Interview by Megan Foo, President of Women LEAD’s Hong Kong Chapter
Julia Wiklander is the founder of Girls’ Globe. With a passion to inspire people, Julia believes in all people’s equal rights, and that highlighting positive change is essential for development. She also believes that strengthening women’s rights is the key to sustainable development. To bring people from all parts of the world together to understand the needs of girls and women globally is a goal she has with Girls’ Globe. She has worked at the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) with essential maternal health commodities and is an active advocate for women’s rights. She has a Master’s of Science in Economics in her backpack, including studies in gender, reproductive health, demography and development from India and Singapore and experience working with gender and health issues at the United Nations in New York.
Women LEAD: What is your background?
Julia Wiklander: My background is in development and gender studies. I have a Master in Economics from Lund University, in Sweden. I am Swedish, but grew up in Egypt, Pakistan and India. As a child I witnessed extreme poverty and I have always been passionate to help make the world a better place for all. In my pursuit of development and as I became older I noticed how inequities between girls and boys, women and men, have a great impact on social norms that in many ways limit development in communities around the world. During my studies I did an internship at the Swedish Mission to the UN in New York, working with social development issues, mostly concerning women and health. As I completed my university education I spent a few years at UNFPA, working with global procurement of sexual, reproductive and maternal health commodities, both for emergency and development settings. I continue to believe that the empowerment of women and girls is the most important investment for development. Women and girls need to have access to their rights and have the possibility to lead healthy lives to be able to live to their full potential and reach their dreams!
Women LEAD: You are the Founder and Executive Director of Girls’ Globe, a network of passionate bloggers and organizations that advocates, raises awareness and inspires movements of change for women and girls worldwide. Can you tell us more about Girls’ Globe?
Julia Wiklander: Girls’ Globe is working to create a global voice with the aim to raise awareness and inspire others to action. Many “women’s” issues such as maternal mortality in least developed countries, gender-based violence, and trafficking, to name a few are incredibly devastating subjects. Hearing about the status of women in some communities makes your heart bleed, leaving a sense of hopelessness. At Girls’ Globe we are kicking out hopelessness! We want to inspire others by highlighting the positive change that is being made, because so much progress is taking place, and we want to highlight the individuals and organizations behind that progress. By breaking down problems, sharing real and inspiring stories and learning how you can have an impact, it becomes easier for people to make a difference themselves.
Girls’ Globe is all about empowerment and using social media to change the way international development works today! We are empowering young women from around the world to make their voices heard. We are also participating in several international events and conferences to bridge the gap between the activists and organizations at the grassroots level and high-level decision-makers. We want to hold our leaders accountable and break down hierarchies to ensure that the voices of women and girls are heard in international development commitments.
Women LEAD: In founding and leading Girls’ Globe, what was the most valuable lesson you learned along the way?
Julia Wiklander: That anything is possible! Girls’ Globe has grown from being my personal blog, two years ago, to becoming this global network of amazing women and inspirational organizations. I have learnt that with the help of new technology, increasing connectivity and social media, we can actually change the world. In creating Girls’ Globe I have learnt that with a great idea, true passion and a team of talented individuals you can truly have an impact! I am inspired by every new blogger and every new organization that joins our network. Their stories continue to teach me and inspire me to keep at it!
Women LEAD: On a personal level, what does women’s empowerment mean to you?
Julia Wiklander: Women’s empowerment is a process of change, where a woman herself is able to take charge of her life and break down norms that limit her and those around her. For me women’s empowerment means not standing still and not letting myself be overcome by rules saying that “it isn’t possible”. I try to be very aware of how things in my community and in other societies affect women, whether it is a commercial, a movie, or an invisible rule saying how women should act and behave. For me women’s empowerment is very much linked to gender equality. I believe that all people, women and men, girls and boys are created equal – and should be valued equally in all walks of life.
Women LEAD: What needs to change to improve sexual, reproductive and maternal health in lesser-economically developed countries?
Julia Wiklander: There are several gaps that need to be filled. First of all, there needs to be access to the life-saving and life-changing commodities and services that improve sexual, reproductive and maternal health. All of this is part of the supply side. These products and services need to be readily available when women seek them. Secondly, there needs to be an increase in education and awareness (on the demand side). Girls and boys need to have access to sexual education in schools, where they learn about their bodies. This is essential for them to grow into confident women and men, who are able to make informed decisions about their lives. Women need access to information about how to delay and space pregnencies. Thirdly, destructive social norms surrounding women and girls need to change. Social norms are silent rules that define individuals based on their characteristics, such as the color of their skin, their religion, ethnicity and sex. These norms vary from culture to culture and are at times difficult to pin point. However, these norms can have dangerous implications when girls are seen as less valuable (leading to female featicide in areas of India and Vietnam) or when girls are tortured and traumatized through practices like female genital mutilation. Education and strong, locally established grassroots movements, are essential to chnage these norms to ensure that women and girls are able to lead healthy lives.
Women LEAD: Can you talk about one woman who has impacted you in your life?
Julia Wiklander: Choosing one woman is incredibly difficult. My mother (as well as my father) is an inspiration, who has taught me to be myself and she constantly encourages me, not to mention in my work with Girls’ Globe. She is incredibly creative and a seeker of change and justice. I must say that I get a lot of inspiration from the various women and girls that I meet, all of these meetings have a great impact on my life. Here are just a few stories of the women and girls who inspire me to change the world!
Women LEAD: Are there websites or books that are inspiring you right now about gender equality?
Julia Wiklander: Well, Girls’ Globe (girlsglobe.org) is definitely my main source of inspiration! Girls’ Globe has an inspiring Pinterest page, where we add new links, articles, quotes, infographics and more that inspire us.
For books, I have recently read The Locust Effect, by Gary A. Haugen and Victor Boutros, which is a great book about the injustices the world’s poor face. Here’s a blog post I wrote about it. Another favorite book of mine is Half the Sky, by Sheryl Wudunn and Nicholas Kristof.