In this exclusive interview with Billboard about She Decides, Haines talks passionately about the cause and how our bodies should not be politicized:
Twenty million people have signed up to Global Citizen, but sometimes people have a tough time understanding the point if it’s call to action, not a request for a donation. How do you explain what Global Citizen is when people ask you?
I love that we would start with that question because that’s one of the main reasons that I’ve been drawn to the organization, as I see philanthropy revolving around money. For a lot people of all ages, but particularly young people, that’s just not a viable way for them to be involved in the political process or social justice or any cause that they might feel like participating in. So I feel that the model of the call to action is the way forward for a lot of things that we believe in and that money is not the only think that talks. To me, that’s one of the great features of the way that Global Citizen operates.
The site is very easy to navigate and understand the issues [from girls and women to health, education, clean water and sanitation, food and hunger and more]. How will you keep those who sign up involved after they do sign up?
That’s beyond the purview of my involvement. I’ve put a lot of thought into how I’d like to do something where I feel confident that the results are real and that we’re really making a difference. Global Citizen is a hugely complex and sophisticated organization. We wouldn’t see the results that we have in their various enterprises with infectious diseases and massive global scale projects if they didn’t have the infrastructure to follow through. So I feel like when they engage an artist like me, or anybody, we all just find our place within that system and they’re the ones who take care of the follow through. I’m just trying to stand up for what I believe and direct people who might be interested in that.
[Chuckles]. That’s such a great question because I feel like if we could solve that on planet earth [laughs], that would solve a lot of things, but we all know from ourselves and from the most micro personal level, and on a global scale, that people need something to get them motivated. I just got a puppy and liver dog treats apparently seem to be the thing that he needs to accomplish what he needs to do. In this case, it’s connected to if someone cares about my music and cares about my work, that’s really exciting that they align their views with something that they feel passionate about and feel like they’re making a difference, and actually make a difference, and also be closer to the work that they already care about. As humans, I wish we would do all the right things all the time, but realistically I think incentives are effective.
Let’s talk about the She Decides component of Global Citizen and why you got involved with that campaign.
I really put a lot of thought into what and how I was wanted to weigh in in this current climate of issues. We are living in a pretty heightened sense of alarm. I feel like, on all sides, passions are running very high. I had a real wariness about joining a chorus of complaints or opinions; I think a lot of times that’s really effective and a lot of times that’s just people shouting at each other and not really achieving anything and just reaffirming what they already know. So in this case, I’d really thought about it a lot. I’d done a couple of Global Citizen [campaigns], where I had really engaging conversations and one thing that I was drawn to about the organization, besides She Decides, in particular, was the connection between the political realm and people from all these different levels of quote-unquote ‘power,’ all the way down to someone like me who has a social media presence and plays some concerts, or to a 20-year-old kid who wants to do something and actually has more power than they could ever imagine.
As a general frame, I felt like, ‘Okay, there’s going to be something in here for me.’ And then we did one event in Ottawa around girls’ education and that’s when the conversation started to begin about the principles behind She Decides. So I find myself now, finally with something concrete where I can get behind it, because, to me, the main issue with the way that we address women’s health is not even the substance of the conversation so much as the construct of the conversation and the fact that we’ve accepted, as a society, the politicization of a portion of the female anatomy carves out debating points. I really felt that this is a place where I could assert pragmatism into the picture and not get involved in an emotional component and actually pragmatically get ourselves to reframe the way we are thinking about this, and think about health, particularly for low-income women around the world, that to carve out one part of their body, and a myriad of things that are unique for your health as women, and how much the reproductive potion of your body is where you need health care.
I really felt that this is something that if I could just make a little bit of a difference and just have people reframe the way they’re thinking about this, and notice how incredibly condescending and patronizing and absurd it is to have the fate of women’s health and her body be in the hands of politicians and used as fodder, half the population used as pawns in our passionate opinions about this. So I’m really hoping we can make some progress and my contribution will be in changing the way that we talk about it.
It is “Global” Citizen and being Canadians, we have the right to do what we want with our body, but we forget that in the other countries females might not have those same rights. You just mentioned education. On International Women’s Day, sometimes these people complain ‘Why do they need their own day?” and that’s because they aren’t looking outside their own country.
You’re right. The other thing in these conversations regarding gender, our lives are intertwined with men. This is not just a topic for women and girls. We all have men in our lives. We all have fathers. And in various parts of our lives, in our careers and in our families and in our relationships, men can see this too. I’d like Canadian men to imagine if their sister or wife or girlfriend or mom couldn’t get just the basic care that they need because somebody on a political sphere has stepped in and interfered with their access to the medicines and the education and the information that they need to care for their body. We’ve actually got so far down the road into accepting this as a conversation, we’ve lost sight of the absurdity of that. So you’re totally right, and the danger is in very privileged countries like Canada where we don’t have this problem, but we should never say never because political ties change and it’s important not to take for granted how the next thing you know your body could be up as a talking point on some podium.
Speaking of, just this week you’ve got Taylor Swift winning the suit against the DJ who groped her; the Google engineer who was fired for sending out his manifesto about women not suited for tech jobs because of our biology; and the publisher of the white supremacist news site Daily Stormer writing that the woman [Heather Heyer] killed in Virginia was a drain on society because she hadn’t produced children, which is her duty. We’re going backwards the past six months or so.
Sure. And again, and why I am so pleased to be doing this really pragmatic work with Global Citizen is I’ve noticed this nose-to-the-grindstone approach to getting the job done because, I don’t know about you, but if I start to engage too intensely in the horrific polarization of opinions — I mean, the idea of somebody saying that about a woman is beyond — I hope that people who are drawn to engage with this will realize that we’re just trying to step outside of that, speaking for myself, and just to get to work on how we can actually slow down the problem, make sure that the funds are where they need to be, so that some young girl isn’t going to end up not getting a screening for cervical cancer because of the climate in United States politics. So my blood pressure doesn’t go through the roof, I think about that the pragmatic part.
Does it make the job tougher because Trump is now anti-abortion and proposing cuts to various women’s health care and assistance programs and that’s just the United States, and cut funds to less developed countries [pulled $32.5M to United Nation’s Population Fund, a program for women and girls in 55 countries]?
I know one of the catalysts for the launch of this campaign was the launch of the preliminary $600 million that was cut from international health care [for family planning], that memorable photograph of all white dudes making that call in the Oval Office. I know that was a catalyst moment. The problem has been there and the problem will remain if the way that we think of women’s bodies, and the way that we even consider it a political talking point, is to withdraw fundamental care for the most needy people based on political rhetoric. So you’re absolutely right that this has definitely made people more aware because that was such a shocking and cruel and arbitrary decision in my opinion that will have a ripple effect in villages. To serve a certain portion of the electorate of the United States, a teenager is not going to get the care that she needs because of her gender. That, as catalyst, is definitely prominent, but regardless of who is in office, the way we think about this question, the way that we allow this to even be a way of discussing a women’s body, is just something that we have to reframe. So maybe this is the perfect time for us to get that job done.
The numbers are staggering: 214 million women in developing countries still don’t have access to contraception and more than 800 adolescent girls and women die every day from pregnancy and childbirth-related complications.
The numbers are horrifying, especially when you visualize that somebody is just pandering to their base or playing a political game and the pawns are people that aren’t even in the country. They couldn’t be further from that reality. I feel fairy optimistic. This conversation is so helpful because I feel like it’s important for me to articulate clearly what my stance is on this and I really hope that I can bring a different voice to the conversation and we can just get on with it and not have this undue suffering that is absolutely arbitrary.
Is there a tie-in lyrically with “Statuette,” the song you are giving away?
This is what I find so incredible about music is the way that a song written in a certain time with a certain situation or thematic thread can then find itself in another moment functioning completely differently. A recent experience I had with that, which was horrific, was being in Manchester when the attack happened. I was with Broken Social Scene and I was working with them on their new album [Hug of Thunder] and we’ve obviously collaborated for years and we had to play the following day and the song that we played, and we had opened the show with — with Johnny Marr, who’s a Manchester native, and anchored the whole thing for us to just have people come back out and not stay inside and not be afraid — was "Anthems For A Seventeen-Year Old Girl," which when I wrote that over a decade ago never in my most horrific nightmare could I imagine how those lyrics could be just so eerily apt; it was just so uncomfortable and so heartbreaking.
So on a different scale, just from a creative place, it’s been so interesting to see how this song [‘Statuette’] — and the video that we ended up making — we’re looking at the objectification of women and your value being based on the commercial viability of your flesh in the audition that we’re replicating in the video [a man asks her to take her shirt off while singing “for the role”]. I found that the lyrics, absolutely, if I could have written the song to speak to this, I think that these could have been the words, but I never could have imagined when I wrote that song that we would be in this political climate or it would have such resonance with just the worthlessness. What we’re saying when we allow these broad-stroke decisions to go through, that impacts people who have absolutely nothing to do with the political process. They’re victims. You feel the worthlessness and devaluation of a human being. I feel the lyrics — "with all the coal in the core /All the water and the oil /You can buy /Any girl in the world" — it made me really sad making that video.
When you reference “Sweet Adeline” in the song, is that the Elliott Smith song you had in mind or the barbershop classic?
What’s the barbershop version?
There’s a nonprofit organization for women barbershop singers called Sweet Adelines International that’s been around for 70 years and has 23,000 members uniting women through music.
Oh my God! Okay. So now I feel completely validated by the point I was trying to make of how you can never predict the lyrics and how songs can exist out of time and reconnect. Oh my god. Imagine if we could do an event with them where we get a women’s barbershop choir to sing that duet!
Watch "Statuette" below: