Episode Transcript

Lama Alsafi: 00:01 Hello and welcome to 15 Minutes to Change the World. Where in 15 minutes, you can learn a bit more about the world and how you can help change it. My name is Lama Alsafi, host of this podcast.

In the world’s poorest communities, women and girls bear the brunt of poverty. At CARE we believe in bringing people together to end inequality. That’s why we’re making the month of March for women. As part of our #March4Women series we’ll be talking to four different women across industries, with different areas of expertise to learn more about the challenges being faced and what you, our listeners can do to make a difference in the lives of women and girls around the world.

In this episode of 15 Minutes to Change the World, we’re speaking with Heather Barnabe, CEO of G(irls)20. G(irls)20 is a on-profit organization that believes investing in young women leaders will change the status quo and help cultivate the next generation of political, civil and business leaders. Heather joins us remotely from Toronto. Welcome Heather, and thank you for chatting with us today.

Heather Barnabe: 01:30 Hi there. Thanks so much for having me.

Lama Alsafi: 01:33 Thank you. Heather, can you tell us a bit more about G(irls)20 and the work your organization does.

Heather Barnabe: 01:38 So we're an organization with, um, a mission to advance the full participation of young female leaders and decision making space is to change the status quo. So what does that actually mean? In layman's terms, it means that we believe when people are coming together to make decisions that unless a young woman is there, that young women do not get represented very well and that as a result of that, often young women and girls have some of the poorest health determinants in the world, the lowest levels of income equality and a number of other things that will significantly impact them throughout their lives.

And so our mission again is to really ensure that when any group comes together, there is a young woman, and she is representing the voice of other young women. When the organization was founded by Farah Mohamed in 2009 it was really because the G20 was about to be hosted in Toronto and she wanted to ensure that young women would have a voice at such an important table. And so what she did was created an organization where each year in advance of the G20 young women from around the world would come together for a week of training education, really building networks.

But one of the most important things that they would do is create a communique, and that communicate is a suite of policy recommendations that we make very directly to G20 leaders to ensure that when they're making decisions about how they'll be using their resources in their countries, that they're thinking about the needs of young women and girls.

Lama Alsafi: 03:18 As a passionate activist for women and girls, what are some of the biggest challenges facing women and girls in the world today?

Heather Barnabe: 03:25 I mean, that's a great question. I mean, where to start with the biggest challenges. I mean, I guess I would say that the biggest issues facing women and girls is really a lethal combination of sexism, racism and economic inequality. The outcome for women of those three things really lead large systemic issues that disproportionately impact women like poverty, like institutional discrimination like gender pay gaps. And I think that, you know, that's just to name a few. But there are so many different things that continue to impact women, young women, girls 10 years from now, when we started doing this work until now.

Um and then also, I think there's many day to day challenges that exist for women and girls, you know workplace harassment. I think the burden of being primary caretakers, microaggressions often in public spaces, but also in your own home. Um, and just general double standards for men and women. I mean, we we know, as young women as girls that boys are treated differently and young men are treated differently. The impact that that has on us is something that gets internalized and so I think that there's a lot of challenges that young women, girls, older women continue to face. And this doesn't even take into account what trans non-binary and two-spirited people face and they have, you know, a whole host of of challenges that are often certainly not addressed at the level that they need to be.

It's the impact of climate change on women and girls. It's hard to overstate how significant deadly. Um, it will be in without a lot of energy to address it, It's it's deeply worrying because we know that it impacts women and girls disproportionately and in ways that are that are just simply not being addressed. Those, I think, are some of the challenges that women continue to face and girls continue to face. Uh, but at the end of the day, I do think we're seeing a lot of change.

Lama Alsafi: 05:36 So in terms of change and in terms of opportunities, can you tell us about opportunities for women and girls around the world today and in Canada too?

Heather Barnabe: 05:45 There's so much great work happening around the world for women and girls right now, often through organizations, you know, there's so many great grass roots movements that are really focused on addressing issues at local levels, national levels at international levels and don't get me wrong. We, of course, have a really long way to go. But I just think the amount of women's participation in governance, business, politics, civil society is at an unprecedented level and we have to continue to keep your foot on the gas.

Always, but you are seeing women holds roles in some of the highest places of power. You are seeing the gender pay gap start to decrease and then from an opportunity's perspective. You know, I think it's so exciting that there are so many different ways now for young women to participate, be it at the front lines of activism, all the way to things like participating at a global summit where your speaking directly to G20 leaders. Those young women girls, women who have that privilege of being in those spaces need to make sure that we are using it as wisely as we can and keeping our foot on the gas and making sure that any work we're doing is not for the individual but for the community.

Lama Alsafi: 07:04 Well, Heather looking forward. The next G(irls)20 Global Summit will be held in October, right?  And what kind of opportunity does this summit present for advocacy and for the girls who will be attending?

Heather Barnabe: 07:17 So the young women who attend our summit are already incredible leaders who are doing phenomenal work in their communities. We receive about 1,600 applications and we bring about 30 of them, so that gives you a sense of the type of work that they're doing. And it's not, you know, we make our selection based on those we believe will be able to do the most with the opportunity, meaning that they will take everything they've learned go home and help their communities with that learning. So in terms of our summit, you know they will attend. Um, it's a little over a week long. They will have the ability to meet so many other incredible young women from around the world and establish a real sisterhood. And within that, they will often continue to network with each other years beyond our summit.

But in the exact time of the week that they're there, as I said, they're also really preparing a communique that's a very powerful document. And with that, they will advocate not only at the G20 level, but in other spaces. So we will often take that document and use it to do social media campaigns. We have a fairly strong social media presence and we like to leverage that by talking to everybody who's following us about what young women and girls are facing and what they'd like to see leaders do to address it. We will also have young women participate at different conferences around the world where they will talk about the different recommendations that they've put forward and why they've put those forward. And then finally, I think, you know, as they continue along their path of leadership, all of our delegates do is something called a social impact initiative in their communities, where they take what they learned and they go back into their communities and they try to ensure that the advocacy, they're doing at a global level is also applied the local level. So they'll meet with local representatives they'll meet with with local leaders, and they'll really push them to ensure that the issues being identified are also going to be addressed.

Lama Alsafi: 09:41 But you touched on this a bit at the beginning, but I'd like if you could tell us a bit more. But why you think women and girls it's important for them to be a part of the decision making process, so that could be within international organizations or just, you know, the graft grassroots level in the community or in the home.

Heather Barnabe: 09:56 Representation matters full stop. It matters because we know that our lived experiences inform our views. So when we're are represented by people who don't understand our lived experiences, whether that's being a woman, a person of color, disabled. You know the outcomes for us are going to be poorer. We just know that. The science tells us our own experience tells us when we look at who our leaders have been, traditionally, we know that women and girls issues has never been at the forefront of their minds.

And so we've had to put it there. We've had to push, we've had to be advocates for ourselves. And so with that advocacy work that we've done, we know what happens when women and girls were put in those spaces. They bring forward those issues, they ensure those issues get addressed through well resourced plans and initiatives. And so, for me, when it comes to you know, why is it important to be part of the decision making process? Because we're the best people to make decisions for ourselves. For us, it's a It's a really exciting time to see so many women start to take what we believe to be their rightful place in in decision making spaces.

Lama Alsafi: 11:12 So Heather, how can someone who is listening at home right now or in their car take action? What are some tangible things that they can do to make a difference?

Heather Barnabe: 11:21 If you're a person of privilege like myself, I'm a white woman. I was born in Canada. I have had amazing access to travel and opportunities, and when I always think about is How can I send the elevator down for somebody else? And so what I always encourage other privileged people to think about is how they can be sending the elevator down. Some easy things, give money. I know that it it seems obvious, but at the end of the day, organizations like G(irls)20 organizations like CARE Canada we are able to not just operate but thrive when we're well supported by our community financially. Um I would also say one thing we don't exercise enough is our politics and politicians. If you don't agree with something that is happening, make a phone call. Their numbers are online. You can reach up very directly to them, and they will often respond quite quickly. And so use that voice where you can. Other things social media, fantastic platform to share your views to have your voice heard. So I often use my own personal social media to share the work being done by other activists organizations that I believe in and II think that it's it's a small, easy act to help make change.

And then I'm going to, you know, mention something that I think is maybe in some ways the most important thing we could be doing, and that's talk to the men and boys in your life. I rarely attend or speak at anything where there's any men and it feels a bit like an echo chamber sometimes because I feel like there are so many men who need to be hearing these discussions and need to be a part of these discussions. And so finding ways to have hard real discussions with men is really, really critical. And and I think that and boys and talking to boys but how they perceive girls, um, is critical. So, you know, really looking at different ways that you are able to engage them in those conversations. You know, I think a lot of people joke that if you're a friend of mine, you're going to be a feminist pretty quickly, and that applies to the men and boys in my life too.

Lama Alsafi: 13:42 Well, I will be on the lookout for the G(irls)20 Global Summit, which is happening in October 2020 to be hosted in Saudi Arabia, this year. Thank you so much Heather for taking the time to talk with us today.

Heather Barnabe: 13:53 Thank you so much for such a great opportunity. And, um, I really appreciate having a chat with you.

Lama Alsafi: 13:58 And thank you to all of our listeners for tuning in. Stay tuned for the next episode in our #March4Women series, which will be released next week on Spotify, and iTunes.