Today, 11th October is International Day of the Girl #IDG2017. I was honoured to be asked to sit on a panel at the Bloomsbury Institute last night to discuss the challenges that girls face today and how we can help them to thrive.
I was a little nervous to say the least. Bloomsbury is a grand venue where book shelves packed with works of importance line the walls. Seeing my book on sale for those attending the event was another ‘pinch me’ moment.
My fellow panellists were:
Emma France; Global and Strategic Development Director of mothers2mothers. Proceeds from the evening went to mothers2mothers, a non-profit with a mission to create a generation free from HIV and to create healthy families and communities in Africa.
Anna Williamson; TV presenter, life coach, counsellor, NLP practitioner and best selling author of Breaking Mad – the insiders guide to conquering anxiety.
Our discussion was chaired by Harriet Minter; journalist and broadcaster, founder of the Guardian’s Women In Leadership section and host of The Badass Women’s Hour on Talk Radio.
I needn’t have worried. As soon as I met the other panellists they were warm and passionate about the very things that are important to me and I knew the evening was going to be great. Harriet is a very experienced chair and seemed to have a knack of directing the right questions to the right panel member.
So, what did we discuss? Well the topics were varied, ranging from who are heroines are to why we needed an International Day of the Girl at all? What changes did we want to see before IDG2018 and how did we feel our childhood was different from that of girls today?
It was both impressive and humbling to hear how mothers2mothers have virtually eliminated mother-to-child transmission of HIV in the clients they work with. Emma reminded us of some of the extreme problems girls face such as gender-based violence, no access to family planning, sexual exploitation and child marriage.
Anna shared how her own experience of anxiety had lead her to write her book. The book that she wished she’d had access to at the time of her ‘major meltdown’. We discussed how anxiety is more and more common and interestingly Anna said that it isn’t actually more common in girls than boys, it’s just that girls talk about it more. We all agreed that demands from social media, whether it be to simply keep up with conversations between peers, or the pressures that come from trying to reach the unachievable perfection in life that many portray online, can have an adverse effect on mental health.
I was able to share the statistics that girls are less active than boys and the astounding fact that only 23% of five to seven year olds do the recommended amount of daily physical activity (60 minutes per day) AND even more worryingly that by age 13 to 15 only 8% meet that target. This lead to discussion about why this is and what we can do to address it. There were lots of nods from the audience when school cross country was mentioned as the nail in the coffin for many women’s sporting experience! I hope that my book Sorted: The Active Women’s Guide to Health will go some way to help women rediscover their love of movement and be able to share that with their daughters.
The conversation kept returning to women rather than girls. I think this is just a marker of the responsibility we all feel towards shaping the girls of today into the women of tomorrow. Positive role models are vital. There was one girl in the audience and one man too (I wish there’d been more). A question for the panel was, “What can fathers do to help girls to thrive?” A simple question but one that certainly had me thinking. Giving them time, leading by example and taking care not to stereotype were our answers but really, how is that different from what mothers can offer? I’d be interested in your thoughts on this one.
A stimulating and thought provoking evening and i enjoyed it very much. I’ll leave you with my children’s responses when I asked them what they felt girls needed to thrive:
My son said, “To be able to try different things without worrying they might not be any good at them and to have choice”.
My daughter said, “To laugh and make good memories”.
You can read more about mothers2mothers here and find them on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram . Anna’s book Breaking Mad is available here. She’s on Twitter and Instagram. My book Sorted is available here and you know where to find me!