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The G(irls)20 Summit, a meeting of 21 girls from around the world, will gather June 15-18 at the University of Toronto to discuss and raise awareness of the most pressing issues that affect girls and women internationally. The initiative is being hosted and run by The Belinda Stronach Foundation, established by businesswoman and former politician Belinda Stronach. In the lead up to the summit the Globe will publish a series of short profiles of the delegates.

July Lee, 19, United States

What does the rest of the world need to know about the lives of girls and women in your country?

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"To the world, America is often depicted as the country of freedom and opportunities, but to the underprivileged, American woman, it is an outrageous disillusionment. The very issues that plague women in other countries are the very issues that exist in our own backyard. Young women, low-income women, and some minorities are disproportionately victims of domestic violence and rape, reaching over one million victims in 2008. The FBI estimates that over 100,000 children and young women ages 9 to 19 are trafficked in America today, and hundreds of women are murdered by their intimate partners. However, there is great potential in American girls and women to change this cultural cycle of oppression. According to a Cambodian civil society group, "it is not gender which is destroying our culture... it is our interpretations of culture which has destroyed gender equality."

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Thaís Moraes, 18, Brazil

What is the biggest issue facing girls and women in your country? What can leaders do to solve the problem?

In Brazil, girls and women face lots of serious social problems, such as professional discrimination and domestic violence. Besides, in some foreign countries, the Brazilian woman is frequently seen as a sexual object. These problems need to have a special attention from authorities and global leaders so that they can gather efforts to solve them, developing programs and affirmative actions that can truly include women into society.

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Anwar Basunbul, 19, Saudi Arabia

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What does the rest of the world need to know about the lives of girls and women in your country?

The whole world needs to know that girls and the women in my country have great ambitions and great abilities to make them great leaders. That fact that in my country we never had a well known female leader is not because our women do not qualify. It is because the cultural and traditional beliefs that women should be always ruled by men.

Have world leaders failed the girls and women of your country? If yes, how? If not, why?

No, I do not think that leaders fail us. I think we haven't spoken for ourselves loud enough for them to hear us and pay attention to us. I think that they think that we are given all our rights and we have nothing to complain about. This is not their problem, it is ours because we never ask for it.

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Alberta Pelino, 20, Italy

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What is the biggest issue facing girls and women in your country? What can leaders do to solve the problem?

I think in my country, girls and women have had possibilities to acquire independence and rights. But there is still a lot to do in this matter. In some environments, such as the workplace, women are sometimes seen in a different way from men and often have less important positions than those of the men. For example, employers prefer not to recruit women who intend to have children, because this can affect their employment opportunities and attendance at work. Moreover, they are considerably more vulnerable, so they are easier victims of violence, rape and stalking. Leaders should promote policies for the security, defence and valorization of girls and women to make them more self-confident and aware of their own potential.

What's the No. 1 thing G20 leaders must do to improve the lives of girls and women?

The No. 1 thing G20 leaders must do to improve the lives of girls and women is to support education. A cultured woman is an independent woman. She will be self-supporting, find a good career and give birth to healthy and well-educated children. She has the means to pursue her freedom and happiness. Investing in education means investing in the future of the country.

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Kartika Nurhayati, 19, Indonesia

What is the biggest issue facing girls and women in your country?

From what I see on a daily basis, disparities exist between the way girls and boys are raised in Indonesia. Girls rank after boys in family hierarchies, and that triggers discrimination in families, where girls often receive less food, education, and medical care. Girls are also putting in more hours to do household chores and to take care of younger siblings and elderly members of family. In slum areas, there is a root habit that men eat fresh, healthy and delicious foods, while women eat the leftovers, even when the women are pregnant. As result, women suffer from malnutrition, and it often leads to death. In patriarchal tribes, women are told to rely on economic and family-planning decisions made by their husbands. A woman's job is only about taking care of the house and children.

What can leaders do to solve the problem?

What leaders can do to solve these issues is enacting progressive and massive family planning programs to create smaller families. When parents have fewer children and higher education, they may be more attentive to the survival and well-being of all their children. Therefore, girls are more highly valued and less subject to discrimination. Besides, health providers and policy-makers should promote family planning as a means to encourage gender equity. Policy-makers should promote education for girls, while public and private entities should extend health insurance coverage to all families in order to narrow the gender gap in health treatment among poorer families.

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Alexandra Rose Rieger, 18, Germany

What is the biggest issue facing girls and women in your country? What can leaders do to solve the problem?

To find what I believe is the greatest challenge facing girls and women in Germany today, you would have to seek out a certain population, either the Asylanten [political refugees]or Auslaender [immigrants] These groups of girls and women are particularly vulnerable and more likely to be "arm" (poor) and "arbeitslos" (unemployed). Leaders need clarity to walk in solidarity and find innovative solutions which focus on education, intercultural and gender specific needs as well as addressing global issues. This framework requires above all, policies and measures to support this vision.

If you could meet one of the G20 leaders in person, who would it be? What would you ask - or tell - him or her?

I would love to meet with Wolfgang Schaeuble, Germany's finance minister. I would ask him, as a father of girls, does this shape his policies in a direct or indirect way and, if so, how? I would love to discuss options as to how to design programs created for girls and women to get leadership training, whether it was in the community or to become politically active as he was able to do when he joined the Junge Union [Youth Union]as a teenager.

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Anna Malinovskaya, 20, Russia

What is the biggest issue facing girls and women in your country? What can leaders do to solve the problem?

There are quite a few issues facing girls and women in my country, and many of these issues are interconnected. In view of Russia's current demographic crisis, I think the priority should be given to providing better family-planning services. A lot has been done in recent years to improve the demographic situation in Russia, but obviously it's not enough. Russia has the highest number of abortions per woman of child-bearing age in the world, according to UN data. Ten to 15 per cent of abortions result in women becoming infertile. The number of infertile women in Russia is increasing. According to some estimates, 10 to 15 per cent of couples cannot have children because of infertility. I'd like to use this opportunity to voice my concern about Russia's shrinking population which brings into question Russia's future as a nation. I'm convinced that expanding the access of Russian women to family-planning services would be one of the long-term solutions to the problem, if combined with other measures.

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Irem Tumer, 19, Turkey

What's the No. 1 thing G20 leaders must do to improve the lives of girls and women?

It is unfortunate to say but the physical security of girls and women around the world still continues to be a problem. Before poverty, before education and even before empowerment of women and families, the preservation of physical and spiritual security of women, and protection of fundamental human rights should be the No. 1 priority. I hope G-20 leaders would make a pledge for the improving human rights in their countries. As we clearly see, economic power and development does not entail more security for women. G-20 leaders should first of all, show the others that they pursue the same kind of human-rights policies across their countries.

If you could meet one of the G20 leaders in person, who would it be? What would you ask - or tell - him or her?

It would certainly be the President of Brazil, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. It is because Brazil shares lots of demographic similarities with my country. And President Lula's achievements in his social policies, which made him very popular across the globe, are worth examining and taking lessons.

His Bolsa Familia [family stipend]and Bolsa Escola initiatives are successful initiatives of school allowance and empowering families. When the issue at hand is education and women, incorporating the family factor in your policies is a must to do. And I believe Brazil is handling the social change in their very young and populous country very well, together with its economic development. Both countries, as they develop their relations, create new windows for co-operation in the social fields.

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Inès Le Bihan, 20 France

If you could meet one of the G20 leaders in person, who would it be? What would you ask - or tell - him or her?

It would be Angela Merkel. And the first question would be: Do you feel lonely?

What is the biggest issue facing girls and women in your country? What can leaders do to solve the problem?

Today, girls and women have to prove their abilities to realize and lead a project as good as men. That is not only a question of capacities or power, that is a question of self confidence. Girls and women have to believe that they are able to accomplish a lot of amazing things, overcoming obstacles.

Leaders have to propose solutions that should empower women's ambitions to face challenges.

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Emily Zhang, 19 The People's Republic of China

What is the biggest issue facing girls and women in your country?

The greatest challenge is the unequal opportunity to get education between boys and girls, and it is more severe in the rural parts of China.

The Chinese traditional feudal thought is first to blame. At that time, girls and women had no access to schools. Instead, their feet were bound and they had to stay at home to rear children, do cooking, etc. They had no idea what the outside world was like and the country was controlled by men. Though today, according to the law, females and males enjoy equal rights, the idea still exists that men are superior to women and men have the priority to be educated.

In rural areas, girls are not supported by their families to go to school. People live on farming there and girls are not as strong as boys and cannot create as much fortune as males. For females, it is absolutely unfair. Receiving education is a critical part of human rights. Without a good education, how can girls compete with boys in the future? How can they earn their own living? How can they realize their dreams? The society apparently ignores the needs and the rights of the females.

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Laura Dolozi, 18, Malawi

What is the biggest issue facing girls and women in your country?

The greatest challenge faced by girls and women in my community is lack of education, which results in violence against their rights, and poverty as well. Most of the girls and women in my community are not educated. They can't even read and write. If one is not educated, she understands nothing in development issues. For example, if we talk of HIV and AIDS, they think it's not true that there is AIDS. If we say that they should not indulge themselves in casual sex, they should abstain or use condoms, they say their grandparents never used condoms.

In Malawi, most of the women's rights are violated. For example, most of the women are being beaten by their husbands every day, they just stay quiet. They say because he is my husband, he has the right to beat me. Most of the women don't go to school, others don't even work but they went to school, others can't even do businesses simply because they are not allowed by their husbands. Most of the girls don't go to school due to lack of school fees, not because they have no parents to pay the fees, but because in the community here in Malawi, they believe that a girl child should not go to school, because when she grows up, she will get married, so the husband will be taking care of her. They believe that a girl's/a woman's duty is to look after children and family, not that a girl should go to school and get a good job. This is like this because of lack of education (ignorance). That's why mothers allow girl children not to go to school, since the mothers themselves didn't go to school, then they don't even know that their children (girls) have the right to education. They don't even know their responsibilities as parents.

Aiki Segawa, 19, Japan

What do you do to help the lives of girls and women in your community - your country?

I believe that I can help the lives of girls and women in my community through the actions I take and by role-modelling. Just as I have been inspired by other great figures throughout my life, I hope to inspire and empower girls and women by living life to the fullest. One of the biggest endeavours I have engaged in for the two years of my high school life is a fundraising project to build a library in Mongolia for children living in poverty. Through my actions, I hope to show that there is nothing about being female that should limit us. Although it may be difficult to see how an individual act can actually help to change the lives of individual girls and women, I feel this is a fundamental first step in creating a community of respect and care between one another. It is important for all girls and women to find confidence in the worth of each of their own lives and to discover that we are never powerless.

What is the biggest issue facing girls and women in your country? What can leaders do to solve the problem?

One of the greatest challenges women face in Japan is domestic violence; especially incidents in which girls and women are violently attacked by their fathers or husbands. Because domestic violence has not been considered a serious issue until recently, many women have not been able to speak up or ask for help.

Another serious issue affecting young women in particular is the increasing number of young girls suffering from eating disorders. One of the biggest societal causes behind this epidemic is an obsession with being fashionably slim, a concept propagated by media and other aspects of Japanese society.

We can begin to tackle these challenges by raising awareness in society so that people can realize the severe detriment of these issues to girls and women.

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Tanvi Girotra, 19, India

What's the No. 1 thing G20 leaders must do to improve the lives of girls and women?

I think that the answer to this question is very basic. The G20 leaders, apart from having fancy conferences, need to go down there, at the grassroots and realize what hardships these women face. In India, every day, a girl is forced into prostitution by her own husband. Another one is raped on a lonely street. Hundreds of women go through domestic violence in their homes due to insufficient dowry brought by them. Each and every day, a girl ceases to exist. She dies inside. Only if we know exactly what we are fighting will we be able to make any difference.

What do you hope to gain from attending this Summit?

As a representative from India, I hope to, along with my colleagues, make an effort toward women's empowerment, not just in India but all across the globe. I wish to learn how to hone my potential and leadership skills toward making a difference to millions of women who go through deprivation in the form of basic necessities or self-esteem and self-confidence issues.

Margaret Mead once said, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." I hope to meet those thoughtful and passionate groups of individuals who, like me, believe that together we can work toward a world where women are not repressed but respected for who they are.

Nomathemba Sibanyoni. 19, South Africa

What is the biggest issue facing girls and women in your country? What can leaders do to solve the problem?

Teenage pregnancy under poverty conditions. Leaders can encourage and assure the enhancement, availability and implementation of educational workshops and campaigns, especially targeting disadvantaged areas like rural areas and farms.

If you could meet one of the G20 leaders in person, who would it be? What would you ask - or tell - him or her?

It will be my very own honourable President, Mr. Jacob G. Zuma. I want to tell him personally about our problems and the challenges women face, and suggest ways in resolving them, focusing on an educational agenda around rural and urban areas.

What does the rest of the world need to know about the lives of girls and women in your country?

They are equipped with many skills such as painting, hand-crafting, and possess strong leadership qualities, but then they are exposed to poverty, which hinders their fast growth and development.

Julieta Leiva, 19, Argentina

What is the biggest issue facing girls and women in your country? What can leaders do to solve the problem?

I believe overcoming domestic violence against women is one of Argentina's major challenges. Women in my country are commonly affected by spousal abuse, and gender discrimination is, in my opinion, the root cause of this type of violence. In order to reduce this epidemic, educating and instilling values in both men and women is essential. Leaders should also give victims more opportunities to rebuild their lives, with easily available programs designed to suit their most basic needs.

Have world leaders failed the girls and women of your country? If yes, how? If not, why?

I do believe world leaders have failed girls and women. We could spend days talking about innocent women and girls being globally affected by armed conflicts, becoming refugees, victims of human trafficking, etc. But it is not necessary to think about the most extreme situations, in every country there are daily problems that should be addressed immediately and for some reason they are not. Unfortunately, Argentina is not an exception. Last week I travelled to Buenos Aires, Argentina's capital city. I only spent three days there, but in that short period of time I saw lots of homeless people. I am only a 19-year-old girl and seeing a woman with her four little children living in the streets really shocked me. How come things like this happen today and do not receive our leaders' attention?

Tania Patricia Montemayor Arroyo, Mexico

If you could meet one of the G20 leaders in person, who would it be? What would you ask - or tell - him or her?

I will choose Felipe Calderon, who is my president; I would like to talk with him about all the security decisions that he is making in my country and why those are not working.

Have world leaders failed the girls and women of your country? If yes, how? If not, why?

I think that there are a lot of broken promises, and the result of that is that we are living in a way that we don't want, justice is taking so long to come, they failed in that matter.

Simona Popa, 20, Romania

What is the biggest issue facing girls and women in your country? What can leaders do to solve the problem?

In Romania, where I was born, I would say it is the lack of opportunities. Living in a developing country brings one's chances to improvement, both personally and professionally, to minimum. And if one lives in a rural area, these become even less. This is one of the reasons for which girls and women do not get to acknowledge their real potential.

In Britain, where I study, I feel sad seeing them self-destructing. They are so beautiful, so intelligent, and they have all the chances to do so many things! But somehow, they choose to undervalue themselves. Not all of them, and not all the time, but I wish they could discover what amazing persons they are and stop accepting being treated as they do.

Eun-Hyang Go, South Korea

What's the No. 1 thing G20 leaders must do to improve the lives of girls and women?

The spirit of independence.

What is the biggest issue facing girls and women in your country? What can leaders do to solve the problem?

The issue of international marriage among migrant women and Korean men. [Common in rural areas, this leads to offspring who often face racial discrimination.]Solutions must include adaptation programs, children's education and promoting communication between couples.

Another issue is competition between women. I think that girls must try to live in harmony with themselves. Schoolteachers should help girls get along well with each other through games, sports and peaceful discussion.





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