In 1994, a group of girls and women got together, in response to the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China, creating an organization, Girls International Forum (GIF). The organization has been instrumental in empowering girls to take on issues affecting girls across the globe.
This year, a national steering committee of 15 girls organized a global summit in Saint Paul, Minnesota where they invited girls from different parts of the world identifying various issues. The girls were from India, Indonesia, Israel, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa and the United States. Each team was led by a summit leader and a woman mentor allowing the young girls to learn more about each others cultures.
Each team presented a plank in which they described the plight of girls in their community. The summit was an opportunity for the girls to identify these issues and to offer working solutions using skills learnt, such as lobbying, and effective communication, learnt during the summit. The following planks were presented: The effect images portrayed by the media of women, Minnesota: Religion and culture as affected by social norms, South Africa: Education and the Girl Child, Kenya: Creating Awareness of issues surrounding girls, India: Women and Assertion, Israel: Education of children especially girls after the earthquake, Indonesia: HIV/AIDS education and awareness, Nigeria.
Krishna, a 14-yr old girl from India has great dreams. Her dream is for India to have equal opportunity and access to education for both boys and girls. Together with the other girls on her team she plans to work to increase equal school enrollment of girls, and decrease child labor, sexual abuse, and child marriage by increasing awareness of these issues in the community. She also advocates for people to maintain certain cultural values even in the quest for education. In her opinion, it is best to educate her community on the value of educating girls.
Alice Wanjiru, a 16-yr old girl from Kenya realizes the potential she has and hopes that her community can allow her an opportunity to showcase her talent. Because her family could ill-afford a high school education for her, she was afraid that she would not further her education. Fortunately for her, the Starehe Girls’ Center, a free girls’ high school for needy children, was recently opened. Her dream is to be an ambassador for women, to show young girls that they can achieve anything even in the face of adversity.
Errolyn Martin, a 17yr-old native of Chicago, who was on the planning committee (GIF), did not have any expectations prior to the summit. However, as the summit progressed, she found that she learnt something new each day. She found an international perspective on issues faced by young girls across the globe. She could finally relate real people to issues as she saw them on the news. As a facilitator, it opened her eyes to issues within her own community, “If I can help girls around the world, then I can definitely help girls in my own community.”
The conference ended on a positive note, with the girls promising to keep in touch and support each other in their efforts. According to 22yr-old Rashma Pattni, another member on the planning committee, GIF plans on hosting a similar conference in the next five years, where they will have the same teams report back on the success of their plank.
About Julia N. Opoti
A former Mshale editor, Julia Nekessa Opoti is now the producer and host of the radio show: Reflections of New Minnesotans on AM950 . She also edits/publishes Kenya Imagine.