women at large, they also learned new skills for themselves.

Over the course of a week, the delegates attended a series of workshops to help them build networks and connect with the public, using social media and other tools.

“We wanted to send them home with tools — media relations, government relations, financial literacy — skills they can apply to their own communities,” said Farah Mohamed, president of the Belinda Stronach Foundation, which organized the summit.

The young women then charted a series of changes governments should implement to make education more accessible to girls, including free and compulsory education, improving sanitation in schools and adding sexual education and self-defense to school curricula.

They also came up with education initiatives to pursue in their own communities upon their return. In the next year, the group will use their newfound connections to promote their projects, and keep track of each other’s progress.

Alexandra Rose Rieger, 18, plans to work within the school system. The German delegate, who has long worked with children’s charities, wants to create language programs in schools, to help immigrant children and families “really adapt well into the culture,” she said.

“We also need to expand the curriculum for all students to include lessons in respecting different cultures.”

Irem Tumer, Turkey’s representative, will instead focus on establishing peer mentoring programs.

“I believe that (formal) education is effective, but having a mentor to connect with can be more helpful in many ways,” she said. “It’s like having a life coach.”

For many girls, mentors “play a really important role,” Mohamed said.

Most of the summit participants said a role-model or mentor had helped them achieve their goals, she said.

In turn, she said, these young women will become role-models for the next generation of girls — and next year’s G(irls)20 group.