Last week I had the great honor of attending the Girls 20 Summit in Toronto, the brainchild of Belinda Stronach, a former MP who is now the executive vice-chairman of Magna International Inc. Her foundation The Belinda Stronach Foundation, organized the event in collaboration with Oxfam, Save the Children and the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, among others.This forum gives young women from around the world the opportunity to meet and discuss the greatest issues facing girls and women, to have a say in global policy and to represent a voice for 3.3 billion women worldwide, as a prelude to the G20 summit taking place this week.
I sat in the audience at University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Business listening to bright, articulate female panelists representing global women’s foundations that are doing incredibly important work. They included Pamela Shifman of the NOVO Foundation, the Nike Foundation’s Swan Palik, Sarah Degnan Kambou, president of the Washington-based International Centre for Research on Women, Jill Sheffield of Women Deliver and Zainab Salbi of Women for Women International. Each amazing…each inspiring!
The panelists were asked to address the following question and provide recommendations:
“What is the greatest challenge facing girls and women today?
The women spoke passionately, and at times through tears. Their answers intersected along the same theme: lack. Girls and women of the world lack ––respect, safety, personal rights, education, health, freedom of speech, opportunities to be employed and to be paid fairly when they do work.
As I listened to the horrific statistics from the developing nations about child brides, gang rapes, the number of young girls who are pulled out of school to care for other siblings or to get married to an older man in an arranged marriage, I felt my arms wash over in goose bumps and tears well up in my eyes.
I have three little girls of my own whom I am raising to be strong, confident, intelligent young women. I am raising them to believe that they can be and do anything in the world they set their minds to…now and as they grow up. While I am proud of the opportunity, education, experience and self-respect they have…as a mother, I feel compassion for all the world’s daughters. I feel compelled to do MORE.
There were twenty-one young female delegates, between the ages of 18 to 20, representing each of the G20 countries, as well as a representative from the African Union. Each of these girls had the opportunity to share her ideas and hopes for creating change in the world. I was awe-struck by their bright, articulate observations, and in some cases, by the harsh reality of what they see every day, as well as their courage, strength and hopes for a better future. Many of these young girls are attending university, active in their own communities as agents of change, They are using their voice to make a difference…inspiring and amazing to say the least. I Wanted to reach out and hug them all, instead I showered them with heartfelt words of praise, “I believe you are amazing young women. Keep dreaming and thinking and doing what you’re doing. What a fabulous opportunity this is for the world to meet you.”
All the way home in the car my mind raced with ideas, germinating from seeds that had been planted long ago. Some seeds that had been growing from conversations I have shared at bedtime with my daughters as we discussed the reality that many other girls their age face-that they are not allowed to attend school, they are not safe, they are forced to marry and have children at an early age. My children’s wide-eyed expressions when I speak to them, mirror what I imagine to have been my own wide-eyed expression as I listened to the girls I have distantly referenced in my own conversations…standing before me, in person. Their clothes and voices are representative of their different cultures…but we share one heart.
I consider the distance they have traveled to be here, to share and learn…to become empowered and to use their voices to change the world. As panelist Sarah Dregnan suggested, I think of all the girls who cannot be here and I think of what I can do to help them be all that they can be…all the things I wish for my own daughters.
I am humbled by the entire experience. I am grateful to everyone here, to my friend Sabeen for making it possible for me to attend and especially to Belinda Stronach for creating this meaningful forum. I was able to say a big thank you to Belinda Stronach who was gracious and warm and welcome to future collaborative efforts.
I am reminded of one of my favorite quotes, from someone I consider to be a truly amazing woman:
“Although the world is full of suffering, it is full also of the overcoming of it.” — Helen Keller
This resonates within me.
My campaign “I Believe She’s Amazing” is a start…a way to express gratitude for the amazing girls and women we share our lives with…and to raise the level of appreciation, admiration and love for the beauty and hope that every girl and woman represents in the world. Once we have reached our 1,000,000-person goal, the next step, is to create a foundation that sponsors girls and women’s initiatives around the world, because we believe they are amazing!
This is the juicy stuff I teach in my transformation workshops…and I am in love with living it…to do the things that make us come alive. Well this event has made me come MORE alive.
In the words of the final speaker, the eloquent Reeta Ray, President of the Mastercard Foundation, “What is it you can do with your own power and circle to change? What ripple effect will your actions have on the world? How is your ray going to shine? How are you going to make a difference?”
Don’t ever forget one person can make a difference in this world…that one person is YOU!
With love and gratitude,