Interview with Anna Segall, CEO of WAGGGS, in celebration of International Women’s Day.

This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is #EmbracingEquity. Read our latest interview with Anna Segall, CEO of WAGGGS, who shares what the organisation is doing to tackle gender-based issues and ensure a better, more equal world for girls and young women.

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WAGGGS: What does embracing equity mean to you?

Anna: To me embracing equity doesn’t just mean treating everybody the same, it means everybody should have the same chances to be successful in whatever areas of life they want to work in or contribute to. For this to happen, you need to make sure any underlying barriers are removed so that people have the same opportunities. In the technology space, across cultures, we see that girls are not engaging with technology as early or as much as boys and we need to see change; we need to see more women and more girls active in this space, involved and not limited by prevailing social norms. The UN theme for IWD and indeed our cyber security and awareness programme, Surf Smart 2.0, touch upon the fact that girls and young women working in digital spaces are more likely to be on the receiving end of gender-based violence and attacks online and more needs to be done to ensure that the digital space is safe for women.

WAGGGS: How does WAGGGS embrace equity through its programmes, events and campaigns and how is WAGGGS ensuring a better world for girls and young women?

Anna: The IWD theme this year particularly resonates with us; as a girl-led movement, we continue to drive equity for girls and women across the world, and we do this through many different WAGGGS’s programmes and campaigns, some of which strongly address equity within the digital space.

Take for example our programme Surf Smart 2.0. This programme that supports girls and young women to connect safely and positively online, not only ensuring a generation of girls and young women have the knowledge and skills to protect themselves and others online, but also to give them the skills to speak out for equal digital rights and access for all. A programme supported by long standing partner Norton, who not only financially support the programme but have also been an amazing expert resource in  developing the programme.

Coming out of Covid-19, we see that girls and young women – including our Girl Guides and Girl Scouts across the world – are needing to grapple far more with working, learning and engaging in a digital environment. And they need to be able to do this safely.

Equally relevant in terms of safety is the work we do on gender-based violence through our Stop the Violence programme. Co-created with UN Women, this programme is needed now more than ever to tackle the challenges girls and young women face around violence online.

March is not only IWD but also 67th Commission on the Status of Women held in New York, and the theme this year for CSW is ‘innovation and technological change, and education in the digital age for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls’, so a theme that aligns well to International Women’s Day

This year we have a group of six exceptional young women delegates representing WAGGGS and their national Girl Guiding or Girl Scouting in person as well as 14 young women supporting online throughout the event. Each has a passion for gender equality and sustainable development, paired with knowledge of and commitment to issues relating to girls and young women such as girls’ leadership, gender-based violence, digital education access and advocacy.

For example, attending CSW remotely this year is Elissa from Lebanon who will be representing some of the Stop the Violence work she has been part of – challenging child abuse and child marriage. Elissa back in her home country has developed Girl Scouting activities for the Brownie age group (8-12) to raise awareness around this issue.

CSW is a unique opportunity for Girl Guides and Girl Scouts to advocate for the rights of girls and young women at a global level, and champion gender equality through the principal global intergovernmental body shaping global policy standards on women’s rights. You can find out more about our CSW delegates and their key calls to action here.

Another topical programme here at WAGGGS that embraces equity is our GLACC (Girl Led Action on Climate Change) programme. Climate change is one of the most significant global threats to human life and it is women and girls in many ways suffer the worst impacts. We’re seeking to change this by working to ensure that girls and young women are more resilient to climate change and that we see a gender transformative approach to climate change policy and practice, at all levels. Last year for example, we enabled six amazing young women to participate in COP27, the world’s largest climate change conference in Egypt, where they called on world leaders to enact change. Talking about how her experience at COP27 has encouraged her to create a long-lasting change in her own community, Thuto Matobo from Lesotho said “post COP27, my aim is to collaborate with government delegates that attended COP 27 in order to influence decision makers in Lesotho to adopt the WAGGGS key demands particularly, to  integrate girls and youth in all climate decision making platforms in Lesotho and to push for political will to enhance resilience and assistance to girls and young women in vulnerable communities. Further as an environmental law expert, to contribute towards research and policy development in Lesotho”. You can find out more about our delegates and their key demands at COP27 here.

WAGGGS: What role do you believe girls and young women can play in defining and driving the impact of the Girl Guiding Movement?  

Anna: At WAGGGS, our vision is an equal world where all girls can thrive. By 2032 we will be a girl-led movement where every and any girl feels confident to lead and empowered to create a better world together. Embedding girls and young women at the heart of everything we do, we enable them to have the opportunity to give their input into our strategic direction and that of the global guiding movement as well as working in partnership to build programmes, events and campaigns on issues that matter to them.

For example, in the midst of the Covid-19 global pandemic, we collaborated with the Big Six – the six largest youth-facing movements and organisations in the world. We worked together on the global Generation Youth Mobilisation project, creating opportunities for young people to build and deliver projects in their communities. These projects addressed specific challenges their communities were facing, from Covid-19 to its knock-on effects on education, employment, gender-based violence and mental health.

In our Surf Smart programme, we saw the Girl Guides from Tunisia organise a series of workshops in their community to educate parents about internet safety, social media and how to protect their children online. Some of the Girl Guides also went on local radio to advocate for stronger policies to address cyberbullying and make the internet a safe space, also and perhaps especially for girls.

Most recently, we ran a girl led STEM consultation directly with girls and young women across the entire global Girl Guiding and Girl Scouting movement to understand their views and ambitions and equally their challenges and barriers in accessing STEM education and STEM careers. We want this to support a brand-new STEM programme that is not only informed by girls and young women but co-created by them and relevant to the context of their own countries and communities. This will be an exciting new development in what WAGGGS can offer the global guiding movement of 8.8m members. Watch this space.

WAGGGS: What experiences either personal or perhaps you have witnessed across your career where you’ve felt there has been gender bias, discrimination and inequality? 

Anna: In a previous role, in another organisation, I was involved in a recruitment process for head teachers. When I reviewed the CVs or resumes that were brought to me, I saw that there were only male candidates. When I questioned why no women were being considered, I was told that the male candidates were better equipped for the role because they had 20 years+ experience, even though the job description required far fewer years of experience. I felt this was unfair and discriminatory, so I asked to see CVs or resumes also from women who met the requirements of the job description. I also felt it was important to recognise that they might have had periods out of the paid workforce, which  might bring additional perspectives and skills to the schools, the classrooms and the students.

WAGGGS: What piece of advice would you give to girls or young women who are looking to forge a career particularly perhaps in fields or industries which historically have been male dominated?

Anna: My first piece of advice would be to get the skills and knowledge you need in the areas you’re passionate about and develop them. My second is to be bold, ambitious, and persistent; and work hard on not taking rejections personally. To succeed, we sometimes need to fail; so turn upside down the way you receive a ‘no’. It may be the first step to the ‘yes’ you are looking for. And my third piece of advice is to find the support you need to accompany you whilst you’re looking for the role you want. This may be building a network of people in the area you’re passionate about or finding role models to be in your corner – men and women already in that space or who have been there before you who will champion you, work with you and help you in developing the additional skills you may need.

WAGGGS: What do you think we can do to ensure a world that is free of bias and gender discrimination?

We need to notice it, talk about, keep it on the agenda and challenge it.

We must not stay silent. We should be aware of what’s going on and challenge what’s not working so the next generation of young women don’t have to do the same for their generation or the generation after them.

The time to act is now; our work for gender equality is not finished. We need to keep a close eye on statistics that show difference (in poverty levels, education levels, access to different professions, pay differences, and more). By capturing what’s going on in the real world, by calling it out and by saying what needs to change, we carry on the work of our sisters in generations before us.

This is the first of a series of interviews with expects across the Girl guiding movement.

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