10/05/2012 01:59 EDT | Updated 12/05/2012 05:12 EST

Girl Effect YVR: How To Empower Girls Globally


A year ago, a friend shared a video that introduced me to The Girl Effect -- the idea that if we invest in girls living in developing nations, the resulting ripple effect can help end poverty.

For once, being a girl isn't a drawback. To the contrary, the video urges us to see girls as the solution to many of our most pressing global problems. At least, they could be if we provide young girls around the world with equal access to education, healthcare, nutrition and the law.

Because a young adolescent girl in the developing world will start a positive ripple effect by reinvesting 90 per cent of her income back into her family -- as opposed to men and boys who contribute only 30 to 40 per cent.

Yet, Official Development Assistance figures from 2005-2006 show that only 2.17% of total aid ($54.3 billion) goes toward gender equality. Assuming the majority of that aid goes to grown women, that means less than two cents per aid dollar is directed to girls.

I thought back to the video a few months later when the United Nations declared International Day of the Girl Child; I was moved to participate in order to promote equal treatment and opportunities for girls around the world.

The first step was to draft my friends to the cause and open the Girl Effect YVR, a local chapter of volunteers. Following close to a year of meetings in my living room and coffee houses around town, we're about to host The Girl Effect: Empowering Girls Globally, a free public dialogue on Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2012 at the Vancouver Public Library.

As Canadians, we're quick to cluck sympathetically when issues of gender inequality are raised, assuming that these social injustices are happening elsewhere. That's why I was determined to assemble a panel of speakers like former city councillor Ellen Woodsworth who will address issues of empowerment here and abroad.

"Women only make up 21 per cent of elected municipal officials in Canada while representing half of the population in our cities," Woodsworth says. She'll speak about Women Transforming Cities, a one-day conference in June 2013 to define an ideal city for women and girls.

To highlight how Canadians can think global/act local, Lunapads' Madeleine Shaw and Suzanne Siemens will discuss One4Her, their collaboration to support women with jobs in Uganda and provide eco-positive menstrual products to girls. Millions of girls in the developing world lack access to menstrual products, leading them to miss school and even drop out. For every One4Her purchase, Lunapads will provide a girl in need with a Ugandan-made AFRIpad to support her education.

From East Vancouver, Suzette Amaya will discuss her personal pursuit for education and empowerment. Amaya is an aboriginal motivational speaker and producer/host of the award-winning radio show ThinkNDN 102.7fm.

Our final speakers are two students from Southridge School: Lauren Moretto and Ashley Andreou. Last year, they were two of only three girls in a group of 30 students who visited Guatemala to participate in a community-building project for orphaned and displaced children. In many ways, these young women embody the strength and independence we're looking to encourage in girls worldwide.

After the presentations, journalist Daphne Bramham will moderate an open Q&A session with the audience.

What would you like to ask the panel about how we can empower girls locally and globally?

Our event is free and open to the public; register early to reserve a seat. The dialogue is co-sponsored by the United Nations Association in Canada, the Girl Effect YVR -- a local chapter of girl champions -- Plan Canada in support of their Because I Am a Girl campaign, and the Vancouver Public Library.