York launches leadership project for girls

York University is launching a new project aimed at enhancing girls’ leadership potential and engagement in civic life, with a community forum taking place today, from 11am to 2:30pm, in the Vanier College Renaissance Room, 001 Vanier College on the Keele campus.

The project, “Engaging Girls, Changing Communities: Examining Girls’ Processes of Civic Engagement and Leadership (EGCC),” investigates how young women and girls engage in leadership and civic activities in new urban environments. It will bring together girls and young women with a network of researchers, public school professionals and youth-serving community organizations.

Nombuso Dlamini “There’s a pressing need for more women in leadership roles, particularly in government and the civic arena,” says Nombuso Dlamini (right), a professor in York’s Faculty of Education and the inaugural Jean Augustine Chair in Education in the New Urban Environment. “If we are to achieve this, we need to start from the ground up, which means getting girls engaged in civics early on,” she says.

This morning’s forum is intended to spark a conversation about the current issues surrounding girls, leadership and civic life. “We’re hoping to tap into [girls’] ideas about how to make the project meaningful for them,” says Dlamini.

Organizers plan to hire and train girls to participate in the three-year project, which is funded by the Social Sciences & Humanities Research Council of Canada. Some will be trained as peer interviewers who will gather information about their peers’ attitudes and aspirations towards leadership and civic life. “They’ll be trained to recruit, work as interviewers of other girls, and when feasible, they will be trained to transcribe, code and analyze the data with the team,” Dlamini says.

In the second year of the project, girls will be given resources to design their own projects and activities for learning about leadership and civic engagement.

Dlamini notes that this initiative will help partner organizations identify potential barriers and create new and innovative leadership learning activities – knowledge that will be shared with local school boards and community organizations. “We hope to effect policy change at the ministry level,” she says. “Leadership experiences are culture-specific and shaped by a myriad of factors including gender, language and other power relations; we as educators need to develop ways to account for these.”

The forum will also introduce the project’s key participants. Speakers will include Joy Mannette, associate professor, Faculty of Education, York University; Yvette Daniel, professor, University of Windsor; Cathy Dandy, trustee, Ward 15, Toronto District School Board; Jean Augustine, Ontario Fairness Commissioner; and Njoki Wane, professor, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.

For more information, e-mail leadershipbygirls@edu.yorku.ca.