G(IRLS)20: How to build a future leader
If you’ve ever purchased a ticket to a Women of Influence event, you may have noticed the option to add a donation to G(irls)20, our official Charity of Choice. Every year, with the help of our generous WOI community, we are honoured to make a donation to their cause. We want to share with you the incredible impact of their work. They are greatly empowering passionate and promising young women — and building future leaders in the push towards gender equality.
By Heather Barnabe, CEO, G(irls)20
Each year ahead of the G20 meeting, G(irls)20 selects young women from around the globe to attend our Global Summit. Delegation selection is a difficult process, whittling hundreds of applications down to a select 25 young women. Each delegate has already demonstrated leadership in their communities and has a universal commitment to advancing gender equity.
At G(irls)20, we bring those voices to the decision making table. In October of 2018, young women from the G20 countries, African Union, MENA region, South America, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Canada traveled to Buenos Aires to develop their skills through workshops and networking, and presented key global issues facing young women to the G20 leaders.
It’s a life-changing experience for the young women selected, but the impact is much broader — by investing in young women leaders around the world, we are changing the status quo.
There’s no better way to learn more about the impact of the work we do than from our delegates themselves. Each comes from a very different part of the world, and each has an incredible story to share, but they all have one commonality: they are driving change, one women leader at a time.
The Summit has been the greatest personal challenge for me. I learned a lot about my strengths and my weaknesses. I learned what I need to focus on personally and professionally to get people inspired by my cause. I came back home more conscious, more wise, more focused, with a clearer image of both the person and the activist I want to be. Sara Tanan, Italy
Justine Landis-Hanley, Australia
I remember the day I first came face-to-face with sexism.
Growing up, I could see the way that women and gender non-conforming people at my school, on television, and in society were facing ongoing battles against the judgement and barriers that came with being who they were. But I feel incredibly privileged to feel that, until my late teens, obvious gender discrimination wasn’t something I’d personally experienced in my home or limited social circles.
I was in a final round interview for a tiny university grant. Sitting at a boardroom table across from a scholarship coordinator and two middle-aged men – both members of the donor family — I was feeling good. Having done little other than study and juggle extra-curricular activities all year, I was on track to graduate high school in the top of my class. I had just finished outlining my involvement in three choirs, two musicals, several art shows, and leader of the school’s 70-person creative writing society, when one of the men asked, “What about boys?” I froze. He smirked and cocked a brow. “Oh come on, Richard,” the scholarship coordinator, also a middle-aged man, jested.
The grant went to another woman, and I do not doubt deservedly. But I spent years wondering why I didn’t call Richard out on his question. Yes, it was highly inappropriate to ask a 17-year-old girl about her (non-existent) dating life in a professional interview. But what irked me was the dawning realization that, for Richard, it wasn’t enough for me to have perfect grades and a glowing resume; unless I was the object of male attention, I was missing out on real success.
As a journalist writing about gender rights and criminal justice, and a global gender policy researcher and writer, I’ve had to grow accustomed to the sexist hate that comes with holding powerful, yet abusive, institutions to account. My story calling out university victim-blaming racked up comments about how feminism has gone too far. Another about sexual assault at on-campus residences saw items from my dorm room stolen, and had me dodging whispers and sitting alone at the dining hall for the rest of the year.
But what undercuts our ability as women to take arms against entrenched gender assumptions and glass ceilings — what really takes away our power — is a lack of strong female allies. From a young age we can see that there are only so many spots at the table for women, and we spend our lives competing for one of those spots. It’s a lonely approach, and one that accepts the myth that there can never be room to add any more women at the table; we’ve been given our tiny slot in life, and we should be happy.
I was walking to Google’s Argentina offices for another day of leadership training at G(irls)20 when I turned to someone and said “I feel like I’ve met my people.” Never had I felt so comfortable standing up in a room full of people to speak my thoughts. Never had a group of people validated my trials and triumphs. Never had I felt that my aspirations were possibilities.
G(irls)20 taught me that being a leader isn’t about being a good manager; it’s about being an ally. It’s about dreaming of a world with gender equality and empowering those around you to live in it. Perhaps I would have been able to call out Richard for his sexism had I known there was a strong group of women standing behind me, echoing my words. I don’t think I’ll shy away from doing so in the future.
Discovering my global sisterhood of like-minded young women from all over the world has been a life-changing experience. I learned about the incredible value of diverse voices in decision making, because only people with distinct experiences can reflect upon the impact decisions have on different realities. I am proud to be part of G(irls)20’s spirit of agency and empowerment which drives inclusion and change. Lena Hoffmann, Germany
Harnidh Kaur, India
How do you grow up empowered in a world that’s trying to strip you of your dignity?
Conflicted. Tired. Angry.
Those have been the key emotions I’ve carried with me all my life. Living in India has been an immersive study in contrasts, cruelty and how viciously privilege limits growth and kindness. I’ve been incredibly lucky to have grown up around people who fostered my curiosity instead of telling me to make myself smaller, and the only question I want to answer now is how we can create this paradigm for all women.
One of the first things I realized very early on was that words have power. Names have power. A poem might not change the world, but it can change people, and that can lead to powerful, sustainable impact. The fact that I could use words to give definition and tangibility to the array of hurts and angers I carried became my only truth. I wrote, and I wrote, and slowly, people — specifically young women — started writing with me. It was a community marked by spontaneity, joy, and a fierce determination to enjoy and appreciate beauty. It was a sisterhood I didn’t have the context to imagine until it came to me, fully formed and fully ready to absorb the angularities it was marked by.
Writing, reading, and sharing with young women made me exceptionally sensitive to how different this paradigm was from anything else around us. The safety and strength a group of women can generate left the world feeling a little dulled, and ultimately uninviting. It was a mirror of this sisterhood that G(irls)20 gave me. From brainstorming over Whatsapp groups and emails, battling time differences and cultural confusion, to finding a moment of absolute solidarity when we stood up, and stood together for each other. Every moment wasn’t just precious, it was an important reminder of what support, hope, and investing in women leaders can create — a new world. A better world.
The week in Argentina was a small sample of what the incredible women I had the honour of working and learning with can accomplish. Each of them are special for not just how exceptional they are, but for the spirit of curiosity they carry. They are special for how easily they say yes to learning, experiencing, and trying more. It’s an unusual quality, especially since women are often told to narrow themselves to allow the worlds of others to expand. These women don’t just refuse to do so, but they insist and ensure the women around them grow and bloom too.
It’s a long haul, this path on which we’ve collectively set out, and it can be intimidating and terrifying on many turns. Most of us don’t have a precedent for what we’re trying to achieve. What we do have, however, is incredible heart and courage that we share and nurture. This group of women will change the world in ways big and small, and they will do it with kindness, generosity, and patience. I can’t wait to see it happen.
Being selected as a G(irls020 delegate is one of the best things that happened to me. I met some of the most inspiring people around the world and witnessed how we young women can play an irreplaceable role on global decision making. The experience helped me realise who I am and where I want to go. It reaffirmed my mission to be the bridge between China and the world, and fight for a world where girls can achieve anything. Zhilin Xiao, China
Love Nyaaba, African Union
Growing up in Northern Ghana, I had the conviction that I was made for more. I didn’t know exactly what that would be, so I began a journey and participating as the African Union delegate for G(irls)20 showed me who I am and why I am here. It has changed my life.
Where I am from, girls are regarded differently from boys. Right from childhood, you are told that you shouldn’t want to achieve too much because you are a woman. For example, I was denied time to play as I was expected to do the domestic chores and often, I saw how women and girls were excluded from decision-making spaces. Recently, I was in my rural community and heard a meeting being conducted and tried to attend. The meeting was to plan an upcoming festival and I was told that no women were allowed.
But I told you that I was made for more and I push for progress. When I was the assistant girls’ prefect in high school, girls were only allowed to compete to be a girls’ prefect, but not a senior prefect. This meant that a boy was always the leader of the prefects and, by extension, the student body. But I knew I was very capable and started asking the teachers and administration why I could not be the senior prefect. That only boys could be in this position was wrong and prompted me to engage with faculty, pushing them to allow girls to run for senior prefect. They told I was too assertive and should be grateful for my role. However, once I left the school, the headmaster changed the rules and now girls and boys can compete for the role. As a community leader, my activism played an important role in achieving that change and that’s what G(irls)20 has helped me further develop.
I had the incredible opportunity of being selected as the G(irls)20 African Union delegate for the 2018 summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina where I met and worked with passionate, intelligent and dynamic young women who are determined to make the world a better place. It was heartwarming to be in such a space where young women could speak freely on the issues that affect women and girls in each delegate’s context. It reminded us of our responsibility to be representatives of our countries and regions and think beyond ourselves.
The team work, positive energy and drive of the delegates throughout the summit was an indication of the hope that we will not give up our quest to make the world safe and progressive for women and girls. My focus now is on using storytelling as a tool to change negative social narratives among women and girls in my community. Skills from sessions on mental health and leadership will help me in addressing the gender inequality throughout my community. In Ghana, I have observed the many talks we have had on policies, but for me, now is the time to move from policies to action.
Interested in supporting G(irls)20 in developing the next generation of female leaders? Please visit their website, or be sure to add a donation to G(irls)20 at checkout when purchasing a ticket to any Women of Influence event.