When Farah Mohamed speaks, you listen. Her gentle charisma and humour are not the only things that make her irresistible; she is no stranger to rhetoric or rhythm. Her words gather momentum as she talks – until you realise you’re hypnotised.
And that’s good, because she has important things to say. The founder of G(irls)20, Mohamed’s mission is to empower young women around the world to become changemakers in their communities. Thanks to her organisation, one young woman from each G20 country (such as Argentina, Saudi Arabia, China, the UK) is sponsored to attend a G(irls)20 Summit, which is run concurrently and in the same country as the G20.
While G20 was created to talk economic stability, the focus of G(irls) 20 is economic rights.
‘We have spoken a long time about human rights and justice,’ Mohamed said at the G(irls)20: Economic Freedoms event, speaking to Monica Dux. ‘But we’ve never really pushed the button of economic prowess of the 3.5 billion women in the world.’
Following solutions weaned from the G(irls)20 summit, the recommendations are presented to the G20 leaders.
‘We give twenty countries options – and we say, “You don’t have to do all of them, you’ve got to do some of them.” Each G20 leader will do with it what they want. Some of them have spoken about them. Now we need to see action.’
To date, Vladimir Putin has pushed women’s engagement in the Russian economy, and the Japanese PM says their financial system will collapse if women do not join the workforce in huge numbers.
‘Sanitation is an issue,’ says Mohamed, speaking of the barriers that may stop female employment, and therefore financial autonomy. ‘If there aren’t bathrooms in the workplace, then that’s an issue. There are real concrete, pragmatic, affordable things you can do to encourage women in the workforce.’
The delegates, who range from 18 to 20 years old, are not just given a space to discuss issues in their communities. The ten days at G(irls)20 grants them with skills in advocacy and digital literacy.
Kartika Nurhayati , a young Indonesian woman who attended the first summit in 2010, became passionate about access to education. When she returned, she found a bus; she ripped out some seats; she found some books, and she recruited some volunteers. She created the BookMob Library, which drives through the slums of Jakarta where Kartika and other book lovers read to underprivileged children.
The young women chosen to attend the G20 range in education and privilege. While each year sees representation from developed countries like Australia, those chosen from some countries may be plucked from the realms of poverty.
‘Often, I put them on a flight for the first time,’ says Mohamed, speaking warmly of ‘the girls’. ‘They’ve never been out of their country. I’ve had one woman who got sick because her body didn’t know how to react to the intense cold of air conditioning.’
And what does Mohamed think of our country?
‘We are extremely privileged in Australia, with sanitation and access to jobs and health care.
‘But Australia is still a very unequal country when it comes to women.’
Lou Heinrich travelled to Melbourne to MWF with the generous help of the South Australian Government through Carclew.
Find Lou at @shahouley
Digital Reporters is run in partnership with the Emerging Writers’ Festival.