"[I]t's heartbreaking and enraging that some of the predictions that UNFPA made when we saw that the pandemic was going to involve lockdowns and movement restrictions, have actually come to pass [...] I still am very worried about the situation of women who can be trapped with an abuser. And now you have a lockdown in your country, and you don't know where to turn and nobody's there when you call the hotline. This is something that is a crisis. Even the death of a woman [...] has increased during this year of 2020 with the coronavirus pandemic [...] girls are not in school. They're accessible to random people who are in their environment..."

Natalia Kanem, Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), is working to deliver a world where every pregnancy is wanted, every childbirth is safe and every young person's potential is fulfilled.

“You really see… how important it is to have peace in the home and the ability for girl child in particular to be able to scream at the top of her lungs if she feels that something wrong is happening to her.”


Full Transcript +


Melissa Fleming  00:00

From the United Nations. I'm Melissa Fleming and this is awake at night. Today my guest is Natalia, Kanem Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund the UNFPA based here in New York City. Natalia, I'm going to ask you about your work. But first, I'd like to ask you about your childhood. You are originally from Panama, can you tell me about your early life there?


Natalia Kanem  00:27

I am proudly Panamanian born, and I grew up in a suburb of Panama City, which is a gateway city for Latin America. And because of the Panama Canal, the world, the neighbourhood was very close knit. We had a diversity of neighbours, like I remember, in our family, we cook Chinese food as a normal food, it was, you know, we had Chinese neighbours, there were also Kuna women and their children were our friends in the neighbourhood. And it was very, very lively. There was a lot of music in the air always. And in order to walk to the school bus, I passed a factory where they did woodworking. So there were always wood shavings on the road, their sense memories, and you could smell these wood shavings, you know, it's very evocative of the kind of childhood that I had there.


Melissa Fleming  01:27

I think what people you know, imagine Panama, they just think of the Panama Canal. But it's what


Natalia Kanem  01:32

Panama, you know, was on the crossroads of the history from our indigenous origins. So because of the Aztec, Maya, Inca, Andean culture, people were traversing routes, and Panama being in this was a crossroads. And it's also alongside the Caribbean Sea. So again, even all on the north coast of Central America, they're very close relationships between African American descendants, and the Caribbean, and Africa itself. 


Melissa Fleming  02:11

Tell me about your ancestors and how they managed to land in Panama. 


Natalia Kanem  02:17

Well, like a lot of Panama, Afro Panamanians one set of our grandparents, and their antecedents came from Jamaica, and St. Lucia. So my grandmother, for example, spoke Creole, and they came as teachers. So this was very important in terms of even shaping my own education, you know, there was a strong belief of striving through education. It was also a time I think, where there was an awakening of African culture, and coming out of a history of enslavement, a new pride in being black, in your natural hair, and, you know, Latin America is special, in general, because as you probably know, negrita, which means being black is an absolute term of endearment whether you happen to be dark skinned or not. So there were a lot of endearments. But it was also mixed with this Prejudice and ambiguity and instances of discrimination. 


Melissa Fleming  03:22

I'm curious to learn more about that, that kind of contradiction, the term of endearment around being black, as well as what you said, also, a lot of prejudice. How did you navigate through that?

Dr. Natalia Kanem looks, with a tender smile, at a midwife standing next to her.


Natalia Kanem  03:37

Well, you know, it's important to think about that now, when the Black Lives Matter era, and the discussions about systemic racism are with us, because the imprinting of a child through my eyes, this was just quote unquote, the way that it was. But children are very perceptive. And they do detect any hint of contradiction and hypocrisy. And for me, as a black girl growing up, I believe that the experience of being respected and protected, really shielded me from some of the bigger horrors of racism, but at the same time, you're imprinted, because you're a witness to people who are being subjugated, or sometimes humiliated. So I think the experience that I have I see now is very universal. Sometimes it's not necessarily because of colour or race, but everywhere, the experience of being a girl comes with a lot of pressure. So I think at the time I sort of, you know, you absorb it, it was, you know, a very happy time overall, but I did notice some of these subtexts.


Melissa Fleming  04:55

Can you think of an example of when you noticed that discrimination existed in the racial context 


Natalia Kanem  05:04

Right now, up to today, I think the question of how a child ascribes value to beauty, everybody would like to look nice, everybody would like to fit in, if you will. Up to today, people are lightening their skin, people are having surgeries to try to quote unquote, refine their features, you know, all of this is very loaded. And I think as a young girl, looking at people who was being called pretty, who were we to emulate and admire, it's a point of pride for me that I have never really ascribed to the ideals of a beauty that is external. So I always feel that, you know, here you are, this is you, this is me. I realised later that it's an uphill battle, you know, as a professional woman, the pressure on your hair, this is something that has to preoccupy people, as they're trying to get up in the morning and go to their job, oh no!. Or you know, what is considered presentable. Sometimes these are loaded terms, which basically ask you to change who you are, or the appearance of who you are, based on an external judgement. In my own case, I do believe that part of my confidence was the loving parents, the loving grandparents, and again, this community, which was very multi cultural, so that early on, you understood, okay, there's an Italian club, there's a French school, like I mentioned, some of our indigenous neighbours, who typically live in their own area, lived as our neighbours within, but I have no doubt that I was influenced and affected by these subterranean beliefs that well, you know, are black people really as good as, and I react to that now. But as a kid, I'm, you know, who knows, I may have been absorbing some of this imagery.


Melissa Fleming  05:16

Tell me about your mother?


Natalia Kanem  07:23

Our mother is going to be 100 inshallah, this month, and our father died when I was six. So she actually experienced in terms of her life, a lot of ups and downs, and the types of experiences that over the course of a 100 years, have really allowed us as children, there are four of us, to come to where we are now, but it was a road that twisted and turned. In my own case, I left Panama the next year, I was seven, for Middletown, New York, where the rest of my siblings stayed in Panama. For our mother, eventually, she came to the States, and started all over again from the ground up. And I think she, again, the whole education thing, she got her college degree when she was well into her 50s. But in the meantime, she was a single parent raising four children. In my case, I was sent to relatives. So for our mother, I believe that her striking characteristic is really her sincerity, and how much she really thinks about doing things for others, through the church, through her acquaintances, she is still in touch with her school mates who are still surviving, and there are a couple of them. But she also has a whole younger generation of people who will call her, she's their listening ear. It's quite remarkable, I think.


Melissa Fleming  09:03

So if what is her longevity secret, then is it?


Natalia Kanem  09:08

I just asked her that because, you know, we're preparing for this hundredth birthday. And she said, You've got to know how to laugh at yourself. You've got to eat healthy. And she said, you've got to surround yourself with people that you love.


Melissa Fleming  09:26

I'm curious. I mean, you said well, first of all, your your dad died when when you were six years old. What What was the circumstances around his death? And how did that impact you and also the circumstance of your family


Natalia Kanem  09:40

For me it's a huge impact. And you know, when Papa died, we all remember him as a heavy smoker. I mean, he you know, in retrospect, probably was smoking a couple, three packs a day and he was the first Afro Panamanian, dentist to qualify for practice, and he had a big office in the Central Avenue. So and again, did a lot of charity dentistry, as you know, is a huge issue for people, again, up until today. So he actually went to Johns Hopkins for treatment, which is, you know, pretty unusual. But this was a huge thing. I remember that the cancer treatment then was called cobalt treatment. So all of this was going on. And, you know, interestingly enough, when I worked as a doctor myself at the Johns Hopkins Medical system, his records were still there. So I was able to actually read them as a, now, a much older physician myself. So it was very poignant. So but that was a huge disruption. And again, I think for all of us, but for my mother in particular, it was a huge shift,


Melissa Fleming  10:58

Financially as well.


Natalia Kanem  11:00

Financially, I also think the experience of having a partner and now you're on your own, and it is still very much a man's world. And you've got to figure out how you're going to make do. So, we've, I think, been really fortunate. Because the ability to overcome something like a devastating illness in a family is one of the crises that plunges people into poverty. And sometimes you never recover. And of great concern. Now, as we look around what's happening with COVID.


Melissa Fleming  11:41

What made your mother decide to send you to the US to relatives that a year after your father's death at age seven,


Natalia Kanem  11:49

in my case, it was I was closest in age to the daughter, you know, who's my sister, of the aunt and uncle that I went to live with. But you know, if you work in Haiti, the whole rest of EC idea is that it's better for you to go to a different relative there in the big city, or they may be more money, etc, etc. But the impact of separation on a child. And just, I think the appreciation, which I hope we have more and more, that the continuity of the family should really be one of the anchors in the life of a child. All of this was kind of, you know, not necessarily foremost in people's minds, I think, you know, at that time, it was a survival moment. Luckily, for me, of course, again, I, I know that as someone who came to the USA as an immigrant, to go to Middletown, New York, and to be able to avail myself of a great public school education, that's really part of my passion to make sure that every girl, every kid can really maximise their potential. Through that type of an opportunity. It does make a huge difference  

Group shot of Dr. Natalia Kanem with midwives and UNFPA staff.


Melissa Fleming  13:12

You can say that in retrospect, but how did you feel when you say goodbye to your mother and got on a plane at age seven and left for the unknown,


Natalia Kanem  13:22

Well you know, it's hard to reconstruct and describe, but there again, very evocative, vivid memories that I have of coming into Middletown having to shift from being bilingual to become English dominant, the walks to school, I remember looking out of the window during winter, and the sun would be shining, I think, Oh, great. Finally, it's going to be warm out here. And then you would just see the sun glittering on the ice, which was like, hard, you know, and almost like a mirror glassy in effect. The memories of food. Because like, now, in New York, I mean, you can go on every street corner, you get any cuisine that you want. But for us, it was only on special occasions when my aunt would kind of recreate what would be the typical meal in Panama. And that was lovely. I also remember the curiosity about new things, you know, like the facility of Americans to have all this whole panoply of stuff for breakfast. So there were these things called Pop Tarts, or you could have an English muffin, or you get, you know, it was just like all of this barrage of like new assimilations


Melissa Fleming  14:49

So you understood that that your your mother was, was sending you there for your own good and opportunity.


Natalia Kanem  14:55

I doubt it. I think when you're a kid, you know, basically this is what What your parents want you to do, so you sort of do it. I missed my family, and I missed Panama. I think we did. I did transform and you know, again, coming into a new loving family, children are adaptable. But I don't want to minimise the perspective, that it's really hard for a kid, it was hard for me, and you do your best, you sublimate, etc, etc. But it wasn't easy.


Melissa Fleming  15:35

Was there? Did you experience any different form of racism than you had in Panama, coming into the US? And the, I guess it was the early 1970s 60s 60s?


Natalia Kanem  15:49

I would say yes, because that period was also a historical upheaval. Martin Luther King was coming into his prime, the aunt and uncle that I lived with, were very active in the NAACP, and some of their closest friends were part of a Jewish community in Middletown, who were absolutely committed to the cause of civil civil rights. So a lot of discussion in the family, or you would go to dinner at somebody else's house was around what was happening with civil rights in the country. And my uncle went to the March on Washington. Moreover, my school experience was very different from what I had had in Catholic school in Panama. Now, I was in a public school, which was all commerce. And I noticed that for the children who were labelled bright, and who were kind of in the classes where they shape you to eventually take college courses, that it was rare to have a black kid. And I think there were two or three of us my whole time, who were like in the top grades, getters, etc. and that there was a clustering of people by race, and there were Latinos now also coming into Middletown as well. It was an important consideration to have teachers, some of whom were black, but white teachers as well, who I believe kind of understood, and were quite caring and able to debate and discuss the civil rights themes with us as young people. I think, the ability to break the ice and name something and to be able to talk about it is very empowering, as a young person. For me, also, I think, okay, maybe I was bright, whatever. But at the same time, it doesn't really shield you from the sting of being insulted or looked down upon or being, you know, called names and things like that. But I was a reader. And that was such a salvation. I mean, I just read voraciously. And the Thrall Public Library had a programme where you could check out as many books as you wanted, you know, you had to shift them every week. And it was really not just an escape, I think, but a way of learning about other parts of the world, and how other families other types of setups are. So it was it was, it was a different kind of education, to be able to choose your own books, and to learn about other types of activities that I might not have experienced firsthand. But now you were reading about, you know, an astronaut, or whatever it would have been.


Melissa Fleming  18:55

And what did you want to be at that stage and you're in middle school, you're labelled as bright, you're among a few, a few students of colour who are in this in this category. And then you start consuming books about the world. And then so what were your what were your goals?


Natalia Kanem  19:12

I am one of those people who always wanted to be a doctor. Maybe again, because of the influence of my father and you know, having a dad who died from cancer. The fact is, I've always been really motivated to be a helper. And science is fascinating. So I was always quite clear, although I also loved math, and I was, you know, one of the few who did like, light up, when it was time for calculus or whatever in the advanced courses. But my quest to be a doctor shaped what I studied and where I went to college. And the types of history that I looked at in the course, I majored in history, but always knowing that I had to do my subjects so that I would be able to qualify for medical school.


Melissa Fleming  20:12

So you, you went on to study I think at Columbia University


Natalia Kanem  20:17

I did medicine at Columbia, but my undergraduate was at Harvard 


Melissa Fleming  20:21

Oh, wow. 


Natalia Kanem  20:21

Yeah, it was a great time to be there. It's so interesting as I look around.


Melissa Fleming  20:28

You must have been at the top of your class, then, if you, I know that it's very competitive to get into Harvard. And Was that your first choice?

Dr. Natalia Kanem sitting on the floor with many women around her.


Natalia Kanem  20:36

It was my first choice. And I knew I wanted to go there, I absolutely presented the grades and everything else to get there. So again, you know, as part of my career, the fact is, very often I was the only woman, I was the only black woman, I was the only black person. But for that era, affirmative action was starting to come into being. And I was at the top of my class, whatever. But sometimes people suspected that I was an affirmative action candidate, it was not said like, in a loving way either. And I just said to myself, you know, this is really highly entrenched, even today. I mean, there are many boardrooms I walk into, and people won't recognise that I'm the Executive Director of a UN agency for quite a while as the conversation unwinds. And we're all learning it's a rapidly changing world. But it isn't changing fast enough. And I think we see evidence of that moment to moment. 


Melissa Fleming  20:40

What How does that make you feel when you get that reaction from people?


Natalia Kanem  21:46

Well, there's a part of you that feels bad, like, oh, my goodness, you know, you don't want to grant stand, say, Oh, my gosh, well, I am the head of the agency or something like that. But there's a part of me that's just practical. So I think as women as people of colour, to change that, it's not beating your chest where your authority comes from, You got to know your subjects, you got to be willing to defend the rights in the case of UNFPA of a woman or a girl. And I think I just feel that it's really up to me to be patient with people. And you know, I mean, my expectations may also be skewed in different circumstances as well. So I try not to let that be off putting.


Melissa Fleming  22:32

Tell me about your your path to becoming a doctor and what was your first job,


Natalia Kanem  22:38

I met one of my finest mentors, Olikoye Ransome-Kuti, eventually minister of health of Nigeria, as a student at Columbia. And so I think a lot of my interest in tropical medicine, public health, and the fate of the African child had its antecedents in that period. Now, my first job was at Johns Hopkins. And there I was given a big responsibility, one I wasn't sure that I was ready for, but I was willing to try. And that was to set up a unit that looked after children who were being helicoptered onto the helipad of the Johns Hopkins Hospital. They had been abused, they've been neglected. Some of them had been physically and sexually traumatised. So the broken bone was not an innocent injury. And so we founded the Child Advocacy Centre. And as a young doctor, I chose a social worker, extremely capable woman, to be my co-director, which raised a couple of eyebrows. But I also realised that sometimes the doctor should not be the head of the team. This is a social work issue, when a family damages a child. And it was a crash course in going home and crying at night, because the stuff that you saw, but also the resolve that there's a role for the courts, there's a role for the rights of this kid who's been abused. And how do you knit a family back together after something happens like this?


Melissa Fleming  24:10

Is there a story is there one child that you can remember that particularly affected you and touched you?


Natalia Kanem  24:17

Now you're gonna make me cry. But when you are asked to come to look at a child's X-ray, and you see an infant who's not a year old, and they have multiple fractures in different stages of healing, you have the living child here, and then you have the black and white X-ray evidence on the other side. It is so heartbreaking. You see a skull fracture, you see a big bone of the leg, the femur, that has been twisted, you really draw on every compassion that you have, because the baby is there. But that baby has a mother, who may be the person who did it, or she may be ignorant that this is what is happening to your child when you're not there. So you really have to draw deep within yourself to be able to help resolve a problem, which is highly prevalent. And which sometimes, you know, there's not going to be a good resolution for this. And, of course, you know, sometimes the child comes in dead on arrival, I mean, that's a disaster. So, the good stories are, when you do have that loving grandparent who swoops in and helps take charge and figure out what's going on. If it's someone external to the family, who's doing this, you know, you do your best to make sure that justice is done. If it's internal to the family, this is something that's extremely hard to recover from. And it's not just, you know, a question of the physical wound. Sometimes these are behaviours that are learned because of prior trauma, you really see the human condition and how important it is to have peace in the home like our Secretary General talks about and the ability for a girl child in particular, to be able to scream at the top of her lungs if she feels that something wrong is happening to her. 


Melissa Fleming  26:27

After you. You were working at Johns Hopkins, what what did you do next? 


Natalia Kanem  26:32

Well, my time at Johns Hopkins came to a close early because my son was born, Mandela. And we moved to the Caribbean to Dominica where his dad is from


Melissa Fleming  26:46

you just mentioned that you named your son Mandela.


Natalia Kanem  26:50



Melissa Fleming  26:50



Natalia Kanem  26:51

We named our son, Mandela. And you know, I'm from Latin America. So at that time, Nelson Mandela was not prominent yet. And a lot of people thought that he was a girl. And I had to have many conversations where no Mandela is [a boy]. And so I guess Mandela might have been two or three when Madiba actually, you know, came into sort of universal knowledge. Now everybody knows who Nelson Mandela is. So that was kind of interesting.


Melissa Fleming  27:21

So your son had to ask answer a lot of questions growing up about it. Yeah.


Natalia Kanem  27:24

Yeah. Because then it's true that then the script flipped, you know, and it was like, oh, Nelson Mandela, big shoes to fill, and whatever. Whereas, you know, five years earlier, people actually literally didn't know who Nelson and Winnie were. 


Melissa Fleming  27:38

So just you fast forward, what led you to the UN? 


Natalia Kanem  27:43

Well, you know, it's really so amazing to work at the United Nations at a time when multilateralism is needed, just as much if not more than ever. I came to the UN after working in philanthropy for 20 years, and admiring many of the colleagues that I met from afar. But sometimes the Ford Foundation co-funded initiatives with UNFPA over the years that I had been involved in. Colleagues at the population council demographers who I know and respect. So I thought that at the end of a career would really be great to work in a country and to try to apply all of these disparate things that I'd come to know in a setting where maybe a government could be assisted to make a difference. So I actually came because UNFPA invited me to work in Tanzania. And I had a great two years there. It was amazing. And I did see how the UN and their you know, the country team working in concert, really did a lot to bolster a country to help to change policies that made a difference for people's lives. And there was a great deal of camaraderie.


Melissa Fleming  29:12

Not everybody knows what the UN Population Fund does. So in very simple terms, if you just meet people and they say, what is UNFPA? What do you tell them?


Natalia Kanem  29:24

UNFPA is the United Nations sexual and reproductive health agency. We're a group of dedicated committed professionals who believe passionately that no woman should die while giving birth. It is part of our goal to ensure that there is zero violence against women and girls and that includes violence like female genital mutilation or child marriage. And we believe in women's choice, women's and girls rights and choices. So a lot of our work revolves around making sure that women who choose contraception can pick a method that works for them and that helps them to plan their family, which is part of planning their future. So that's what we do in 155 locations where we work.


Melissa Fleming  30:12

And that is a really important vision statement. And I know UNFPA is making a tremendous difference for women and girls and however you do have your critics and funding concerns. What do you say to those those critics?


Natalia Kanem  30:30

It's very important to keep analysing over and over, what are we doing? How can we do it better? And how can we serve the millions of women and girls that we do in a better way? So we're very open to criticism. Right now UNFPA has entered into formal partnerships, for example, with religious Coalition's who share our concern to make sure that pregnancy and childbirth is safe, that women should never be subjected to violence. So we're really quite clear that we wish to have conversations and dialogue and to explain the importance of comprehensive sexuality education, why it is that contraception is so empowering for women, and why we are very proud to work with those partners who see fit, to allow the expansion of choice for, for women. So it's a very exciting and dynamic time. But it's also a time I think, where women's rights can be politicised in a bad direction.


Melissa Fleming  31:51

We are in a global crisis COVID-19 pandemic and there are lots of indicators that this has not been a good time for women and girls. What are your biggest concerns right now? And do you fear that we're going backwards and losing some of the gains that have been made over the past 25 years?

Dr. Natalia Kanem of UNFPA sitting at a table with two women.


Natalia Kanem  32:15

Well, Melissa, you know, it's heartbreaking and enraging that some of the predictions that UNFPA made when we saw that the pandemic was going to involve lockdowns and movement restrictions, have actually come to pass. We were worried, and I still am very worried, about the situation of women who can be trapped with an abuser. And now you have a lockdown in your country and you don't know where to turn and nobody's there when you call the hotline. This is something that is a crisis. Even the death of a woman, you know, feminicide or femicide has increased during this year of 2020 with the coronavirus pandemic, we're worried, you know, girls are not in school. They're accessible to random people who are in their environment. So this is something where we have sounded the alarm, it's been catastrophic for women and girls and making sure that the services are there, when they need them. Removing the perpetrator from the house rather than having the woman and all the children have to go to a shelter. Thinking about ways of using pharmacies, for code words, a woman can say I'm here for aspirin, by the way. These are, we've had to be very imaginative and to work very closely with our partners on the ground. I think the civil society communities deserve big praise for not turning a blind eye and making sure that we keep these services going.


Melissa Fleming  33:50

You've been I mean, you live in New York, so you are under a bit of a lockdown yourself and unable to do your usual travel to the field. I know you're very active and really going to see the women and girls and visit with them who UNFPA were helping. So what is when you go to bed at night, here in New York, what is keeping you awake?


Natalia Kanem  34:16

We live in a male dominated world and everywhere, this has repercussions and reverberations. So, what's keeping me up is knowing for example, that 70% of the health workforce around the world is female. When we talk about PPE, the personal protective equipment, when we talk about giving people the facilities to be able to dispose of stuff safely, hand sanitizer, the whole gamut. We're actually talking about a woman who is risking her own well being and worried about what she's bringing home to her family. She could be a janitor in the hospital, she could be the top doctor, but right across the gamut. So I have felt very, very motivated and obligated to make sure that we speak very loudly and decisively. And not shy away from telling people this is what is needed and urgently. Similarly, though. The pandemic is, you know, hopefully a once in a lifetime, and let's hope we're not going to live through a prolonged phase. But, quote, unquote, life must go on, development must go on. And so the concern of certain things being shoved aside, and some of those certain things are the all essential schooling for girls. Right now, I'm worried because teen pregnancy, in a place like Kenya, has increased by 40%, year on year. This is all very striking, because early pregnancy is a predictor of what is going to happen to you and to your children and their children across generations. And for things like female genital mutilation. We can't use a pandemic as an excuse to relent on our goal by 2030, this practice must end along with other harmful practices. So we have to make choices all the time. But the choice should not be to sacrifice the well being of women and girls, you know, whether it's COVID, or anything else, we still have to keep our eye on the prize.


Melissa Fleming  36:49

Is there anything that makes you optimistic?


Natalia Kanem  36:49

I maintain my optimism, I, I don't like to fail. I like to succeed. But at the same time, I feel we have to be very practical. And we have to go with others. The proverb about going faster alone versus going further together, is very apt. I'm very optimistic because I believe in the power of women to make change. And I've seen that. Human beings can change the trajectory, the culture is not static. There's a lot that we are absolutely going to do to improve the circumstances of the 10 year old girl that I have in mind when I get up and go to work in the morning. And I also am a big believer in teamwork. I really feel honoured every day to work with my fantastic team in UNFPA and our partners across the sectors. So they're motivated, and they are going to make a difference. So I hope that that will be part of my bit to fulfil that aspiration, that this should be a just world that this should be a welcoming world that we should rejoice when the girl is a baby and keep that momentum throughout the rest of her her lifetime.


Melissa Fleming  38:14

Natalia, do you have any regrets?


Natalia Kanem  38:20

You know, I probably have moments of wistfulness. I love the arts. And there are times when, you know, you do feel like you're sacrificing a little bit when everyone else is running to the concert of the year or whatever. My regrets are really more in the sphere of is there anything more that I could have done in order to reverse the trajectory of some very difficult problems. My understanding is that I tried my best. So that's the most that you can say, in this lifetime. But I really wish that for the coming generations. And I see inklings of this. You know, young men will be the ones to step up and defend that sister, to defend that girl. I really wish that for coming generations. The optimism around can really transform the race relations and anti racism will be much more in hand than we were able to do during my time. And more than anything, I hope that it will be understood and expected almost, that a woman will be the owner of her body that a girl will be asked before certain traditional practices are exercised upon her. And that we will be able to, you know, not just look like that "it's a pie in the sky" when you're talking about peace. You've seen the difference that it can make when a society can function and the difference when things are wrecked, and now you're repairing, you know, so I really want that space for dialogue to be real. And I think that we can make that happen more and more.


Melissa Fleming  40:22

What do you do for fun?


Natalia Kanem  40:24

Oh, my goodness, well, I'm a jazz and Calypso fanatic. So that's a big part of the music scene. And very recently, I have started to paint. There are no words involved. It's kind of a healing space of just really working with colour. So although I don't have a lot of time for this, I look forward to the moments when I do. And the other thing that I do for fun is to walk the beach, partly, you know, coming from a coastal country, but the sound of the sea and being able to be in the air. It's really nice. These are the things I look forward to.


Melissa Fleming  41:12

Natalia, thank you so much for joining us for Awake At Night and wishing you all the best for your incredibly important work.


Natalia Kanem 

Thank you too Melissa, it's been a pleasure.


Melissa Fleming 

Thank you for listening to Awake At Night. We'll be back soon with more incredible and inspiring stories from people working to do some good in this world at a time of this devastating pandemic. To find out more about the series and the extraordinary people featured do visit un.org-awake-at-night. On Twitter, we're @UN. I'm @melissafleming. Natalia is @atayeshe subscribe to awake at night wherever you get your podcasts and please take the time to review us It does make a difference. Thanks to my colleagues at the UN and to my producers Bethany Bell and the team at Chalk and Blade. Laura Sheeter, Fatuma Khaireh and Alex Portfelix. The original music for this podcast was written and performed by Nadine Shah, and produced by Ben Hillier. The sound design and additional music was by Pascal Wyse