MOSCOW — A group of young women want to send a message to the mostly male leaders of the Group of 20 nations meeting in St. Petersburg this week: Don’t forget us.
Over the summer, young women from the G-20 countries, plus one each from the European Union and African Union, met in Moscow for a gathering sponsored by G(irls)20 Summit, a Canadian-based organization that has been holding similar meetings every year since 2010.
The summit’s necessity is obvious to the delegates, who know the problems in their own countries and learn about the challenges women in other countries face every day.
Jenni Lee, the U.S. delegate, gave one example: “In terms of politics and government representation, we’re ranked 78th in the world for female representation in government, and I’m just appalled by that number.”
In keeping with the theme of the G-20 meeting, G(irls)20 focuses on economic opportunity for women, with every meeting offering “power seminars” in which successful businesswomen from the host nation talk about their careers.
But the organization’s chief executive, Farah Mohamed, said the most important activities are the brainstorming sessions in which the delegates draw up demands for the G-20 leaders. Those sessions produce a communique, which is distributed to relevant officials, Mohamed said.
Upon arriving in a country, the group contacts the government office responsible for G-20-related matters. In Russia, this eventually yielded a meeting with the Deputy Prime Minister Olga Golodets. Mohamed said every summit has resulted in “great partnerships” with officials in the host country.
The 2013 communique covers jobs, growth and investment but also early forced marriage. It has seven demands on economic matters, the first two related to education and technology. For example, the document suggests increasing access to the Internet for girls in rural areas.
Participants said the measures would increase female participation in sectors where they are traditionally underrepresented, such as information technology. The summit also decided that state-funded incentives such as loans or grants should be considered for encouraging post-secondary educational opportunities for girls to study abroad, with the caveat that they return home to benefit their communities.
The non-education related demands are aimed at government action to help women in enterprise and in the workplace generally. They seek tax-funded “incubators” for female-led start-ups and the promotion of a “parent-friendly workplace,” where, for example, pregnant women would not be fired.
The Russian delegate, Ellina Nurmukhametova, said the seminar on leadership qualities “helped us identify our weak points and turn them into strengths.”
But she said, “the most important thing is the people I have met here. They teach a lot.”
Lee, the U.S. delegate, agreed. “Every day, we walk to Google and that’s 30 or 40 minutes of walking, and in that 30 or 40 minutes I learn so much, not just about each of the girls’ countries but about their own personal struggles,” she said. “Sometimes you don’t need expert advice to light a fire under you, you just need to be inspired by something that’s greater than yourself and your own story.”