A reflection written by Calla Gilson, 17, a participant in the Girls Empowerment Seminar in Brazil earlier this past August. This was originally written for Partners of the Americas.
As a member of a family of Indianapolis Colts fans living in the Browns support-saturated Northwest Ohio, flying out of Indianapolis International Airport on my way to Rio for the Girls Empowerment Seminar proved to be an exciting experience that was only improved with displays of cobalt all around. While waiting to meet up with the group of girls that I would be traveling with, my father couldn’t resist wandering into one of the sports-themed shops in the airport to check out the newest Andrew Luck jerseys. While he searched through the racks, I struck up a conversation with one of the employees about the departure that I was so anxiously awaiting. When I explained to him that I was headed to a Girls Empowerment Seminar he applied with a sneer. “So they’re teaching you how to turn on the oven the oven and make sandwiches and stuff?” The comment was followed by no apology or indication of jest but rather a chuckle that turned my stomach.
This wasn’t the first time I had been confronted with such a sexist remark, but it filled me with an unparalleled frustration and a passion to do something to combat the ignorance that the gentlemen represented. I attribute that turning feeling in my stomach to the promise that I feel I as a woman innately maintain. My parents’ decision to enroll me in an all-girls high school was the greatest gift they could have possibly given me to encourage my growth and development as a person. I have been blessed with an incredibly supportive school community that provides so many opportunities for my friends and me to grow in confidence in our ability to do great things. Until attending the Girls Empowerment Seminar, this was one aspect of my life that I had unknowingly taken for granted.
Hearing the stories of girls from other countries who do not have such a warm community and access to opportunity simply helped my passion to make a change grow. Gender inequality is a real and present threat in the world. While in America it may come of “women’s rights” jokes or the inattention to the professional sports leagues for other women, girls in other countries struggle just to attend school or even work outside of the home. It was a powerful experience to be able to hold dialog during the seminar with other girls who felt called to empower their peers, as well as those professionals who were winning the battle against gender prejudice. Each and every activity that we participated in during the week enabled us to gain the confidence necessary to put our passion into action within our own communities.
On the last night of our stay in Rio, I sat with about 8 girls at the feet of one of the incredibly inspirational facilitators of the Girls Empowerment Seminar who shared with us her wisdom. Neglecting the clock, we soaked up every word of inspiration that she offered. Pausing to look at my watch for the first time, I realized that in that special space, time was no object. Three different languages swirled around the small hotel room, blending into a beautiful melody of communication that had no need for third party translation. It was in that unique environment of warmth that I was confronted with the importance of all of the activities that we had engaged in throughout the week. While explaining the importance of perseverance with courageous determination, the facilitator shared with us a common Portuguese phrase. She encouraged us to work towards the achievement of ‘todas as coisas possíveis e impossíveis’. All things possible and impossible. The man from the sports shop came into my mind. Whether his narrow-minded opinion was one that was possible or impossible to change was of no question. The attitude of society that he represented COULD and WILL be changed through our efforts so as to liberate girls across the globe from the confines of prejudices of all sorts.
If there is one thing that I will take away from that magical week in Rio, it is that nothing is beyond the reach of a group of passionate young women who believe in the power of their dreams. Indeed, together, girls can accomplish all things possible AND impossible.