Today, October 11, we recognize International Day of the Girl Child, an internationally observed day sponsored by the United Nations that highlights and addresses the many challenges young women face around the world.
Nearly 25 years ago, the Fourth World Conference for Women brought together 30,000 women and men from nearly 200 countries–all dedicated to recognizing the rights of women and girls as human rights. The conference culminated in the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action: the most comprehensive policy agenda for the empowerment of women.
In the years following this accomplishment, women and men dedicated to gender parity have carried this agenda forward, leading global movements on issues ranging from education access to equal pay. Today, more girls are attending and completing school, fewer are getting married or becoming mothers while still children, and more are gaining the skills they need to excel in the future world of work.
At Linkage, we are committed to this mission through the Advancing Women Leaders practice, which works to address the barriers, biases, and hurdles that hold women back from the highest levels of leadership in the United States, and around the world.
Recently, Linkage continued our five year partnership with TechWomen. This vital organization empowers, connects and supports the next generation of women leaders in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) from Africa, Central and South Asia, and the Middle East by providing them the access and opportunity needed to advance their careers, pursue their dreams, and inspire women and girls in their communities.
Linkage team members Susie Kelleher, Principal Consultant, and Laura Lewers, Director of Strategic Accounts, were able to meet with 108 extraordinary women from 21 countries last week in California.
Each of the incredible women they met with are making an impact in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics in their respective countries. And, each are deserving of the opportunity to gain access to vital networks and educational experiences in the United States, which TechWomen makes possible through their sponsorship by the U.S. Department of State.
Through mentorship and exchange, TechWomen strengthens participants’ professional capacity, increases mutual understanding between key networks of professionals, and expands girls’ interest in STEM careers by exposing them to female role models.
Our team members were on-site to empower these emerging leaders to find and share their purpose statements. Both Susie and Laura expressed what a moving and impactful experience this was for them, so we wanted to learn more about their experience–and hear about the extraordinary accomplishments of these emerging leaders.
Q: It sounds like this was an amazing experience for both of you, can you tell me how it felt going into this event?
Laura: I had an overwhelming sense of honor, pride, and humility. Honor because I was surrounded by so many inspiring women. Pride because I felt so proud to welcome them to my beautiful hometown of San Franciso. Humbled because I saw the strength, courage, and resilience in the faces of these women, many of whom had never been to the United States or perhaps even outside of their home countries prior to this. And, I felt smaller. Now, I don’t mean that in a bad way at all–rather, it brought to light the fact that there is still so much to get done in this world. Seeing the power of people, especially women, working together to accomplish these things gives me hope for the future and inspires me to find my own way to step up and contribute to these goals.
Susie: Laura said it so well. And, I would add that not only are these women young and brilliant, but it’s hard to describe the spirit, curiosity, and kindness they all embody as well. They leave their homes, families, and countries for one month to join people they have never met, on the other side of the world. They do all of this with the selfless goal of traveling home to better their own countries. To say it was inspiring does not cover the overwhelming feelings we experienced while there.
Q: Was there a moment that stood out to you as one of your favorites?
Susie: I’d have to say that the chance to talk with, learn from, and watch women come together (from 6 different countries per group on average), to identify a problem they want to solve for their country was nothing short of amazing! All these women already have jobs–some own their own companies–and yet they are each taking on a big problem for their country to hopefully solve. Problems such as death and disease caused by lack of clean energy, water shortages, radiation exposure, assault, and the constant presence of fear–and just a basic lack of human rights for women. Imagine if we took six women from different states in the U.S. to do that?
Laura: Hands down my favorite moment came when I met a young leader from Nigeria who spoke of her “other” job; Building a foundation for teens and women to help them gain access to education in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. She passionately spoke about the project, the work, and the women they’re helping–but also spoke of the need for more technological tools. She was working with a laptop that was six years old, on its last legs, and it was the only tool she had to loan out to other women. As Americans, we are lucky to have access to so many tools right at our fingertips, such as the latest iPhones, laptops, iPads, and more. Thinking out loud, she said “If I could only get access to the tools people no longer use or get tired of”. With the help of Susie and event sponsor IIE, we were able to connect her with multiple resources right at the event! She then went on to tell her story and circled back to us later that day with a huge smile and the news that she had made connections with resources who were going to help her access the technology she needed. Seeing her excitement and knowing that together, we were able to help her find a tangible solution that will begin to make an immediate difference in her country was something I will surely never forget.
Hearing from Laura and Susie about this experience reminds us that there is still a great deal of work to be done. Today, we continue a centuries-long fight for equality, which should be a basic human right for all.
In the spirit of International Day of the Girl Child, I encourage you to empower the women in your inner circle, come together to help each other solve problems, and help each other climb the ladder of success. Work for the future you want for your daughters, your friends, and yourself. Together, we can do so much.