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GIRL conference inspires female leaders

By Brian Oliver, The Graphic

Minister Squires speaking at Thursday's GIRL conference in Southport.

Minister Squires speaking at Thursday's GIRL conference in Southport.

A handful of female teens from south-central Manitoba had the privileged of mingling with several woman who hold positions of leadership within their respective careers – and hearing the challenges faced while pursing those careers – Thursday at the second annual Girls Igniting Real Leadership (GIRL) conference held in Southport.

“Events like these are important because we need to mobilize the ideas of the leaders in our community and these girls need to be hearing it,” says event facilitator, Jennifer Campbell.

Among the distinguished female speakers were Rochelle Squires, minister of sustainable development, Jane Curtis, CEO of Southern Health-Sante Sud, Chantelle Moffit, partner and business advisor at MNP assurance and accounting services group, Rochelle Rands, Portage la Prairie School Division's director of student services, constable Jennifer Davis, Portage la Prairie RCMP school liaison officer and Dawn Froese, executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters Portage la Prairie.

“These girls had an opportunity to be in front of the minister and have her speak candidly about the struggles she faced in her career,” adds Campbell. “(She) gave these girls tangible advice to take forward as they are growing as woman in the careers they want to have.”

A group of female youth, aged 15-18, participated in the day-long conference and heard first hand the challenges Minister Squires has had to overcome while pursing her political career, especially in terms of gender biases.

“I will consider my work a success, and the work of the woman of my generation a success, if these girls can go out and step into leadership positions and not face gender-based harassment,” said Minister Squires. “I believe there is room for all woman and girls at the top and we can support one another on our journey towards leadership and excel in our own careers while bringing others up with us.”

The group of youth in attendance spent time discussing issues and challenges faced in their respective communities and brainstormed tactics to combat those issues. The girls are to take those plans and implement them in their communities and return in a few months with results.

“It's a multi-faceted, multi step process that the girls are leading themselves and they don't even know and that's the beauty of having a think tank process,” Campbell says of how the issues are derived. 

Body issues and self-image were a common theme among the communities but the youths' dislike of an over-barring social media came as a surprise to Campbell.

“One that shocked me was identifying social media as consuming their life and influencing their decision making,” she adds. “They really want to get back to true communication and what's really important.”

The GIRL conference - now in its second year of existence - was conceived by Portage teen Alexandrea Nadeau, who, after participating in the inaugural International Day of the Girl event, wanted to provide a similar experience to teenaged girls in south-central Manitoba. The second phase of this GIRL conference is set for March, 2018.

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