Girl Power

Girl Power

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The plight of girls and women in many societies around the world remains a question of inequality, unrest, even war.  That troubling reality coupled with the desire to give girls a voice was part of the impetus for an international initiative – spearheaded by the Belinda Stronach Foundation called the G(irls) 20 Summit recently in Toronto.

With 3.3 billion girls and women across the world and statistics that show females are responsible for two-thirds of the world’s work hours yet only receive a tenth of the income, there is still a long way to go.

So how do we as parents influence and encourage our children to make positive changes in the world?

We spoke with two of 20 young female delegates who participated in the summit and decided they want to make a change in the world.

Leah Stuart Sheppard, 19 years old grew up in Toronto but currently lives in Ottawa and is studying International Development and Globalization.

Nomathemba Sibanyoni, is a 19-year-old from South Africa.

What did your participation in the G(20)irls Summit mean to you?

Sheppard: “The G(irls) 20 Summit was an opportunity for me to learn from the experiences and perspectives of 20 other passionate women from around the world. We heard from knowledgeable presenters and participated in very useful workshops. Through these activities and our delegate discussions, I feel that the summit gave me both the opportunity to learn more about the challenges facing women and girls in the world today as well as the tools to work for change on these issues. It was an opportunity to make connections and to learn, and I feel that it gave me new inspiration to continue working for change in my community and around the world.”

Sibanyoni: “It meant that I am making my way as a catalyst of change in this world. I saw that we had issues that affect women empowerment and I attended this summit and got the necessary skills and information to influence and be the change.”

Why do you feel a summit like this one was necessary?

Sheppard: “The voices of women and girls are not adequately heard at meetings like the G20 and G8. It is important to listen to this half of the population and work to improve their lives. When women are educated, healthy, and able to make a living, they can live better lives and contribute to their community as a whole. It is necessary to draw attention to the needs of women and girls and to have a global conversation and discussion on how to best meet these needs; our Summit was one important part of this.”

Sibanyoni: “It gives ordinary people that see and experience these issues an opportunity to speak out and suggest solutions that can change situations for the better.”

If you could give a piece of advice, based on what you learned at the summit to another young women what would it be?

Sheppard: “I would advise young women, particularly in countries like Canada, to speak up for themselves and for other women. What became clear to me over the course of the Summit is that there are still many silent stereotypes that hold back women in developed nations and developing nations alike, and that the only way to break these stereotypes is through education and through changing public discourse. In countries like Canada, where women have achieved a lot of success overall, it is especially hard for women to challenge the assumption of equality and speak out against injustices that they see and feel. It is extremely necessary for women to do this, however, as otherwise nothing will change and there will be no discussion. Women everywhere need a louder voice, and so any way a young woman can speak out and speak up is important.”

 Sibanyoni: “To change the world does not mean you have to have money or be a big person, but it starts with you within your community and speaking out is the best way to grab attention and be helped.”

What is one change you would like to see made in this world?

Sheppard: “I would like to see all girls and boys have access to primary and secondary school education. Education gives people the tools that they need to realize their dreams, stand up for themselves, and participate in their communities. So many girls lack this opportunity; this worsens many of the challenges facing women and girls around the world. Education improves income and health and it expands its benefits beyond the individual into the family and community. The world will be a better place once everyone has the tools they need to be themselves and be a part of their communities.”

Sibanyoni:  “Universal education for all, not just primary or secondary but even tertiary education.”

For more information about the G(irls) 20 Summit and the Belinda Stronach Foundation visit