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Catherine Chalmers

Catherine Chalmers

Vice President of Philanthropy, Plan International Canada

Over the last couple of decades, women of all ages have made great strides in the quest for equality and economic empowerment. Those successes are in no small part indebted to the work of charities like Plan International Canada that promote the rights of children and equality for girls around the world.

“Our charity has been around for over 80 years and our mandate is to advance children’s rights and equality for girls,” says Catherine Chalmers, Vice President of Philanthropy for Plan International Canada. “We also want to encourage young women to take on more leadership positions because women make up half of the world’s population and they bring an important voice to the table. Just look at the powerful women like Angela Merkel and Jacinda Ardern who are making a truly impressive mark as leaders. Unfortunately, because of things like gender bias and negative stereotypes, many young women face barriers to top positions in many industries.” 

Plan International Canada initiatives

In its commitment to give women and girls around the world the tools and opportunities to realize their full potential and make their goals more attainable, Plan InternationalCanada created two main programs. One of these is Because I am a Girl,  a global initiative that supports the youth-led movement for girls’ rights and gender equality by challenging social norms and ensuring every girl can access the education and life-changing resources that will help her reach her full potential.

In 2018, Alesse (a Pfizer brand) proudly announced a partnership with Plan InternationalCanada to help prioritize gender equality, inclusion, and diversity by supporting the Because I am a Girl movement. Because I am a Girl aligns with the company’s desire to have a positive influence in young women’s lives by promoting and encouraging women’s capabilities.

Girls Belong Here is Plan International Canada’s program that pairs girls from the ages of 14 to 24 with organizations across the country to challenge what leadership looks like — for example, leading meetings, participating in important conversations, contributing to critical organizational goals, and demonstrating the value in their unique perspectives. The participants spend a day with senior business executives at their workplaces and get an incredible chance to hone their leadership skills and learn about what it takes to be a top executive. In September 2019, as part of Girls Belong Here, Pfizer Canada welcomed Dourra, a 19-year-old biomedical science student from the University of Ottawa who had the incredible opportunity to take on the role of President and Executive for the day. Dourra met with leaders, got a chance to discuss her career plans with other executives, and took advantage of mentorship opportunities with employees.

“Dourra had a life-changing experience,” says Chalmers. “It’s these kind of experiences with business leaders that break down barriers and can open a space for young women to expand their horizons and envision future leadership positions.”

A fruitful partnership

One of Plan International Canada’s most long-standing and fruitful partnerships is with Alesse, says Chalmers. “It’s great to see organizations like Pfizer Canada supporting initiatives like Girls Belong Here,” she says. “It has also supported our international programs. The company takes gender equality seriously and wants to help bring women’s unique voices to the leadership table. They want to open up channels and opportunities for women. Pfizer was first out of the gate in terms of putting that stake in the ground and declaring that girls belong in the boardroom.”

Engaging women and teaching them to believe in themselves is key to improving opportunities for women of all ages and enriching society as a whole. “Empowering girls at a young age really sets them up for success throughout their lives,” says Chalmers. “We all win when more women find their voices and have the confidence to follow their own unique paths.” 

Know the Numbers

Encourage the women and girls in your life to get out of their comfort zone and be the best version of themselves they can be.

Between the ages of 18 to 24, young women in Canada report feeling less equal because of their gender and that their confidence reaches a low.


of young Canadian women aged 18 to 24 said they felt less equal than their male counterparts.


of young women aged 18 to 24 said they believe they have the same opportunity as men to lead. 


of young women have regularly or occasionally felt pressure to change their behaviour because of their gender. 

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In academic settings, young women have felt nervous to ask questions because they either didn’t feel clever enough or were worried they misunderstood the content.

Igniting Confidence in Women and Girls

Figuring out who you are at a young age can be tough, especially when navigating through finding your first job or going to your first doctor’s appointment on your own. Below are six simple tips that can help you find the confidence you need when speaking to a working professional, educator, or health care provider.

Listicle 1

Look for good mentorship and networking opportunities and be willing to mentor others.

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Listicle 2

Make sure that you’re in environments where your voice and opinions matter.

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Listicle 3

Surround yourself with people who believe in you.

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Listicle 4

Think courageously and be persistent when you see injustice.

Listicle 5

Let empathy guide you in your interactions and respect others as you want to be respected.

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Listicle 6

Don’t be afraid to speak up and be direct about what you want — trust your gut and act on your intuition.

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