City Clerk Anna Valencia celebrated International Women’s Day 2019 by unveiling a “Pink New Deal” of ideas to promote gender equity. Among other things, it recommended hosting a “Girls Summit” to hear the voices of young women.
Now, the coronavirus pandemic has put an even bigger strain on young women ages 13 to 24. Many are juggling remote learning with jobs as essential workers while helping siblings with their own schoolwork.
Instead of canceling a meeting that can’t be held in person during a pandemic, Valencia made the switch to a virtual Girls Summit and scheduled it for Oct. 31.
The event will be held from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Young women can register at www.cfw.org/2020-virtual-girls-summit and learn more about the breakout sessions on issues ranging from mental health, public safety and racial justice to college access, college financing, health education and safely navigating social media.
“It’s more important than ever to connect with these young girls who may be feeling isolated or disconnected from the world and letting them know that they are OK and there are people here for them and here to connect them to resources,” Valencia told the Sun-Times.
“If I don’t do my part to reach out my hand and grab these young girls and help navigate them through this very tough time,” she added, then she isn’t fulfilling her obligation “to young girls who may not have the tools to cope with the anxiety of what’s happening, nationally, at the city level or in their own homes” and who need to know “that this is temporary.”
Chicago Foundation for Women President Felicia Davis said the Halloween meeting will truly be a “summit created by young women for young women.”
A Youth Advisory Council of 22 young women from across the city are shaping the agenda and determining who the speakers will be.
“Because of COVID, there has been enormous pressures placed on them that weren’t there before. A lot of them come from single-family households, so many of their mothers are working. So, the girls themselves have had additional child care responsibilities. They’ve had to manage — not only their own remote learning, but also the remote learning of their siblings. Some of them also work,” Davis said.
“We were worried about whether or not this would even be feasible. Whether they would welcome it and have time for it. And they have been truly inspirational and making it very clear to us that they really need this. They need policymakers to hear their concerns around safety and education and the needs of girls in our city.”
Davis said the safety concerns run the gamut — from standing alone on a bus stop to being victims of or witnesses to domestic violence in their own homes.
“Last year, black girls were missing or murdered on the South and West sides of Chicago. They know people who disappeared. So, that’s in their head. The trans women in the community and non-binary individuals have talked about that as well. The murders and harm that’s happened to trans women on the North Side of Chicago,” Davis said.
“They worry about those things. And they don’t always see their stories in the headlines or addressed. … Some of them are in homes where DV [domestic violence] is happening. They’re being referees between their mother and somebody. All of that is what they’re concerned about for safety.”
Co-chairs for the summit include a who’s-who of women in Chicago politics, government and the city’s corporate and non-profit worlds.
When it’s all over, Davis hopes to have provided a “platform for their voices,” then have public policy “shaped by that input.”
The limit for an in-person summit was roughly 500 young women. Valencia is hoping the virtual summit will attract twice that many.