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October 11th International Day of the Girl Child Conference was entitled
“Girls’ Leadership in the Digital Era”

The seventh edition of the International Day of the Girl Child Conference was organized by UNICEF, UNFPA, and UN Women in partnership with Aydın Doğan Foundation with the theme “The Time is Now! Girls’ Leadership in the Digital Era” on 11 October 2021.

The seventh edition of the International Day of the Girl Child Conference was organized by UNICEF, UNFPA, and UN Women in partnership with Aydın Doğan Foundation with the theme “The Time is Now! Girls’ Leadership in the Digital Era” on 11 October 2021.

The keynote speaker of the conference, Afshan Khan, UNICEF Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia said that “the time is now to support young women and girls to advance their skills, leadership capacity and to become the champions of gender equality, especially in a more digital world future.”

The seventh edition of the International Day of the Girl Child Conference, organized each year to highlight barriers faced by adolescent girls in leveraging their potential in Turkey, was held with the theme “The Time is Now! Girls’ Leadership in the Digital Era” on 11 October 2021. The keynote speaker of the conference hosted by Özge Uzun was Afshan Khan, UNICEF Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia. Khan highlighted the empowerment of girls and women, the use of digital platforms during the pandemic, the deepening of gender inequality and other inequalities.

Vuslat Doğan Sabancı: “We must support girls to lead in the digital world”

At her opening speech, Vice President of Aydın Doğan Foundation Vuslat Doğan Sabancı underlined that the main mission of the Foundation is education of young girls and that they aimed for a world where girls were stronger and took lead in all matters.  Emphasizing that girls were still underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and that there was a 17 percent gender gap in internet use worldwide, she said that technological inequality posed a serious challenge in the labor market, which increasingly demanded digital skills and knowledge. Vuslat Doğan Sabancı added: “Despite all the positive developments in protecting women’s and girls’ equality rights through the efforts of states, civil society and individuals in recent years, girl children still face gender prejudice and inequalities worldwide. One of the most striking of these areas is 'digital inequality', which is vital for the era we live in. In low- and middle-income countries, three hundred million fewer women than men have access to the internet on a mobile. This is roughly the equivalent of the entire population of the United States. This digital divide increasingly challenges women and girls' access to life-enhancing services such as education, health, and financial inclusion. It is critical to establish strategies that will enable technology to become a great equalizer rather than a destructive one. Without Jennifer Doudna, who developed CRISPR technology, or Özlem Türeci, who developed the first and best COVID-19 vaccine ever, all of our lives would be more deprived. Research conducted at MIT University shows that institutions where women actively participate in decision-making processes are much more successful. There are many reasons for this, but one critical reason is due to women's emotional intelligence, women have the ability to detect problems in groups in advance and to remove the barriers to generate goodwill. The most important component of emotional intelligence is the ability to listen closely to the other person. The ability to listen closely is essential to solving many of the problems we face today, from the pandemic to the climate crisis, from mental health to gender inequality. I feel deeply excited about the contribution of young girls and women will bring to the field of listening thanks to their emotional intelligence."

Afshan Khan: “Investing in the equality of girls and women also contributes to building stronger societies."

UNICEF Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia Afshan Khan said: "We know that by providing girls and women with tools for self-empowerment and equal participation, we invest not only in individuals, but also in building stronger communities. The use of digital platforms for connecting, participating, and learning has accelerated further because of COVID-19. Yet the pandemic showed us that inequalities, including gender inequalities deepen in such challenging times. When these intersect with poverty, lack of resources, and social norms, it makes it even more difficult for women and girls fully to participate in the digital space. The time is now for all of us – governments, the international community, the private sector, experts, parents, teachers, community members, and girls and boys - to accelerate our support to adolescent girls’ safe and meaningful participation in advancing gender equality. The time is now to support young women and girls to advance their skills, leadership capacity and to become the champions of gender equality, especially in a more digital world future. Together, we can and must continue to work together to achieve gender equality, for every child.”

Conversation with Pioneers in Girls' and Women's Leadership

President of Aydın Doğan Foundation, Founder & Chairwoman of Hepsiburada Hanzade Doğan, UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore and President and CEO of Nasdaq Inc. Adena Friedman shared their views at the "Conversation with Pioneers in the Leadership of Girls and Women", moderated by Afşin Yurdakul.  

“The COVID-19 pandemic has further limited girls’ access to online learning, devices and connectivity,” said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore. “This is especially true for girls living in remote or marginalized communities, as well as those who are living as refugees or migrants. That is why education policies should emphasize digital skills for girls as well as boys. We should also include girls’ voices and solutions when developing any digital products or services.”

Emphasizing that sharing the dreams of girls and women was crucial not only for strengthening the economy but also for a more balanced society, President and CEO of Nasdaq Inc. Adena Friedman mentioned that role models were critical. Friedman said: "Equality is important to support economic development and innovation to take us to the future. My father was an important role model for me. Through this role model, I learned how he manages his business, how the financial markets are. My mother became a lawyer when I was 9 years old, it was inspiring for me to watch her journey. My teachers who encouraged us to understand science and mathematics were also my role models.”

Underlining that we stood on the brink of scientific and technological change, President of Aydın Doğan Foundation, Founder & Chairwoman of Hepsiburada Hanzade Doğan continued: “This change is so powerful that it becomes a threat if we do not equally ensure the women’s development. If we can ensure equality in STEM, a quantum leap in social development will take place. Aydın Doğan Foundation has devoted itself to this work for 25 years. We provide support ranging from scholarships to dormitory construction, from mentoring programs to STEM programs, and we explain that science does not belong to men alone. The cultural structure is important, societal stereotypes and prejudices hinder girls' progress in mathematics and science. I advise girls to build their self-confidence and not to focus on people who say negative things to them. Don't let parents, teachers, or relatives make you feel like you're less successful because you are a girl. If we do not break down these barriers for girls, all our efforts on gender issues will be in vain."

Hassan Mohtashami: "The digital world is an important part of girls' online interaction and learning process."

At the opening speech of the panel titled “Girls’ Empowerment in the Digital Age: Opportunities and Challenges" United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Turkey Representative Hassan Mohtashami said: “We are all aware that girls are an important part of the online interaction and learning process, since they are active members of the digital world. And psychological impact of the girls’ experiences in their developmental age, which is now more affiliated with online environment, will accompany them throughout their lives. For this reason, it is of much more critical that adolescent girls learn their rights in the digital world, have a voice and leadership in the online environment, and claim their bodily autonomy to make decisions. At UNFPA, we will continue to advocate for the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women and girls, also in the digital age, while leaving no one behind.”

Opportunities and challenges for girls were discussed at the panel

Academicians and activists came together at the "Girls’ Empowerment in the Digital Age: Opportunities and Challenges” panel moderated by Şirin Payzın. Connecting online to the panel from the United Kingdom, London School of Economics, Professor of Social Psychology Sonia Livingstone informed that 2 billion young people did not have access to the internet and that girls were more likely than boys to have no internet access. Livingstone continued: "Boys receive more support in public and at home when digital opportunities are available. We see that more than half of girls experienced online harassment. Instead of limiting their lives, we need to support them to learn how to continue their journey."

Referring to the importance of peer solidarity, Ukrainian activist, Founder of Teenergizer Yana Panfilova stated that especially young girls complained of anxiety and depression during the pandemic, and they had difficulty coping with mental traumas and social distancing. Panfilova continued: "It is not easy to talk and share feelings in this geography. We need to listen to adolescent girls and young women and support them when they make decisions about their health. If we can provide good psychological support online and offline, we can help them."

Stating that there has been an increase in cyber violence and harassment against girls with the pandemic, Gender Equality and HeForShe activist, student Selin Özünaldım said that the Z generation was aware of the role of the internet and continued, "The importance of young girls having equality in the world of technology is undeniable. In order to raise social awareness, the government, NGOs and Private companies need to work together."

İlayda Işık, Kız Başına Platform Coordinator, emphasized that cyber violence causing challenges for girls and boys should be tackled. "Each of us is in a digital transformation. Just as everything has moved to digital, so has inequality as well ashate speech and violence. We are not aware of all of this violence. We live in a filter bubble. We co-exist with groups of the same mindset and approach. Social media algorithms adjust it that way," she said.

Asya Varbanova: “We need to harness the ideas, the talents and the energy of young people.”

UN Women Turkey Country Director Asya Varbanova, "Every girl has a right to be connected and to play her part in shaping a more equal, green and tech-driven future. We need to harness the ideas, the talents and the energy of young people, and particularly of young women and girls, using the advantages of the digital space, in order to deal with the complex challenges of today and realize the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).”

The digital sphere and skills for advancing gender equality were discussed

Doğan Holding and Zorlu Holding Board Member Ayşegül İldeniz, who took the first floor in the "Digital Sphere and Skills for Advancing Gender Equality" panel, stated that they believed technology had an equalizing and liberating feature for everyone and continued: "I came across women stories whose lives changed with technology, both in Turkey and in Silicon Valley. I believe that technology is equalizing and liberating for all of us."

Stating that girls and boys should be treated equally, Aydın Doğan Foundation Women Leaders Project Team Member and student at Boğaziçi University Computer Engineering department Buse Tolunay said: "While young girls help with the house chores, boys play computer games. Girls also need to be familiar with computers at an early age. The visibility of women working in the STEM field is low," she said.

Underlining the importance of social media in women's leadership, Co-Founder of Young Feminist Europe (YFE) Xenia Kellner emphasized that women's leadership does not mean women to be at the top of the hierarchy and continued: “It should be noted that when we talk about women's leadership, we are not talking about bringing more women into hierarchical structures in the first place. We need to see inequalities just as a power imbalance. It is important to establish youth-led platforms and ensure that they are safe spaces."

Explaining that the situation worsened when people thought that investing in the education of girls in Central Asia is a waste, Research and Development Assistant at the Oxus Society for Central Asian Affairs Elvira Kalmurzaeva shared the success story due to media literacy of Gülizar, a 15-year-old girl living in a village in Kyrgyzstan. "Women's poverty negatively affects their access to public services. We think that digital technologies are platforms to establish equality," Kalmurzaeva said.

Youth and children conveyed their wishes by publishing a statement with the motto "Girls Leading Gender Equality in All Fields".

As part of the International Day of the Girl Child Conference organized annually by UNICEF, UNFPA, UN Women and Aydın Doğan Foundation, 114 children and young people who have been working with the motto "Girls Leading Gender Equality in All Fields" since July, published a statement including their thoughts, criticisms and suggestions. The statement emphasized the need for gender equality in digital fields as well as everywhere else, also underlined that professions had no gender, and requested that the gender inequality messages in social media, advertisements, TV series, and even school books should be changed. It was stated that the number of funds in the fields of sports, arts, science, and education for girls could be increased, and everyone was asked to take responsibility for the safe use of online environments by girls and women.

Young leaders Zeynep Betül Demirses and Dominique Ogreanu voiced a call to action at the end of the conference, addressing political leaders, private sector, civil society, families and youth: “Take action now, before one more girl faces abusive content online; before one more young woman is denied a job because of her gender; before one more student gives up on their hopes for their future. Start an initiative, develop an inclusive policy, build a committee or connect with the civil society this year to address girls’ needs in your community. Let’s make today, 11 October 2021, the day we all took an important step to advance girls’ empowerment and leadership.

Those who missed the conference or want to re-watch can visit the Aydın Doğan Foundation's YouTube account.