A group of young women from around the world has gathered this week in the city of Toronto, Canada. They are delegates to the first-ever G(irls)20 Summit, meeting in advance of the G-20 Economic Summit taking place later this month. They are meeting to discuss challenges facing girls and women across the globe.
The U.N. estimates that adolescent girls, that is, young women between the ages of 10 and 24-account for one-eighth of the world's population. Many of these girls not only work outside the home, but are the primary source of support for their families. Yet in the developing world, many of them don't enjoy the most basic human rights.
The Girls 20 Summit taking place this week in Toronto, Canada, invited 20 young women from each of the G-20 member countries to discuss the most pressing challenges facing women today. The summit is focusing on the United Nations Millennium Development Goals of ending poverty, improving access to health care, and providing universal primary school education. The girls are attending panel discussions related to each of these goals, and at the end of the summit, they will be asked to make recommendations on ways in which the Millennium goals can be better achieved.
Anwar Basunbul is the 19-year-old representative from Saudi Arabia, where women face significant restrictions of movement and are segregated from the world of men. They may work, but only with the permission of their husbands or other male guardians. Basunbul says that the leadership of her country has failed women; on the contrary, she believes that Saudi women have failed to ask for what they want.
"Women are not confident enough in my country to speak up," she said. "So I believe no one is going to give you a chance; you have to go and ask for it. I believe we didn't ask for it yet.
Basunbul is most concerned about opportunities for women in the Saudi workforce. "There's [sic] a quite good percentage of women who are interested in joining the working field, but there are restrictions on the professions we are allowed to participate [sic]," she said. "Because all departments are dominated by men due to the traditions that our culture still believes that men are biologically more qualified to lead or rule women.
She hopes that she can inspire young women in her country to become more confident and to ask to have a chance to be leaders.
Challenge of changing perception
Irem Tumer is the 19-year-old representative from Turkey, where traditional attitudes toward gender persist despite modernization. She says Turkey has instituted many legal reforms as part of its bid to join the European Union but these have not necessarily been implemented.
"Women in Turkey now face a big challenge of changing the perception of the society about the power of women and whether they are inferior to men," said Tumer.
Tumer also worries about the physical security of Turkish women. "Especially with the honor killings in the eastern parts," she said. "The safety of girls still remains to be a big problem. There have been laws that have been passed, and many police officers and other authorities are being trained about this. But more awareness and education for all girls is necessary to tackle this issue.
Tumer says will carry home two messages from the G(irls) 20 Summit-I is that education be made available to all girls in Turkey. "The first message that I would give is the need for education," she said. "There are many girls in rural areas that don't have access to primary school. And other than that, we need to empower women and let them become part of the formal sector in business and also let them be part of political decision making mechanisms."
She says that while laws have been passed against this type of violence, the government needs to conduct educational campaigns to tackle this issue and make sure all Turkish women are safe.
This unique summit was organized by a number of international charities, including the Toronto-based Belinda Stronach Foundation, Oxfam, Save the Children, and the Tony Blair Faith Foundation. Ultimately, the goal of the summit is to bring the economic power of girls and women to the attention of G-20 leaders and help ensure that women's issues are brought to the forefront of all future agendas.