Girl Power

Courtesy July Lee

In June, 21 passionate, forward-thinkers from around the world convened in Toronto—not for the G20 meeting of economic leaders, but for the inaugural G(irls)20 Summit. During three days, young women from each G20 nation, plus an additional delegate from the African Union, brainstormed solutions to address inequalities in access to education, healthcare and economic opportunities that affect females around the globe.

These issues have special resonance for July Lee, '12, who was selected from among hundreds of applicants to represent the United States. During Lee's childhood in the border town of Mexicali, Baja California, her mother, a widow, struggled to provide for Lee and her siblings. When it came to seeking higher education, Lee found herself without the kind of support most successful applicants count on. "If I hadn't had my [older] brother and my friends to mentor me through this process, I wouldn't be where I am today."

Listening to her fellow delegates speak, Lee says she was struck by the degree to which young women around the world face similar challenges, even as the underlying causes differ. "The girl from Malawi, for example, wanted to be a doctor, but she couldn't because she has to remain home to take care of a child left by her brother."

After much discussion and collaboration, the G(irls)20 contingent crafted a set of recommendations that were presented to G20 leaders. But Lee doesn't see her responsibility ending there. She furthers the summit's vision through the Phoenix Project, a Stanford student group that provides free college-mentoring services for rising high school seniors, and through volunteer work at the Pacific Free Clinic, which provides health care for underserved minority populations in the San Jose area.

Lee views this as part of a lifelong project: "As an aspiring doctor, I am hoping to tackle the issue of maternal and child health and education . . . [which] will consequently address the issue of economic opportunity as well."

JENNY PEGG is a doctoral student in the program in history and philosophy of science and technology.