My awareness of human rights violations began when I visited a relative in a Syrian jail. As a child, you are taught that only "bad" people go to jail. Yet before learning to read and write, I learnt that this wasn't always true. I learnt that "good" people could end up jailed, tortured and killed because they spoke out against injustice.
Ever since that experience, I have been determined to speak up for equality and justice at home and abroad. That determination to be on the right side of justice always guided me — until years later, after having lived the immigrant journey in France and Canada, when reality finally set in.
I quickly realised that my gender and my immigration status would be barriers to having my voice heard and reaching my full potential in the labour force. My education and dedication armed me to challenge racism and sexism, but it wasn't enough to fully thrive.
Then the G(irls)20 Summit opened doors of opportunities.
In light of recent feminist movements such as the women's marches and the #MeToo and #TimesUp campaigns, we see that women still have limited opportunities to gain practical skills and have their voices heard at the highest levels of governance. This is an issue that programmes such as the G(irls)20 Summit aim to resolve.
The Summit offers selected delegates workshops to build the skills essential to driving change in their communities, including communications, financial preparedness and public speaking. Most importantly, it connects delegates to each other — an incredible network of young women with the same drive to tackle issues faced by women and girls across the globe.
Within a few hours of arriving at the second annual G(irls)20 Summit in Mexico City, it became obvious to me that one thing all G(irls)20 delegates had in common was their commitment to speaking the language of gender equity.
One successful way of leveraging leadership spaces is women on boards.
Investing in women and girls is the right thing to do. It's also the smart thing to do.
Gender parity could add more than $12-trillion (R141.4-trillion) to the global economy. However, as the G20 countries continue to develop solutions for sustainable economic growth, only 15 women are currently heads of state and 18.3 percent of government ministers are women. How can we achieve economic prosperity when we leave out 50 percent of the population at the highest levels of the decision-making process?
Increasing female representation at all levels of leadership is crucial, but it's not just about more women in politics. Whether it's by being a CEO, an entrepreneur, an engineer, leading an NGO or volunteering in the community — my key takeaway from the summit was to never be afraid to spark change using your own path.
One successful way of leveraging leadership spaces is women on boards. Status of Women Canada is aiming to increase female representation on boards to 30 percent in both the private and public sectors by 2019. And G(irls)20 is leading the way: beyond its Girls on Boards programme, the inaugural G(irls)20 steering committee was created in 2017 to leverage the voices of previous delegates.
Improving programming, leadership skills and fostering opportunities for #youngfemaleleaders by #youngfemaleleaders is a necessary step forward. However, these spaces remain rare and undervalued. G(irls)20 is working towards making these spaces the norm, not the exception.
My story is the story of millions of young girls who are witnessing injustice first hand and want to create change. The G(irls)20 Summit was a catalyst to my growth as a young leader — it gave me the confidence and tools needed to continue breaking the glass ceiling throughout my career.
However, I continue to be a minority. Every time I hear the story of a young Syrian woman looking to be heard to spark change, but who faces the many systemic challenges that come with raising her voice, I am reminded that it could have been me.
It is vital to continue supporting organisations like G(irls)20 ,to give every girl the chance to achieve her full potential. Girls can be incredible agents of change – if and when we invest in them.
By: Sally Dimachki, G(irls)20 steering committee chair and ambassador