Gender equality is not only a human right, but a necessary foundation for a peaceful, prosperous, and sustainable world as envisioned by the UN’s 2030 Agenda. The Gender Alliance is an initiative that pushes for a feminist agenda to foster gender equity in line with Sustainable Development Goal 5. Julie Smith is one of its members.
Who are you?
Julie Smith: My name is Julie Smith and I live on the East Coast of Canada.
Why did you join the Gender Alliance, and what is most important for you?
Julie Smith: The only time in my life I ever felt imposter syndrome was when I was asked to join my first Responsible Leaders event: the BMW Foundation Global Table in India in 2018. Having long worked in government where your work is normally anonymous, I had fallen into a gender trap of discounting my own contribution. What I found at this Global Table on female leadership and resiliency was an incredible, thoughtful group of individuals who wanted a more equal world. This inspired me to change my life. I have since left government and work in a different field. It is important to me to give back to one of the most valuable opportunities I have been given – it is a long way from the trailer park. I want to make this global network of Responsible Leaders even stronger. My strong background in gender policy is something I can offer.
The Gender Alliance is a network-driven initiative to bring feminists together to accelerate gender equality. Its members come from the BMW Foundation Responsible Leaders Network, the Global Diplomacy Lab, and the Robert Bosch Foundation. Together, they strive to accelerate the achievement of the 2030 Agenda’s Sustainable Development Goals on gender equity and equality within their respective organizations, communities, and spheres of influence. This series is an effort to amplify amazing women who are pushing boundaries and breaking glass ceilings every day, personally and professionally.
What work do you do to promote gender equality?
Julie Smith: For three years I sat in the center of Canada’s leap into attempting to create a feminist government as part of the small but mighty policy team at what was then called Status of Women Canada. This brought my career full circle from my first jobs at the New Brunswick Human Rights Commission working on gender discrimination and as a refugee legal aid lawyer in Egypt specializing in gender persecution. Most of the time, however, I am a mainstreamer. Mainstreaming, in gender policy speak, means that you bring a lens to all problems that questions and tries to answer whether certain men, women, or nonbinary people experience your problem in a different way. Similar to human-centered design, it asks if the first answer you come up with to a problem really works for everyone or whether you are missing something. In my current role I bring this lens to my work on early literacy. We launched a Facebook reading project where we intentionally looked for readers who are role models outside the norm – female police officers, male teachers, immigrant voices, and people with disabilities. I also bring a gender analysis to issues related to struggling readers. I am also a provincial Champion for Children Rights. Gender inequality starts early, true equality requires addressing the system of gender inequality which will benefit everyone, and that needs to start with children.
What is your desired outcome of the Gender Alliance?
Julie Smith: The beauty of the Responsible Leaders Network is how it brings together people willing to listen, learn, and act. There are few places in life you can go to find a hive mind with those values. I want to see the Gender Alliance as a catalyst for this energy – to allow deep and sometimes uncomfortable and vulnerable conversations to increase understanding of the issues and support the members to bring that understanding to the broader world as well as their own life.
SDG #5 Gender Equality
Through Sustainable Development Goal 5 of the UN 2030 Agenda, the international community aims to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls who represent half of the world’s population and therefore also half of its potential. However, gender inequality persists everywhere and stagnates social progress. Women continue to be underrepresented at all levels of political leadership. Providing women and girls with equal access to education, health care, decent work, and representation in political and economic decision-making processes will fuel sustainable economies and benefit societies and humanity at large.
What does an equal world look like for you?
Julie Smith: An equal world is one where the social constructions fall away – every male, female, and non-binary person can be their best self and there is no pre-determined formula for what that looks like. Systems of gender inequality limit men as well as others – whether it is weakened social supports, increased rates of incarceration, or higher rates of suicides. These are the same processes that lead to violence and devaluing of women and transgendered people – both by men and to some extent by themselves. Breaking down gender expectations and norms means that there can be a meaningful improvement for everyone. It’s also the work of everyone.
Any advice to your 15-year-old self?
Julie Smith: Don’t let your 30-year-old self forget the stuff you have figured out. She’s going to be more tired than you are and has tested your optimism and drive with varied levels of success. She probably will need a reminder that those impossible goals are still worth working towards.