Future Leaders and Aspiring Writers: Nova Scotia Girls Conference Celebrates Talented Young Women

The Alexa McDonough Institute launched the Girls Conference in 2012 to bring together girls and young women from across Nova Scotia to celebrate International Women’s Day (held annually on March 8). From its inception, the mission of the conference has been to help girls develop, appreciate, and celebrate their own abilities and talents – as well as those of other girls and women – and to help them to empower themselves, build confidence, and be a positive influence in their communities. The conference gives young women the opportunity to share their stories, ideas, and advice while taking on challenges in new areas, all while having fun in a safe space (AMI, 2019).

What started out as an idea to create a small event based around learning and advancement soon became AMI’s most popular event, reaching thousands of girls from across Nova Scotia over the past eight years. This year, we had a record number of girls attending the conference (attendance was capped at 350, with more than 600 on the waitlist). It is no surprise that the AMI would undertake such an event given its mission to achieve equity and improve lives through feminist initiatives that extend knowledge and understanding of issues related to women, girls, gender, and social justice for the Mount Saint Vincent University (MSVU) community and beyond. The Mount is the perfect place to house such an event, given its rich and long history of advocacy and support for women and its strong commitment to building a strong and equitable future for women.

In 2016, the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission recognized the AMI and its Girls Conference with one of its annual Human Rights Awards.

A committee run entirely by volunteers organizes the annual conference. For me, Cassandra, the first time I was a part of planning the Girls’ Conference in 2013, I could see the importance of the work the Alexa McDonough Institute was doing.  We think it is important to reach as many girls as possible across the province especially from rural areas.  There is something incredible about hundreds of girls being together. The energy, strength and creativity that comes out in the workshops and throughout the day is empowering and inspirational.

At the full day conference this year, girls participated in various workshops and activities offered by more than 60 experts, including, for the first time, an international keynote speaker: Mam-Yassin Sarr, the co-founder and director of Starfish International, a non-profit organization that seeks to advance humanity through girls’ education and service-learning opportunities in The Gambia in West Africa. Other speakers included poet, activist, and community organizer El Jones; Governor General Julie Payette; and Sophie Gregoire Trudeau.

The 2019 Plan International Canada survey of 1000 women aged 18 years and older found that:

  • 67% of women report they became aware of gender inequity before the age of 25;
  • 65% say they never received mentorship;
  • 72% of young women aged 18-24 have felt pressure to change their behaviour because of their gender;
  • Only 38% of young women believe they have the same leadership opportunities as men; and
  • Girls as young as six can begin to feel like they are not as good as boys at certain subjects (Plan International Canada, 2019).

The AMI, through our annual Girls Conference is trying to change those numbers for the better. Every year, we receive evaluations from conference delegates. Plans are already underway for the ninth conference on March 6, 2020.

Right from the get-go, we knew we were onto something with the Girls Conference because of the positive responses from families, schools, community groups, and most importantly from the girls who attend. The demand from girls for a chance to attend increases every year. Why? Because people understand that self-identified girls and women face challenges and discrimination based on their sex and gender and that their circumstances, opportunities, and education must improve.

This year we partnered with The Philanthropist to host a writing competition for girls who attended the conference. A selection committee asked the contestants to write about their experiences, learning, and reflections at the conference. Each winning author received a prize of $250, presented to them at the AMI annual general meeting. Congratulations again to Damini Awoyiga, Lily Brigham-Gale, Malaya Douglas and Sophia Hanna! We hope you enjoy their writing.

References

Alexa McDonough Institute for Women, Gender and Social Justice (AMI). (2019). Girls Conference. Retrieved Aug 13, 2019 from: https://www.msvu.ca/en/home/research/chairs/centresandinstitutes/IWGSJ/Events/girls2020/default.aspx

Plan International Canada (2019). Girls to womanhood: A look at gender equality in Canada. Retrieved Aug. 13, 19 from: https://nanos.co/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/2019-1370-Plan-Canada-Populated-Report-with-Tabs.pdf

Susan M Brigham, PhD is the Chair of the Girls Conference, Chair of the Alexa McDonough Institute, and professor in the Faculty of Education.

Cassandra McDonald is the Girls Conference Coordinator, committee member of the Alexa McDonough Institute and a masters student in education.

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