I love the idea of gathering as families and communities to resurrect what has been a tradition throughout history and in cultures around the world. While we still celebrate many major rites of passage (graduations, weddings, funerals, etc), we’ve largely lost the notion of honouring the transition between childhood and our earliest steps on the road to adulthood. Meanwhile, youth in general — and girls in particular — are more challenged than ever to maintain a positive sense of themselves as they move into this crucial time in life.
As an adolescent, I was fascinated by the idea of becoming an adult woman, an idea that I conflated in my mind with starting my period. The idea was so compelling to me that it became a bit of a fantasy — that when the big day came, there would be some sort of initiation or celebration. The notion of transforming into an adult was very special, and even kind of magical to me, so I wanted to feel special; it was really that simple. Of course, my fantasy didn’t come true, and I was left with a deep sense of disappointment.
This all came back to me in 2012 when I was asked to speak on the topic of Women Transforming Cities, which inspired my idea of a place where families could bring their daughters to celebrate them as they approached adolescence. This idea, in turn, led to the creation last year of G Day, a community-based rite of passage event series that welcomes 10-to 12-year-old girls into adolescence.
Following the success of our first three events in Vancouver, BC and Toronto, local leaders from across North America have approached us about holding G Day in their community. What’s the draw? Without doubt, there are loads of amazing educational programs directed towards girls empowerment and sexual health education. But G Day is different from and complementary to these, offering a lived experience of ritual that is highly emotional in nature, providing powerful experiences of sisterhood, trust and being actively witnessed as a valuable member of the community.
The day follows the traditional arc of a rite of passage: initiation, separation, and reunion. Girls and their “Champions” (parents, aunts and uncles, godparents, and other caring adults) start the day together with intergenerational dialogue and setting intentions. We then run separate programs for the girls and adults, bringing them back together at the end of the day for a (secular) ritual and dance celebration, topped off with a dessert reception.
The girls’ programming includes interactive presentations around topics like self-esteem, adolescent girls in the developing world and leadership, as well as activities like dance, yoga and art. There are opportunities for the girls to get to know one another and address the group as a whole about what’s happening for them. The Champions programming is more practically oriented, covering topics like connecting with our inner adolescent and parenting girls during puberty. We also get the adults moving!
There are plenty of good reasons for girls to attend G Day. One of the strongest is that it’s a unique opportunity to bond with other girls and experience Sisterhood. Girls this age are starting to receive powerful media messages about social comparison and competition that can result in poor self-image as well as unhealthy relationships. The more the girls see what they have in common by celebrating this unique time in life together, the less likely they are to, say, bully or compare themselves to other girls. The girls will have the benefit of being exposed to a wide variety of role models, and will hear the personal stories of women who have made interesting career and lifestyle choices. G Day is also simply a lot of fun!
I define G Day’s success according to the impact it has for the participants: if they felt inspired to love themselves and others more, to feel more compassion and a stronger sense of self, to feel more connected to themselves, their peers, their families and their communities while at the same time feeling safer to be more fully individuated. We often quote the African proverb that “It takes a Village to raise a child” — success for me is feeling like we have created a “Village,” if only for a day.
G Day Victoria takes place September 20, 2015, followed by G Day Vancouver (October 23, 2015). More events are planned for other cities across Canada and the U.S. in 2016. For more information, see gdayforgirls.com.
Madeleine Shaw is a social entrepreneur known for her longstanding commitment to progressive business practices and gender equality. She is the co-founder of Vancouver-based Lunapads, an award-winning online natural products retailer. She is also a proud Mom and a Director of United Girls of the World, a non-profit society that supports girls’ education in the developing world, and is the Producer of G Day.