August 11 2019
Never before had I walked into a space with four hundred other people and felt a sense of community and support as strong as that of Girl Up’s. On their website, Girl Up describes themselves as a “global movement of empowered young women leaders who defend gender equality.” Founded by the United Nations Foundation in 2010, Girl Up works with partners around the globe to give girls the resources and platform they need to create social change. As a part of this mission, Girl Up hosts a three-day annual leadership summit that brings girls together to hear from influential speakers, engage in workshops, and participate in a “day of action.”
The first morning, I sat down at a table with two girls, who enthusiastically welcomed me. One was from China and the other was from Indonesia, and after just a few minutes of talking, we became close friends. That kind of thing doesn’t usually happen to me. The summit brought together girls from 25 different countries. We didn’t all share the same religion, sexuality, ethnicity, or even language -- but somehow, we all fit together.
Girls from all around the world partaking in the INSPIRE session.
The summit was filled with exciting, prominent speakers whose mission was to help us use our voices to make change. As Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley said so well in her keynote speech, “No one is voiceless. What people are is unheard.”
Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley delivering her speech to the enthusiastic crowd.
Julie Carrier, the CEO of Girls Lead Worldwide and a member of the Advisory Board for Girl Up, shared with girls the tips and tricks to confidence that made her the globally-renowned, award-winning speaker that she is today. Ina Bhoopalam, a Girl Up Teen Advisor, spoke about overcoming the stereotypes of being a woman in today’s society. Jodie Patterson, an LGBTQIA+ advocate and entrepreneur, talked about gender as a social construct and emphasized the importance of transgender and non-binary inclusion in feminism. Ekhlas Ahmed, a refugee and activist from Sudan, spoke about finding a mentor to guide you through the ups and downs of your endeavors. She said, “that person doesn’t help you find your voice - they help you find yourself.”
With each speech, I walked away feeling more empowered, informed, and capable than I had before. And the best part about the summit wasn’t even the speakers. It was the girls.
“[My favorite thing about the Girl Up summit is] the opportunity to meet other people from all over the world who experience being a girl differently,” said Anna Blue, the co-executive director of Girl Up, in an interview.
What made the Girl Up conference so powerful was not what all the girls had in common. It was that they respected and celebrated one another’s differences. “I see girls meeting each other and getting really excited and really connecting and having conversations,” Blue said.
Through Girl Up’s proactive approach, the conference was able to convert this respect for each another’s differences into a concerted focus on improving the world. At a time when girls continue to face so much discrimination worldwide, that focus created a palpable sense of excitement and optimism. The sessions ranged from “Building a Platform with Impact” to “Uplifting Women In Sports” to “No Planet B,” -- topics crucial to ensuring society’s progression. On the “day of action,” Girl Up brought all 400 girls to Capitol Hill to lobby for women’s rights issues. That was the real strength of the summit – bringing together all these girls from so many places and with so many different perspectives, and using their collective support for one another to improve the world.
And the girls loved it.
“I’ve never before in my life seen so many girls come together and really be so hungry to create change in the world,” said Aija Mayrock, an anti-bullying activist who performed her original rap poem “Dear Sisters,” at the summit. “I think that this summit is a place where hope is born and created…When I leave, I feel like I have so much faith in the future.”
Aija Mayrock and Adina posing with Adina for a picture.
The speakers were inspirational. The panels were engaging. The girls were passionate and involved. And the food was great.
So if you’re a young change-maker looking to kick-start the revolution, I highly recommend attending the Girl Up leadership summit. Not only will you learn the skills you need to become an empowered activist, but you’ll join an amazing community along the way. They say making a difference takes a village. At the Girl Up leadership summit, you’ll find that village in three days.
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