Consuming the news can make you feel hopeless. It can make you feel that even as we take one step towards gender equality, that the next moment we can fall ten steps behind. An easy antidote is to ignore what’s going on, but is that the best idea?
I was at the Toronto Eaton Centre on October 11th, and happened upon some young women wearing pink t-shirts. There were standing with their arms crossed beside these statues in the same pose, reminiscent of the fearless girl statue installed in New York City. They looked like superheroes, minus the cape. What was going on?
Little did I know that the young women were there to Defy Normal and in collaboration with Plan International Canada, they were spreading the word on the International Day of the Girl that they won’t accept Normal.
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Several young women got onstage and spoke to the growing crowd and news cameras with strong (but slightly shaky) voices. They declared that the status quo is not acceptable. It is not acceptable that so many girls around the world are denied access to an education. It is not acceptable that every year nearly 12 million girls are married before the age of 18. It is not acceptable that girls do not feel safe, even here in Canada.
I was in awe of their bravery. To get up there and speak before the national media takes guts. They shared these shocking statistics and then to my surprise Sophie Grégoire Trudeau appeared.
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Ever since I read this speech she made at the Consensus event, I have been a huge admirer of her passion. As we know, she is good friends with Mitsou, so when I mentioned to one of the PR representatives for Plan International Canada that I write for this magazine, Sophie agreed to chat with me. (Now who’s shaking?)
“The future becomes less intimidating when you shape it.” – Sophie Grégoire Trudeau
Sophie Grégoire Trudeau is the Global Ambassador for Plan International Canada, an organization dedicated to advancing children’s rights and equality for girls across the globe. You have probably seen their commercial of a child bride holding hands with her much older husband. It is hard to watch.
“The International Day of the Girl really stands out because the inequality we’re facing effects us at a very young age, here in this country, and across the world. I think that in a democracy like this one in Canada, where we have the chance to live in a country like we do; we have to speak up, we have to face our truths, we have to lead by example, and I take this very seriously because I care for the well-being of this generation, and the generations to come.” – Sophie Grégoire Trudeau
That day, a young woman named Ravicha Ravinthiran, a youth ambassador for Plan International Canada had the opportunity to accompany Sophie as they were interviewed on several talk shows and she took over Sophie’s Instagram feed. When asked what Defy Normal means to her, Ravicha told CTV that it means “having confidence, …showing the world what we’re capable of…and getting support from our community.”
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“The #metoo movement is making girls feel safer to talk about what they’ve been going through. Most girls don’t feel safe walking down the street in their own country, in their schools, or on university campuses, in public spaces and most girls know a friend who has been sexually harassed. When you look at the statistics, you know that what we have been talking about is real. It is still a part of our reality, and we have to heighten the level of conversation, but make sure that it translates into reality. I think that Plan International and the International Day of the Girl is a way to ignite that conversation, and empower people to feel that they have the power to change things around them. Baby steps, little things, in their circle of friends, in their families, around the kitchen table. Sometimes you won’t find allies in your own family, but there are allies somewhere, and the minute you reach out to one, something happens. Five minutes ago, when I was talking to a young girl here, and she said to me that when she heard me say ‘the moment you become vulnerable, you allow others to do the same, and you find allies along the way.’ She said ‘that’s what happened in my life.’ When I hear this, I know that this world can be hopeful, and I know that we can bring change. And I trust these girls. They are not my daughters, but they are our daughters, and they matter. And we are going to bring our boys and our men with us.” – Sophie Grégoire Trudeau
As Sophie told me that she feels hopeful, she teared up and then, so did I. She speaks with such certainty and force that I believe her when she says she there is hope for our future. When I thanked her for inspiring so many women, she said. “I can only be inspiring because I’m inspired. I don’t see it that way. I feel nourished.”
Seeing these young women face everyone’s fear of public speaking, watching as pink t-shirts, #defynormal, and #dayofthegirl took over my Instagram feed that day, and seeing Sophie Grégoire show up; I couldn’t help but feel a powerful change in the air. I couldn’t help but feel a surge of hope that comes from one empowered woman looking into my eyes and demonstrating through example that one voice has power. Imagine what change can come from a million united voices. Those small ripples can turn into a tide, and crash the status quo.