Ottawa youth take a stand for gender equality

Aug 09, 2019
7-Minute Read
In 2019, youth advocacy is arguably what fuels the fire of global movements. From Malala to Greta Thunberg, young people from Generation Z are making their voices heard- and we are listening. But advocacy can still be a very isolating endeavour, which is why support and resources for youth are so important. 

As a young advocate in the early 2000s, I often felt like I was the only one in my community fighting for a cause. There were few opportunities for youth back then to come together and learn from each other, and from older mentors. Youth also had little visibility in the advocacy world, besides being lumped into campaigns with others from every generation. 

That’s why I was so encouraged when this past June, youth were a major focus at the world’s largest conference on gender equality: Women Deliver. Held in our home country this time around, it offered non-profit, health and advocacy professionals, as well as youth, the opportunity to learn and grow from each other. 

For this elder Millennial advocate, it was a dream come true both to participate, and to see the generation behind me benefitting from the incredible resources and speakers who arrived from all over the globe. Imagine being a teenager or college student and getting the chance to hear Melinda Gates, Sahle-Work Zewde (the first female president of Ethiopia), the Executive Director of UN Women, our own Minister of International Development, and a host of youth advocates who have been recognized by the UN and who are creating waves of change in their communities around the world. 

Ann Lee and Kristina Babiakova were two of those young women, part of World Vision’s youth delegation who attended Women Deliver from Ottawa. They both led during some of the sessions World Vision held (as in the photo above). Kristina is the outgoing president of the University of Ottawa’s World Vision club, and Ann is the incoming. We caught up with them to find out, a few months after the conference, how the experience is continuing to shape them as young advocates. 
A young woman in an black tshirt that says Changemaker stands in front of a geometric print wallKristina Babiakova​ at Women Deliver

1.    What were your expectations of Women Deliver before you got there?

Kristina: I had attended a few conferences, but none at such a scale or as diverse as Women Deliver. I was looking forward to learning and growing with like-minded people around the topic of women’s empowerment.

Ann: I already had pretty high expectations for this conference since it is the largest international conference focused on gender equality and women’s rights, health and well-being. My main goal during that week was to learn and absorb as much information as I could from the experts in the field.

2.    What was it like being there as a World Vision delegate with the other young women?

Ann: Meeting the other delegates definitely gave me more motivation, confidence and courage as an advocate. Even though we all came from various backgrounds and experiences, I think it really strengthened us as a group to see everyone’s unique view on the different sessions we attended.

Kristina: I loved experiencing this conference with other young women from across Canada. I think it’s very easy to feel burnt-out with advocacy work and it can sometimes be isolating, as you are usually in it for the long haul. I think having opportunities like this to bond with other advocates is invaluable; it helps reignite that passion for the work that we are doing and helping us to feel that we are not alone and we CAN make a difference together, big or small.
A young woman in an black tshirt that says Changemaker stands in front of a geometric print wallAnn Lee at Women Deliver

3.    Who was one person who particularly inspired you, and why?

Kristina: Natasha Mwansa was a huge inspiration to me because of her courage to speak out. We are very fortunate in Canada to have NGO’s like World Vision and many others that are dedicated to advocacy programs, and universities that support advocacy clubs and activities. But I think it takes incredible courage and bravery to stand up for women’s rights in a country and/or context where it isn’t always supported or even welcome. The power with which she spoke and the hope and passion that she had was contagious and memorable—you could feel her message resonating with everyone in the room.

Ann: Listening to Hauwa’s story affected me the strongest and will always leave a lingering feeling in my heart. Hauwa is a 19 year-old girl who was kidnapped when she was just 14 by Boko Haram fighters in Nigeria. Her father and stepmom were killed in front of her and she was then forced into a marriage as a child bride. At the camp where she was imprisoned, she was starved, beaten, repeatedly raped, and ultimately became pregnant. Hauwa’s courage and bravery was incredibly inspirational and her story has strengthened my dedication towards gender equality, women’s rights, health, and well-being. 

4.    How has your inspiration translated into action, and how will you share it with the community?

Ann: I’ll share my experience and knowledge with the University of Ottawa club members and the Ottawa World Vision Youth council in the coming fall. I’ll also host events in Ottawa that can increase awareness of gender equality during the school year.
In particular, we will be hosting the "Women in the World" conference along with other uOttawa campus clubs to increase awareness about gender inequality and women empowerment. 
One thing that was mentioned at the conference was an action call for women and girls in the G7 countries to become more involved. I think the challenge moving forward is reaching out to those who weren’t at the conference because we can’t create change alone. We need to try our best to help share and amplify the voices of women around the world who cannot yet do it themselves. 
I will continue to use my power as an advocate to share the voices of other women and to hopefully empower other youths by helping them realize that they can create change themselves.  

Kristina: I’m continuing to engage in events with MPs, so I can make use of all of the resources that I’m fortunate to have at my disposal to be an effective advocate for women’s equality in my community. I think the most important thing I can do after having the opportunity to participate in an event such as Women Deliver is to help start more conversations about gender inequality and what we can do about it.

Two young women pose with the Canadian Prime Minister's wife Sophie Grégoire Trudeau.
Kristina and fellow World Vision youth advocate Shagufta post with the Canadian Prime Minister's wife Sophie Grégoire Trudeau. 

Interested in joining Ann and the team as a World Vision Youth Ambassador? Wherever you are in Canada, we want to hear from you! Fill out the application by September 5th to be considered. 

All photos Kristina Babiakova​.