, Canada

A burning desire to improve the lives of girls everywhere has catapulted 17-year-old Saba Ghahari from her Stoney Creek home to New York City today where she is at the United Nations fighting youth gender inequities and injustices.

Saba Ghahari in New York

Saba Ghahari, a Grade 12 Orchard Park Secondary School student, got a real eye-opener last summer when she visited Iran for the first time with her mother. The discrimination she saw girls suffering in that country lit a fire in her to advocate for the rights of girls worldwide, including Canada, where she says economic inequalities steer more females than males into a life of poverty.

"I find women (in Iran) are at the bottom status," she said in a telephone interview from New York yesterday. Her female cousins in Iran lead an unhappy existence, are forced to cover their hair and entire body and have much more difficulty getting into university than the boys, she said. All this, while "men can do whatever they want."

Saba in Isfahan, Iran - Summer 2009

Even in Canada, however, Saba has felt the sting of gender discrimination, the first time in Grade 8 when her girlfriend, a passionate football fan, wasn't allowed to form a girls' football team. Afterwards, Saba started noticing how the media exploits girls into looking "a certain way."

And she is keenly aware that many women in Canada suffer economic inequalities.

But it was her trip to Iran that created a resolve to act. On her return to Stoney Creek, she did research online and found the Because I am a Girl campaign of Plan Canada, formerly Foster Parents Plan, and Plan International. The campaign supports social justice for children in developing countries and promotes ending child poverty.

Saba in Isfahan, Iran - Summer 2009

Because I am a Girl is a global campaign pushing for brighter and safer futures for girls. The campaign's Canadian ambassador is moguls skier Jennifer Heil, a recent Olympic silver medallist and 2006 gold medallist. Another high profile Olympian involved is three-time gold medallist Hayley Wickenheiser of Canada's women's hockey team.

Saba joined Because I am a Girl last fall and started attending monthly meetings in Toronto for "anti-oppression training," among other things.

"I believe it's really important," she said of her participation. "I believe I have the power to make a difference."

Saba with other delegates to the UN conference

Her all-expenses-paid trip to New York for part of this year's session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women provides her further knowledge as well as a platform to advocate, along with other international delegations, for girls' rights and for the UN to declare next Sept. 22 the International Day of the Girl.

"It's a good way to celebrate girls," she says of the proposed declaration. "A way to raise issues and empower them ... It's a good way to ensure girls are not forgotten."

Saba is one of two girls chosen from among 15 to represent Canada. She wants the Canadian government to take the lead at the UN in advocating for girls' rights. "We feel if Canada takes the lead, everyone will get on board."

In New York from last Saturday to this Friday, Saba is also trying to get everyone at the UN Status of Women session to sign the petition on the web at becauseiamagirl.ca.

Saba plans to study biomedical science at the University of Western Ontario in hopes of becoming a dentist and eventually joining Dentists without Borders.