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G Day: A Modern Rite of Passage for Girls

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By Madeleine Shaw

As an adolescent girl, I was awed by the notion of becoming an adult woman. Like Margaret in Judy Blume's classic coming of age novel,"Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret," I was obsessed with all the details, particularly menstruation, and on a semi-conscious level hoped that there would be some sort of fanfare when the momentous time came.

The obvious aside, nothing happened, and I was left with a sense of keen disappointment. Not that I could have told you what exactly I had imagined -- I just wanted other people to acknowledge that what was happening to me was special, because I sure thought it was.

I was reminded of these feelings early last year, when I was invited to speak at Pecha Kucha Night Vancouver created in partnership with Women Transforming Cities.

At first I thought it was a bit odd to be thinking about my work as a marketer of feminine hygiene products in an urban context, and then I remembered my girlhood dream, and landed on the idea of creating modern "Red Tents" (inspired by Anita Diamant's 1997 novel "The Red Tent") where we could bring our daughters to celebrate them when they entered adolescence.

A couple of weeks after my talk, I happened to meet a woman who had been in the audience and felt inspired by the Red Tent vision I had posited, and offered her services as an event planner to help make the dream come true. The first "G Day" (Girls' Day) is scheduled to take place on April 28, 2014 in Vancouver.

Developing the dream of a room full of kind, wise women welcoming girls into their world has led me to look at the issues facing adolescent girls through a 21st-century lens. Most Canadians are already painfully aware of the alarming incidents of bullying and its tragic outcomes, not to mention the under-representation and sexualization of girls and women in the media.

According to research by Dove Canada, most girls are unhappy with their appearance by the time they are 14, with nearly half (47 per cent) of Canadian girls between the ages of 10 and 17 having avoided social activities like going to the beach, participating in physical activities, going to school or giving an opinion because they feel badly about the way they look.

Documentary films and projects like "Miss Representation" and events like Pink Shirt Day are brilliant antidotes to these increasingly pervasive challenges. I wondered: could a community-based celebration also play a part in supporting our youth, in this case girls?

As I have worked to develop G Day's programming, speaking with dozens of parents and educators I have become increasingly convinced that modern rite of passage events could be a powerful, loving complement to progressive parenting, media and educational programs.

G Day seeks to counter the social conditions that underlie social competition, comparison and aggressive behaviour by focusing on the commonality of experience that girls at this age (G Day's focus is on ages 10 to 12) are all sharing: adolescence. By cultivating this common bond, we create a sense of sisterhood, reminding the girls to care for and respect each other as they would themselves, to resist bullying, model compassion, and stand up for themselves and one another.

In keeping with the day's theme of sisterhood and compassion, $10 from every ticket sold will go to support projects specific to girls' education in Ethiopia via imagine1day, G Day's Charity Partner. imagine1day is a Vancouver-based registered charity that has been building schools and transforming the quality of education delivery in Ethiopia since 2007, with a goal for all Ethiopians to have access to quality education funded free of foreign aid by 2030.

The inaugural G Day takes place on Monday April 28 (a Vancouver School District Professional Development day) at the Villa Amato Ballroom, and runs from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tickets are $75 and include over a dozen speakers and artists, a nutritious catered lunch, snacks and souvenir workbook. Learn more at www.GDayforGirls.com.

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