She’s The First (STF) hosted their 7th annual summit at AppNexus in New York City this past August. The organization was co-founded by Tammy Tibbetts and Christen Brandt and was established to inspire, motivate, and prepare millennials girls who will be the first in their families to graduate from high school. The three-day event was an opportunity for student leaders to network, acquire leadership skills, and work towards promoting gender equality in our world.
The speakers included advocates, entrepreneurs, and powerhouse women. Notable names included Dee Poku-Spalding (co-Founder and CEO of WIE), Jamira Burley
(Obama White House Champion of Change), Tsehaitu Retta (senior associate for the Obama Foundation), McKimley Tretler (communications manager of the Malala Fund). There were alsomany other women who are distinguished in their industries.
STF kickstarted with an important icebreaker that set the tone for the entire conference. Attendees were asked to imagine what a gender equal world would look like. Attendees wrote their ideas onto sticky notes and placed them on a large poster that symbolized an ideal gender-equal world. Keeping this gender ideal world in mind, the rest of the conference focused on what steps were needed to bring this idea into reality.
The first area of activism spoken of at the summit was attitudinal shifts around the concept of gender norms. Purity Kagwiria, Executive Director of Akili Dada, and Christen Brandt spoke on the attitudinal and structural barriers to gender equality. Brandt surmised, “When we change attitudes, we change systems.”
In other words, we can’t change the way women are treated in our world simply through diversity initiatives. Dealing with cultural attitudes gets at the root of the issue – mindsets. Attitudinal change is just as important in creating a culture shift. The speakers explained that when we address the system and not the biased attitudes against gender equality, it’s like putting a band-aid on a wound.
Another area the summit placed emphasis on was ensuring more women are in political leadership positions. Female political leaders are imperative for the progress of women in society. Ebonie Simpson, Managing Director of Lower Eastside Girls Club of NY, spoke about this to the group.
Ebonie explained it was important to have women in elected office because we need women in legislation making decisions about women. Ebony reminded us that a vote for her is a vote for us. She encouraged women in the audience to get involved and run for office.
Organizations like She’s the First fight for gender equality through the pathway of education. Educating women decreases poverty and is an overall benefit to society.
There are many issues to be addressed in order to achieve gender equality. We must continue to combat them and fight for a gender-inclusive world where there will no longer be a need for She’s the First.