International Woman's Day

‘Women are powerful:’ Girls descend on MSVU for annual conference

Girls participate in educational workshops ahead of International Women’s Day

Girls taking part in one of the many workshops at this year’s Girls Conference.   Luke MacDonald

Girls aged 12 to 18 from all over Nova Scotia descended on Mount Saint Vincent University on Friday for the university’s annual Girls Conference, which included workshops and even a musical performance.

The idea behind the conference is to encourage young women and girls to speak up and foster their own unique talents. By doing this they can better their own lives and the lives of people in their communities. The conference began as a joint effort with the Alexa McDonough Institution of Women, Gender and Social Justice and Mount Saint Vincent University.

There were a variety of different workshops at this year’s conference, including those focused on building self-esteem and confidence and Internet safety.

Local rhythm and blues artist Reeny Smith was the keynote speaker. She described what it is like being a woman in the music industry.

“Talent is talent. It doesn’t matter if you are a male or a woman or anything like that. I just feel like it can sometimes be kinda tough in a male-dominated industry,” said Smith.

“You show up to a show, it’s full of men. The sound guy is a man, the stage crews are men and the stage manager is a man. You know, you just see a lot of men in that industry. It’s not to say they do it intentionally, but, you know, sometimes women get overlooked.”

Her speech to the girls focused on staying true to themselves as an individuals. She believes that if a person works hard and surrounds themselves with the right people anything is possible, no matter their gender.

Reeny Smith takes time to talk to one of the many girls at the conference.   Luke MacDonald

Alyssa Clark, 15,  had a blast at the event.

“It teaches young girls that they can do whatever they want to do,” said Clark. “It shows that women are powerful and that they should be treated the same way as men.”

Clark participated in the workshop called I Don’t Owe You. It focused on teaching young girls the importance of sexual consent and that they should never feel pressured by a man to do anything they feel uncomfortable doing.

Conference participant Alyssa Clark poses for the camera.   Luke MacDonald

Other speakers included Canadian Olympic gymnast Ellie Black.

This year’s conference presented a unique challenge for the organizers because they had to deal with the Nova Scotia Teachers Union’s work-to-rule. Instead of dealing directly with schools, they put together a special committee.

“Normally we would go through the schools, and the school organizations would bring all the girls to the conference,” said lead conference organizer Cassandra McDonald. “We decided that we would contact sporting teams and community groups; we kind of reached out to the community that way to get in touch with parents and girls.”

Despite the new method of engagement the conference was attended by about 300 girls from across the province — 100 more than expected.

International Women’s Day is March 8.