by Rebecca Heaton
This June, Western Union sent 21 young women to the Women Political Leaders Summit 2018 in Vilnius, Lithuania, with the goal of encouraging more girls to get involved in politics, increasing female representation in political and government roles and driving greater diversity of thinking in policy making and governance. Three of these young women — Pippa McDougall, Bailey Greenspon, and Claire Charness — are from G(irls)20, a Toronto-based organization dedicated to growing and celebrating building the next generation of female leadership. Learn about them and their experience at this monumental gathering of the most powerful women in politics below.
From left to right: Pippa, Bailey, Claire
What were your goals for the summit? Did you achieve them?
Pippa – I had two personal goals. One was to learn from a diversity of opinion. I really like attending these conferences because they challenge my views and broaden my perspective. It’s also great to learn about the different ways in which parliamentarians are advancing the agenda in their respective countries. My second goal was to network and build connections for potential future collaboration. I achieved those goals and made a number of friends as well as important contacts I hope to keep in touch with.
Bailey – My goal was to expand my network and get to know an international community of women who are passionate about women’s issues, politics and democracy. I also had the opportunity to meet with women in the private sector who are passionate about these issues. I really wanted to understand women’s different paths to politics and their secrets to success. How have they gotten to where they are in a male dominated sector? One woman I spoke with told me she had to learn how to play golf because that’s where the fundraising happened in her community.
Claire – It was a great opportunity to get a chance to learn from and interact with female political leaders from around the world. What was so striking about the summit was how there was so much commonality of experience when you are a woman in leadership, but there is also so much difference in that lived experience as well. Being a woman in a high ranking position can differ in places like Mali, Malta, Botswana. I was looking for those shared experiences, but also those differing experiences.
At the summit, you were connected with women in senior roles in government and the private sector. How did you know what career you wanted to pursue?
P – I think I’ve known for a few years that I wanted to pursue a career in government and politics. My end goal is to work in international development. Seeing all these strong women at the WPL Summit only reaffirmed these goals. I see elected office as an important avenue where we can enact progressive policies and create the change that I would like to see in the world.
B – My career so far hasn’t had an obvious theme. I have really followed my passion and my instinct to weave through a few different industries. The common thread that has guided my work at G(irls)20 has been using my privilege and my position to create opportunities for other young people with incredible potential.
“The common thread that has guided my work at G(irls)20 has been using my privilege and my position to create opportunities for other young people with incredible potential.”
C – I didn’t and still don’t. There are people who know exactly what they want to do and there are people who take a longer time deciding. I’ve had the opportunity to consider different career paths that I may not have considered if I wasn’t open to new opportunities. Taking that route, I have learned so much.
Why do you think education, inclusion and connectivity are more important now than ever before?
P – Given that we live in a highly globalized society, there is a big disparity between between the rich and the poor. There are massive detrimental economic and social effects when worker’s wages can’t keep pace with inflation. Large portions of our society are feeling marginalized and this disenfranchisement is what’s paving the way for the occurence of Trump, Brexit and anti-immigration parties across Europe. I think education is one path that could address the increasingly widening gap in our society and provide opportunities to those who may not have benefited from globalization.
B – I think they’ve always been important but right now we are becoming more aware of how important they really are. We live in a time where there is a lot of opportunity for people, and especially young people, to engage with decision makers because we have access to them through things like the internet. Education is incredibly important because we want people to understand that they can leverage these tools to influence decision makers.
C – Education has always been outstandingly important. It’s not only a key to economic empowerment, but also political empowerment. Technological literacy, specifically, is changing things from the ground up. Education the most empowering tool for young women around the world.
Amidst the ongoing global social unrest, how do you think we can get people to mobilize around women’s rights and gender equality?
P – On a macro level, we can mobilize our government to enact gender progressive policies by pitching the economic argument. We know that gender inequality has massive economic costs. Research from the McKinsey Global Institute has indicated that if women were to participate in the economy identical to men, it could add as much as $28 trillion to the annual global GDP. If governments were to act in their best interests, they would act to mobilize around women’s rights and gender equality.
B – I was at the Women’s March in Washington at the beginning of 2017. It was one of the most incredible and important days in my life. It showed me the power of what happens when you get out of your house and show up for a cause that you believe in. It also showed me what the potential is when we have women leading movements because it was entirely non-violent. It demonstrated solidarity across all of these different lived experiences. It was fun and joyous even though we were protesting.
C – They’re already mobilizing. We’re seeing movements like #MeToo and Time’s Up that are really galvanizing women. Young people are going to be what moves things forward. Young people are not the leaders of tomorrow, they’re the leaders of today. We have to listen to young people. We have to listen to a variety of voices. Women’s issues cannot just be regulated to one sector; it needs to be intersectional.
“Young people are not the leaders of tomorrow, they’re the leaders of today.”
What do the next five years look like for you? What do the next five years look like for women?
P – In five years, I’m not sure where exactly in the world I’ll be, but I hope to be adding value to an organization that has a mission to create positive social impact, whether that be at a NGO, social enterprise or private sector. As for women, I am quite optimistic about the next five years for girls and women. I know attitudes about gender are shifting and as are gender progressive policies. For example, on June 24, 2018, women in Saudi Arabia will legally be able to drive. This will have a massive impact on women’s autonomy in Saudi Arabia. I think we’ll also start to see even more women run for elected office and entering the political sphere. Women are increasingly becoming more empowered and are beginning to believe they have the capacity to make a difference. Their voices are finally being heard. And although I am quite optimistic, we really need to keep fighting for progress because progress is not linear. We can see how things can reverse quickly, so we can’t take gender equality for granted.
B – I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing, which is providing opportunities to cultivate this new incoming generation of female leadership that is effective, smart, empathetic, intersectional and expresses itself in solidarity. Around the world, women have come so far and there is a lot of momentum, but we also need to take new threats and concerns seriously and be cognisant of them. In the next five years, we need to reckon with how cyber harassment and the mental health crisis disproportionately affects women.
C – The next five years for me are going to be working in spaces that allow me to help bring out the best in other people. I love mentorship. I love the opportunity to work with young women, specifically, and bring out their potential. The next five years are going to be transformative for women’s issues. There is absolutely no doubt about that. We are already seeing that and I think we’re going to see that pace accelerate. With the rate things are going, I think we could see the first female president in 2020.
Pippa McDougall is an ambassador for G(irls)20. She represented Canada at the 2016 G(irls)20 Summit in Beijing, and has experience in working at a local human rights organization in Botswana. She is currently pursuing her Master’s degree in Political Economy of Emerging Markets at King’s College London.
Bailey Greenspon is the Senior Program Manager at G(irls)20. She is motivated by building leadership in passionate young people to tackle 21st century challenges. Bailey’s background is in politics and community organizing.
Claire Charness was the 2012 G(irls)20 Summit Canadian Delegate and has written on issues affecting girls and women. She also created a pilot program called “Walk in My Footsteps” that focused on storytelling as a tool for social change, and was a panelist for UN Women.