© 2019 by Meddling Kids Movement 

Gender Equality

"Instead of inheriting a broken system, we have the power to change it." - Yara Shahidi

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MKM Gender Equity Team member Shayna Rutman spoke with Renee Mendonca, a 17-year-old gender equity activist from Goa, India. They talked about Renee’s twin sister, Wings of Hope, and youth vaping addicts. 

 

Shayna: What made you passionate about gender equity issues?

 

Renee: I live with my twin sister Rhea. We were abandoned by my biological father at birth because we were females. He believed that a girl was a liability and he would have to pay a bride price for marriage and thus dwindle his resources. Too add vinegar to our wounds, society ostracized us because divorce and living in a broken family are a taboo within India. We never made it on anyone’s invitation lists and parents forbade their children to play with us. We wanted to prove to our father and society what girls can do. Our passion for this specific activism exceeded our fears and stigma. We felt we could not keep this bottled down anymore which led us to stand up for female rights.

 

Shayna: What was the response surrounding your effects from your community and your peers? Did you find similarly minded activists who were also willing to take on such issues?

 

Renee: When my sister and I were 10 years old, we co-founded “Wings of Hope”. We went to orphanages and homes for destitute women and delivered motivational talks. Due to the magnitude of our actions, destitute girls found the courage to fight for their rights and claim their rightful place in society. Our greatest reward was when one of the girls, Sheila, went on to become an airforce pilot- a profession where girls are very underrepresented in India. 

We found the power of our voices to bring about a change in society. We wanted to use our talent of singing and public speaking to empower female children who were abandoned by their parents. 

 

Shayna: What do you think our society and lawmakers in particular need to do better when it comes to gender equity?

 

Renee: The era of girl power has dawned when women can take the front seat at the table. 

Society has to make way for a new era where countries and companies are run by women. Lawmakers have to make laws for women to have the chance to thrive and shine.

 

Shayna: Are there any current activism projects or plans for the future you would like to talk about?

 

Renee: Currently, Wings of Hope has launched anti-vaping campaigns within social media and our schools. We have written to the U.S president, the Juul company, and Governor of New York to stop selling flavored E-Cigarettes. Due to our efforts, it has created a snowball effect. New York was the first state to ban flavoured E-Cigarettes in the USA, JUUL Company withdrew all marketing campaigns on social media targeted towards youth, and President Donald Trump is banning flavoured E-Cigarettes in the USA. We want to take Wings of Hope on a global scale to help youth vaping addicts. To date, we have helped 100,000 youth addicted to vaping within India, Pakistan, USA, Mexico, Nigeria, Columbia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

 

Shayna: What advice would you give to other young people who want to speak out and change the world?

 

Renee: Fear not to voice your opinion- one powerful voice can bring a whirlwind of change in the world. Every young voice matters.

RENEE MENDONCA

@renee.mendonca.77
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I chatted with Ainsley Jeffery, a 17-year-old gender equity activist from Ontario, Canada. We discussed Being Our Future, young women in politics, and Twitter bullies. 

 

Isabel: Tell me about your organization, Being Our Future. How did you get that started and why is it so important to you?

 

Ainsley: I started Being Our Future in 2017 because I noticed a lot of young people in my community didn’t really care about politics. I wanted to engage youth on certain topics in a way that makes it interesting for them. Now, we focus a lot on why youth voices aren’t in politics a lot of the time and how elected officials don’t always listen to us. 

 

Isabel: I saw that you were on the London Youth Advisory Council and I was just wondering what would you like to see from your leaders when it comes to how they interact with young people?

 

Ainsley: I think they need to realize that even though I couldn’t vote in the past election for our Prime Minister, I will be able to vote in the next one. I want to see them valuing youth voices and seeking our opinions on issues. The Ontario government is really focused on education reform, but they aren’t working with youth on what affects us about education. They are only focusing on the parents. 

 

Isabel: That is wild. What are the struggles you have faced as a teenage girl working on these political issues and how have you been able to overcome that?

 

Ainsley: That is the biggest issue. People don’t see the value in my voice or take it seriously sometimes. Two years ago I had the opportunity to be involved with a campaign in Canada for International Day of the Girl to show that girls belong in leadership roles. I got to become one of our Federal Ministers for the day and I felt so lucky to do that. I got to do lectures, attend meetings, and actually run a meeting. I remember this really specific moment when I was on my way home from the Capitol and I opened up Twitter to find so many mean comments about me that were not related to the campaign at all. Some of my tweets were retweeted by our Prime Minister so they got a lot of attention. People were like “what does she know? She is too young” and there were some sexually degrading comments as well. I was a 15-year-old girl and honestly, that just proves the message of the campaign more. There is so much bias against young women in leadership roles.

 

Isabel: Wow. How has the topic of gender equity affected your perspective on activism and politics in general?

 

Ainsley: It was the first issue I ever got engaged in. I got Instagram when I was 10 years old and the first thing I remember seeing being discussed was feminism. That really played a part in how I view the world and I saw how much inequality there is in the world. More specifically, I have gotten to see how Canada is not the best country for women. We need more indigenous women and women of color in our community and in politics. 

Isabel: Are there any current activism projects or plans for the future you want to talk about?

 

Ainsley: I was selected to be on the board of a non-profit that strives to get more women in politics and it has been a great experience. Being able to bring a youth voice to that space is really important to me. We got to have a women in politics debate and I am starting a social media campaign for young women in politics as well. I’m just trying to connect with local youth and get them involved.

 

Isabel: What advice would you give to other young people who want to speak out and change the world?

 

Ainsley: If you even have the slightest bit of passion, there is a reason for that. Even the smallest action can make a difference. Find something you care about and do something about it. There is always something to do and everyone is capable of making a ripple of change. 

AINSLEY JEFFERY

@ainsleyjeffery
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I chatted with Chia Zhi Zhi, an 18-year-old gender equity activist from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. She is also a member of MKM’s Gender Equity team! We talked about Feminist Apprentice, the Ministry of Education, and Amnesty International.

 

Isabel: Talk to me about your work with Feminist Apprentice. How did you get involved with that blog and what has the impact of it been like for you so far?

 

Chia: Feminist Apprentice is where I express my views on various feminist issues, such as abortion. I started the blog for a number of reasons. One, I want to challenge myself to put my thoughts and opinions into words. Whenever an argument breaks out between my friend and I about feminism, I find myself unable to find the words to properly convey my thoughts and defend my views. I wanted to do something about it and I realised that writing down my opinions could potentially help me express myself more precisely. Two, there are so many people around me who are not aware of the sexism faced by women, and men, in society. I hope that through my blog, I can raise awareness about this topic. Three, I want to prove to whoever reads my blog that feminism is not man-hating and is not radical by nature. In other words, I hope to eliminate the negative connotations society has associated with the word feminism. I have friends and even people I rarely talk to approaching me at school to tell me that my blog posts have opened their eyes. This may not seem like a huge impact, but it certainly makes me feel accomplished. Furthermore, Feminist Apprentice has opened up opportunities for me to work with people and organizations from another country such as Triple A and Meddling Kids Movement.

 

Isabel: Yes! What would you like to see done in your country to promote gender equity for young women?

 

Chia: I would like to see the Ministry of Education updating the curriculum to empower girls and stop trying to indoctrinate gender roles to them (e.g: women are supposed to be the main caregiver). I would like to see prominent female politicians speaking out more about gender equality, especially in parliament, because the awareness level of the general public to the hidden sexism in Malaysia is still shamefully low. 

 

Isabel: You are also a member of MKM’s Gender Equity team that wants to uplift women’s rights. Why do you believe it is important for youth organizations to reach out to underrepresented communities like that?

 

Chia: To put it bluntly, so that they can be represented and have their voices heard. I think most founders, or members in general, of youth organizations are from privileged backgrounds whose voices can easily be represented elsewhere. Therefore, it is important that youth organizations use their power and privileges by helping underrepresented communities project their voices to the world, so that more people can be more aware of their struggles in the society within which we live. 

 

Isabel: How has your community reacted to your work fighting for youth activism and why do you think it is so important?

 

Chia: Quite positively, I’d say. For me, youth activism’s importance lies in its potential domino/ripple effect. Activists involved in youth activism could ostensibly pass on their passion to someone else who may not otherwise be aware of existing issues. In that case, more and more young people would be ‘woke’, and be initiated to do something about it. Young people are the leaders of tomorrow. Therefore, it is crucial that they build a solid foundation on the understanding of social issues.

 

Isabel: Are there any current activism projects you are working on that you would like to talk about or plans for the future?

 

Chia: I am currently volunteering with Amnesty International Malaysia to advocate for the abolition of the death penalty. I’m still new to it, so I don’t have much to say about my experience yet. In conjunction with MKM’s #Suffrage16, I hope to play my part as a member of the Gender Equity team. As for Feminist Apprentice, I plan to do more collaborations with other organizations or individuals that share the same passion as me.

 

Isabel: Cool! What advice would you give to other young people who want to speak out and change the world?

 

Chia: Don’t be afraid of what others will think of you if what you stand for is a noble cause. If you are serious in what you are fighting for, others will start to, or will eventually take you seriously too. It’s all about getting over the mindset that people might make fun of you and your beliefs. Also, I find it particularly helpful to find communities who share the same beliefs and passion so that you will feel more empowered in the process!

CHIA ZHI ZHI 

@s.czhizhi
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MKM’s Director of Gender Equity, Lilly Minor, spoke with Alana Curley, a 15-year-old gender equity activist from Armonk, NY. They talked about human trafficking, We SAVE The World, and missions.

 

Lilly: What got you involved in gender equity activism?

 

Alana: When I was 10 I was doing a project about child labor in India and came across human trafficking. This was something I had never heard of before. I quickly learned that this modern-day slavery was taking place in our own country and in my own city. I realized that there was an injustice in this world that had to be fixed so I decided that I was going to be the person that would fight human trafficking and give a voice to the unheard. I was so young and my teacher was reluctant to let me study this, but I got her permission and I began to educate my fellow students about this issue. I wrote to local, state, and national representatives to change laws including FOSTA and SESTA, in order to prevent human traffickers from using common sites on the internet to sell people and sex. I continue to write to politicians today to protect victims and end sexual exploitation and human trafficking. Everyone deserves a chance.

 

Lilly: Why do you believe young people should be on the frontlines for change in political issues?

 

Alana: We are the future and if we aren’t on the frontlines, all of the decisions for our future are going to be made without us and that’s not okay. We need to be involved now as young people because in reality, the issues that are being talked about are all happening to our generation and we are the only people that can actually give an accurate view on what these issues mean to us. 

 

Lilly: How have your experiences been working in activism as a young woman?

 

Alana: Youth advocates are not taken seriously. It’s sad and maddening, but it’s true. Since a lot of us are not of voting age, we are just thrown to the side because “we can’t make a change.” We know this isn’t true, but so many adults push us down because they think our ideas are silly. I have heard so many people and organizations say that they want to get youth involved in their movements, but then when youth try to get involved they say that lawmakers and policymakers will not listen to us because we can’t vote. What they really want is to talk to us and “educate” us, but not listen to us. All of these things are frustrating to hear, but it has never made me want to give up. One of the reasons I started We SAVE the World was because while researching human trafficking I realized that there were very few ways for youth to be involved in the fight against human trafficking. I decided that I would devote my time to joining this fight and making it accessible for youth to join as well. I want to continue fighting for all victims of human trafficking and I will keep fighting until this modern-day slavery is abolished. 

 

Lilly: Are there any activism projects you are working on or plans for the future you would like to talk about?

Alana: In March I started We SAVE the World, a group of youth advocates across the world, working together to stop human trafficking and sexual exploitation within our lifetime. This is a group formed and connected over social media - through the website I created, and on Instagram. I started We SAVE the World because I saw a need for youth to be a part of the fight against human trafficking and sexual exploitation because what’s happening right now affects us and our future. Right now, 5 months in, we have chapters across 5 states and youth ambassadors in 7 states and 4 countries. We advocate, research, and raise awareness about human trafficking and sexual exploitation. One thing that we do is missions. These are led by our youth ambassadors and chapters to get their own communities involved in the fight against human trafficking and sexual exploitation. Mission one is called We SAVE the World x 10 which is to get ten people between the ages of 12 and 18 to sign the World Without Exploitation petition, raise $100 for survivor scholarships through World Without Exploitation which would be $10 from 10 people, and finally to invite ten friends to become youth ambassadors. Our second mission, which is running now is called Bags of Hope. This mission is to help victims get out of the vicious cycle of sexual exploitation by making crisis bags. These are backpacks with sweatpants, sweatshirts, underwear and a sports bra. In June, we started chapters. This is a great way for us to include more people in our fight and have many people from a community fighting together. Our main goal is to end human trafficking and sexual exploitation within our lifetime.

 

Lilly: What advice would you give to other young people who want to speak out and change the world?

 

Alana: If you want to make a change, you have the ability. Just do it. It’s okay if it takes a little while for you to figure out how to help. Research organizations that are passionate about the same thing as you and network with them. Try to make strong connections with other people so that you have the resources to use. Use social media to your advantage. Social media is a key part of our everyday life and using it to make a difference is so important because you can actually get people's attention. Speak out and don’t be afraid of what anyone else thinks. I started researching human trafficking when I was 10. At first, my friends didn’t understand it or support me but as time has gone along and we have become older they actually realize that I am trying to help our future and that what I’m doing isn’t weird - it’s brave. You are brave and you can speak out and change the world if you try. 

ALANA CURLEY

@alanacurley
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I chatted with Natalie Goldberg, a 17-year-old gender equity activist based in Portland, OR. We talked about Education from an Equal, health education, and being demanding.

 

Isabel: Tell me about Education from an Equal. What inspired you to create that and what has the experience been like so far?

 

Natalie: I was mainly inspired to create the podcast because of the health education I was receiving at my school. The curriculum was wildly exclusive, especially when it came to LGBTQ+ identities and family structures, and I also felt as though the teacher was not creating a positive learning environment. Knowing what I did about teen pregnancy and STD acquisition at the time, I felt it was necessary for students my age to get comprehensive sex-ed, even when it was uncomfortable for the teachers and the school board to accept. Additionally, the rape culture at my school was rampant and I felt that more in-depth consent education could help change that. So far it has been an amazing experience to create these episodes and I have received a lot of positive feedback. I think that podcasting itself is a really unique and interesting form of media so I was super excited to create and share my own series. 

 

Isabel: Totally! What initially made you want to speak out about gender equity and why do you think it is so important?

 

Natalie: Like the majority of Gen Z, my activism began with Trump’s election. The 2016 presidential race made me reevaluate my beliefs and develop outside of the mold that my parents had created for me. I saw the way that political action and legislative changes could actually affect people and it made me want to work to make positive change for women and other marginalized groups. The focus on gender equality began with my own struggle with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. I dealt with intense pain during menstruation and irregular periods, but I never knew that anything was wrong because I had never been educated about the female body and female-specific medical issues before due to the lacking sex-ed curriculum where I live. This was really the catalyst that pushed me into education-based activism because I felt as though it was an area that was truly lacking, yet had the capability to change lives across the nation and across the world. 

 

Isabel: How do think that gender equality should be discussed when it comes to public education?

 

Natalie: I think that gender equality in public schools should definitely be brought up in as many subjects as possible. Even subjects like science, where there is seemingly little room for social issues, it is possible to bring in discussions of gender equality. I remember how powerful it was for my freshman year biology teacher to discuss the way that scientists Watson and Crick took credit for Rosalind Franklin’s discovery of the structure of DNA, explaining the gender bias within science. At the time, I wanted to go into medicine, and this open and honest acknowledgment of the struggles that women face in STEM fields made me feel like there would be a place for me in the future. Though my interests have changed, this lesson is one that I will never forget, and one that exemplifies the importance of discussions of gender equality in all subjects. Too often these discussions are relegated solely to the humanities classes, but there are many women and girls who have other interests that could benefit from feeling this type of support and representation. I think that the discussion of gender equality in public schools should highlight the accomplishments and contributions of female scholars, scientists, or historians to the same degree as males. 

 

Isabel: What do you think our school system could do to better support young women and young marginalized people?

 

Natalie: While this may be a slightly biased answer, I feel like one of the most important things that our school system could do to better support women and marginalized youth is probably improve the health education. Health class encompasses so many intersectional issues, from domestic violence that affects people of color and LGBTQ+ people differently from their straight, white peers, to STDs, which impact different communities differently, to teen pregnancy and post-pregnancy options, which can be life-saving for all different types of teens. Providing this kind of information in class is the most important change that our school system can make. 

 

Isabel: Are there any current activism projects you are working on that you would like to talk about or plans for the future?

 

Natalie: Currently, I am working with a few other colleagues on creating the International Youth Politics Forum, which is a collective that strives to educate the world’s youth on multinational issues in an effort to understand other cultures and ideologies. While national media companies tend to portray a single perspective of an issue, the IYPF attempts to bridge divides by portraying all sides. We focus on journalism, mainly, but are hoping to expand to other avenues in the future. If anyone reading this is interested in joining the collective, feel free to direct message me!

 

Isabel: What advice would you give to other young people who want to speak out and change the world?

 

Natalie: Be demanding. I know that women especially are often told to be quiet and cooperative, but sometimes, it is necessary to demand what you want in the world. Demand equality, demand respect, demand change. 

NATALIE GOLDBERG

@natalie.goldberg
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I chatted with Emma Burden, a 16-year-old gender equity activist from Ooltewah, TN. She is also a member of the MKM Outreach Team! We talked about the Chattanooga Health Advocacy Team, breaking societal norms, and sexual assault.

 

Isabel: Tell me a little bit about Chattanooga Needs A Choice. What does that group do and how did you get involved with it?

 

Emma: Just recently, we merged with another group in the area and now go by Chattanooga Health Advocacy Team (CHAT.) We are currently raising awareness for a Planned Parenthood in Chattanooga, Tennessee, which is the largest city in the US without a Planned Parenthood. Not only are we working toward a Planned Parenthood, we are also working hard to assure that Tennessee doesn't pass another abortion bill like those in Georgia and Alabama, which are border states to us. 

 

Isabel: What have you learned through advocating for gender equality in an extremely conservative area? 

 

Emma: While I'm faced with criticism, the most important thing that I have learned is that there are actually many people in my area who are for total gender equality, it is just that, because of where we live, they aren't as vocal as they should be. A lot of that can be contributed to societal norms here, which has given me the inspiration to be even more vocal and to help others not be as afraid to speak up. 

 

Isabel: So, you are also a member of the outreach team for MKM. Why do you feel that it is so important for youth activists to reach out to underrepresented communities in their work?

 

Emma: It is extremely important for youth activists to reach out to underrepresented communities because not only do these communities need help and to have their voices amplified, it also gives young activists more real-world experience. Working with underrepresented communities with less exposure gives activists a chance to meet face to face with those they are aiding. It also can teach us to aim towards helping communities because we feel like it is our duty to, instead of just wanting to be able to tell people that, "Hey, I've gone to this one protest. I guess I'm into politics now." While that is a gateway into activism, working with grassroots groups and helping your community is how we connect with those we need to connect to. 

 

Isabel: Yep! Why do you believe it is important for teenage girls to lead the fight against gender inequality as well as other political issues?

 

Emma: Growing up as a woman, I've been exposed to sexism and misogyny, some of which has been so deeply rooted into our society that it isn't (at first) noticeable. Once you reach the age that you have formed your own opinions and educated yourself, it's your duty to speak out for what you believe in. Teenage girls are often not taken seriously, whether it be because we are women or because we are seen as simply being too young. When more and more teenage girls push for gender equality and other political issues, the standard that young women don't know what they're talking about starts to break down little by little. The more of us that speak out, the more change can come with it.

 

Isabel: Are there any activism projects you are currently working on or plans for the future that you want to talk about?

 

Emma: I have a blog that I'm currently working on titled Students Against Sexual Assault. Right now, I'm aiming toward running it as an online project, where I and others can share experiences and talk about fighting against sexual assault in a safe space. When I eventually attend college, I would like to still be working on SASA and to create groups to talk to college students about prevention and support. I'm also talking with my local Democratic party about visiting high schools and talking to upperclassmen about the right to vote, how to vote, and how to decide who to vote for. It is very much a work in progress, but I'm determined to make it happen!

 

Isabel: That is so cool. What advice would you give to other young people who want to speak out and change the world?

 

Emma: Every day, I remind myself of the quote, "Stay afraid, but do it anyway. What's important is the action. Just do it and eventually, the confidence will follow." It's a quote by Carrie Fisher that I first heard when I was twelve, and it has stuck with me ever since. I think that so many young people are afraid that they won't be taken seriously with their activism and their ideas, which I can understand because I've 100% been there. The moment that you push yourself to speak up or to begin working, there is such a feeling of accomplishment. What keeps me driven and determined to work on my projects and with MKM is that, though I can get anxious and afraid about what I am doing, I know that what I do will reach at least one person and affect them, and that gives me the confidence that I need to keep going. 

EMMA BURDEN

@emmaburden57
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I talked with Stephanie Younger, a 17-year-old gender equality activist from Richmond, VA. We spoke about Black Feminist Collective, Girls Who Code, and Black girl representation.

 

Isabel: Tell me everything about Black Feminist Collective. How did you come up with the idea for that and what has the impact been like so far? 

 

Stephanie: Black Feminist Collective is an intergenerational online collective of womanists (Black feminists) who advocate for the liberation of all Black folks. I decided to start Black Feminist Collective in May of 2017 when I wrote an article inspired by Kimberle Crenshaw’s theory of intersectionality and Alice Walker’s definition of womanism, highlighting Black girls, women and nonbinary people who are changing the world. Another one of my first articles was an essay I wrote about the significance of listening to Black girls after speaking at the March For Our Lives in Richmond, VA. The ACLU of Virginia said that they loved my essay, republished it on their blog, asked me to continue writing for them and invited me to attend the ACLU National Membership Conference in 2018. I met and interviewed Patrisse Khan-Cullors, an artist, writer, and organizer around LGBTQ+ rights, and prison abolition, who co-founded Black Lives Matter and founded Dignity and Power Now. Within 6 months of interviewing Black people who are changing the world, I began publishing submitted articles and poetry from Black people of all ages and genders and the impact has been empowering. Most of our posts pertain to Womanism, a term coined by Alice Walker which is another word for a Black feminist who is “committed to the survival and wholeness of entire people.” 

 

Isabel: Wow. That is great. You are also an alum of the Girls Who Code program. What skills and life lessons did you get out of that program and why do you think it’s so important? 

 

Stephanie: In the 10th grade, a robotics team didn't want me to be a programmer because I was a Black girl, so my parents enrolled me into the closest Girls Who Code program, which was over 50 miles away, and I was accepted into their Summer Immersion Program. Not only did I immerse myself in coding, but I also learned to create opportunities for other girls, especially girls of color by co-facilitating workshops and giving back. After completing the Summer Immersion Program, I helped launch Girls Who Code RVA, and those life lessons are important to me, because activism is about advocating for and uplifting one another.

 

Isabel: Yes! Why is it so important that young black women are at the forefront of fights relating to gender equality? 

 

Stephanie: Black women and girls have been leading the fight for gender equality, but have always been discredited and dismissed as "divisive," "angry," “aggressive” and "disrespectful," even by some of the people who claim to stand with us. Black women and girls are one of the most marginalized groups in the world so it’s important that we are listened to because we can lend real firsthand experiences to existing issues like sexism, racism, climate change, gun violence, etc.

 

Isabel: How does being a teenage woman of color shape your perspective on political issues like gender or racial inequality? 

 

Stephanie: Being a Black girl has a significant impact on my stance on gender equality and racial justice. Having self-identified feminists stand by and watch me face misogynoir made it difficult for me to identify with the mainstream feminist movment, which led me to learn about intersectionality, a term coined by Kimberle Crenshaw. Intersectionality is at the core of movements such as Black Lives Matter. As a Black girl, who faces the intersections of anti-Black racism and misogyny, including Black folks of all genders in this fight is significant in the racial justice community as well.

 

Isabel: Are there any activism projects you are working on now or plans for the future you would like to talk about? 

 

Stephanie: As I start college, I plan to continue advocating for intersectionality and womanism by editing Black Feminist Collective and partnering with organizations with similar passions. Most recently, I've written an article about gun violence in schools from the perspective of Black teenage girls for Sesi Magazine, a quarterly print magazine that aims to represent Black girls in print media.

 

Isabel: What advice would you give to other young people who want to speak out and change the world? 

 

Stephanie: From what I've learned in my activism journey, the best advice I would give to young people who want to speak out is to maintain resilience by standing your ground, even in the face of obstacles.

STEPHANIE  YOUNGER

@blaquewomanist
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MKM’s Communications Director, Lilly Minor, chatted with Victoria Ballesteros Gonzalez, a 15-year-old gender equality activist from Adje, Spain. They talked about being a girl in science, breaking gender barriers, and the future of the world.

 

Lilly: What got you involved in gender equality activism?

 

Victoria: It is not one moment in which everything arose; I think this is something that I have been growing with throughout my life. I am a girl who aspires to be a scientist, in others words I am a girl who plans to get into a field that is culturally considered to be only for men. This mixed with my personality resulted in me getting into activism to break the gender barrier. I am a very restless and pro-justice person, so when I saw the horrible injustice that women lived and have experienced, I just decided it’s what I want to do now. 

 

Lilly: How have your experiences been working in activism as a young woman?

 

Victoria: It has really been a wonderful experience, to which I have met great girls and boys who I can call friends. Although I have met people who have underestimated me and underrate me, I have also found people and opportunities that have enriched me. Above all, my experience has been based on learning and continuing to learn. We are human and it is impossible to have absolute knowledge and the best thing about being a young activist, is that every day you learn something new, or improve something. That is to say that every day is a new and impressive adventure.

 

Lilly: Why do you believe young people should be on the frontlines for change in political issues?

 

Victoria: The future is ours and if we don't raise our voices now, later it might be too late. It is very important to mobilize and fight from early ages and learn to never settle for anything if we can achieve something better. We must make it clear that a movement can make a big change, and if it not, we make noise, and this way, in the future, they won't be able to say that we didn't do anything.

 

Lilly: Are there any activism projects you are working on or plans for the future you would like to talk about?

 

Victoria: I am part of the #GirlsinScience team, an initiative of the Royal Academy of Science International Trust. I have also helped to create a Girl Up club in my high school. I am working with my brilliant teachers and teammates to use this club to give visibility to women close to us who have broken gender barriers, in order to motivate and support girls to not conform and continue fighting to be equal.

 

Lilly: What advice would you give to other young people who want to speak out and change the world?

 

Victoria: The first thing is to have confidence in yourself and be clear about your principles, so you can fight for what you believe. Also, you should not be afraid to meet new people who share your fight. There are many young activists right now in the world, and talking with them can give you a different point of view and even open the doors to many opportunities. Thanks to that, I have a lot of activist friends who support and help me whenever I need it. The most important thing is never to doubt yourself, because although many people will criticize, you must understand that humans are not perfect and you will always have someone who will look for ways to sink you, but you must remember one thing: the future of the world is decided today and if you only make a small positive change, everything will have been worth it. 

VICTORIA BALLESTEROS

GONZALAZ

@ballesteros_gvictoria
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I spoke with Olivia Seltzer, a 15-year-old gender equality activist from Santa Barbara, CA. We talked about TheCramm News, youth representation in media, and a quiz. 

 

Isabel: Tell me a little bit about starting TheCramm News. What inspired that project and what have you learned through working on it?

 

Olivia: I noticed a visible change in my junior high school following the 2016 presidential election. Our conversations switched, overnight, to deeply political discussions about what was going on in our world. However, this newfound interest lacked an outlet. Traditional news sources are written by and geared toward an older demographic, and I found that they weren’t connecting with people my age. Thus, we weren’t reading or watching the news. Having always loved writing, I decided to create a solution: theCramm, a daily newsletter curated and written by and for young people. On February 1st, 2017, I woke up at 5am, read the news, and rewrote it in a way that relates and connects to teens and young adults. By 7am, I had sent out my first newsletter. Throughout the two and a half years since starting theCramm, I’ve begun to understand the profound importance of education. TheCramm’s readers are taking what they read in our newsletters and subsequently creating change, whether it’s organizing a club at their school, creating a protest, or going out and voting. I’ve learned about creating a grassroots movement, which has really propelled theCramm’s success. 

 

Isabel: Awesome! Why do you think it is important for young people, especially young women, to take control of their narrative when it comes to media?

 

Olivia: There’s a serious representation problem in the media. I’ll find myself, on a daily basis, reading an article and thinking “why isn’t this the number one story on every news source?” There are certain issues that young people care deeply about - such as climate change - that tend to be overlooked in the media. Since news sources are primarily led by an older demographic, teens and young adults aren’t getting a say in what kinds of stories get more coverage. If less people know about a particular issue, there are going to be less people fighting to find a solution. I’ve made it my mission at theCramm to make sure the stories and topics my generation finds important get more coverage. I also rely on my Editorial Team to send me stories that they believe deserve to be written about. 

 

Isabel: I feel like teenage girls are often underestimated when it comes to policy education. What have you learned from being a teenage girl working in political and news spaces?

 

Olivia: The biggest thing that I have learned is that interest in politics among teen girls - and teens in general - is much more widespread than anyone thinks. Politics and news are treated like an “adult thing” - something you don’t really get around to talking about until you can vote. I think this is an incredibly harmful narrative. We become educated on math, English, history, and science from the first day of kindergarten, because everyone understands that it takes time to learn how to actually apply this knowledge to our daily lives. Yet we’re not expected to educate ourselves on politics until the very year we can vote. There’s a general underestimation occurring where people don’t see politics as something for teens when it is. 

 

Isabel: I know you do a lot of educational work as well. How do you feel that gender equality and education are intersectional?

 

Olivia: Education is power. The more educated you are, the more powerful you - your voice, your opinion, your vote - are. Therefore, education and gender equality go hand in hand. Tens of millions of girls around the world aren’t allowed to attend school, because a lack of education inhibits their ability to form their own beliefs and become independent. TheCramm works to inform people so they have the power to make a difference and take their fate into their own hands. 

 

Isabel: Are there any activism projects you are working on now or plans for the future you would like to talk about?

 

Olivia: A large part of our readers have no prior political knowledge and rely on theCramm as their only source of news. I was finding that our teenage readers - first-time voters - were confused about who to vote for or what political party they were a part of. Over the past few months, I have been doing extensive analysis of what issues and topics define the United States political parties. I’ve narrowed these topics down to ones you’d be able to form an opinion on regardless of political experience, and I’m currently working on designing a short, understandable and self-explanatory quiz to help solve this problem. I see this quiz as the perfect next step for theCramm. 

 

Isabel: What advice would you give to other young people who want to speak out and change the world?

 

Olivia: In this day and age, becoming a youth activist has grown easier and easier. There are countless tools out there that enable you to create change. I was twelve when I came up with the idea for theCramm; I purchased the domain name for my website for my thirteenth birthday, and shortly after, created an Instagram page that has now accumulated thousands of followers and brought theCramm to people in 32 countries all around the world. I’ve even found a remarkable community of other young people who are actively working to change the world. Everyone can make a difference, regardless of age. You should never let your age - or people’s perception of you as a result of your age - inhibit you. If you have the passion to create change, go do it. 

OLIVIA SELTZER

@thecrammnews
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Our Field Director, Stephen Baker, spoke with Shayna Rutman, a 17-year-old gender equality activist from San Diego, CA. Shayna is also MKM’s Western Regional Director! They talked about the Me Too era, organizing for women’s rights, and Purses for a Purpose.

 

Stephen: I would like to talk to you about your work with student activism regarding gender equality and women's rights in the United States. What got you so involved? Can you identify a specific catalyst?

 

Shayna: I followed the Me Too era for a while which inspired me to fight for women’s rights and equate myself as a feminist. At first, I was faced with judgment for alligning myself with a term that is commonly misconstrued, but over time I felt captivated by the Women’s March and rise of the Me Too era, because sexual violence is an important issue that is often shadowed with guilt and shame. It is important as a woman to fight for equal rights.

 

Stephen: What has it been like organizing events to raise awareness for gender equality and women's rights in America? How have you been able to kickstart the conversation?

 

Shayna: I followed activist accounts that really inspired me to speak out and slowly I did. I would say over these past couple years I did kick start the conversation by being bold and confident when expressing my beliefs. Next thing I knew, more people shared the same beliefs with me in regards to bigotry towards women’s rights, especially LGBTQ+ and minorities. Spreading awareness about feminism helps others understand the movement’s purpose.

 

Stephen: What was the response surrounding your effects from your community and your peers? Did you find similarly minded activists who were also willing to take on important issues like gender equality and women's rights and organize events?

 

Shayna: Surprisingly, a lot of people supported me when I first started opening up about my liberal beliefs. It’s a shame that I lost friends over my beliefs, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. Gender equality is an important issue that is hardly discussed, but I feel so empowered when seeing the diversity in our government and leadership positions. 

 

Stephen: What do you think our society and our lawmakers in particular need to do better at when it comes to gender equality and women's rights in America?

 

Shayna: Lawmakers need to listen to young people. Sexual assault is getting dismissed by men in power and somehow the victim is guilty. It feels like a total loss when you see on the news that a rapist is not found guilty and the court turns the blame on the woman. Lawmakers need to stop relying on their personal beliefs while serving “justice” and listen to the facts (ie- Alabama, Georgia, Ohio, Texas) because as a woman, I make the choices when it comes to my body, not you.

 

Stephen: Are there any current activism projects you are working on that you would like to talk about, or plans for the future?

 

Shayna: Yes, I began a project called Purses for a Purpose where I am collecting donated handbags/ purses and travel-sized toiletries to deliver to homeless women downtown. I started this back in April, and so far, we have so many donations! Check out Purses For a Purpose- SD on Facebook or email pursesforpurposesd@gmail.com. Also, as an incoming senior in high school, I decided my major will be public policy and gender/women’s studies!

 

Stephen: What advice would you give to other young people who want to speak out and change the world?

 

Shayna: You need to make sure you have the facts and not second guess your own beliefs. Like it or not, we are the future and we can make the change that our government is looking away from. We are generation Z. VOTE! 

SHAYNA RUTMAN

@shayyyyyyna
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I talked to Caroline Skwara, a 17-year-old gender equality activist from Cincinnati, OH. She’s also the Midwestern Regional Director for MKM! We spoke about period poverty, education, and taking time for yourself.

 

Isabel: Can you talk a little bit about your work fighting against period poverty? What has the impact of that been like in your community?

 

Caroline: In my sophomore year, I co-founded an organization called Pad Club dedicated to period awareness and access. We have provided menstrual products to women facing homelessness and are now trying to get free menstrual products in schools. We think it’s important to eliminate the stigma around periods in our community and society in general.

 

Isabel: Totally. What do you think lawmakers could be doing to better support menstrual and gender equality?

 

Caroline: I don’t think we have enough studies out there about period poverty and how it affects young girls. Our government needs to fix that, especially when it comes to education. It’s also important for our schools to raise awareness on how period poverty disproportionately affects certain communities.

 

Isabel: I know that young women are on the frontlines of this movement and have been for a long time. Why do you believe that we are so powerful when it comes to creating change?

 

Caroline: I think we are a huge demographic and a lot of activists out there right now are youth. That’s what Meddling Kids Movement is trying to empower. Young girls have faced a lot of oppression, but our passion to fight for bodily autonomy and other things is a catalystic change. 

 

Isabel: You mentioned Meddling Kids which you are the Midwestern Regional Director for. Yay! What have you learned about youth activism in your region of the US?

 

Caroline: I had no idea how many youth activists there were here. It just shows you how empowering it can be for a movement like this to showcase youth activism, even in a small suburb of Cincinnati, OH, where there is a lot of work being done. It’s really powerful.

 

Isabel: Are there any activism projects or plans for the future you would like to talk about?

 

Caroline: I’m really excited about Meddling Kids Movement. I also started an initiative called Gen Z Takeover which will give youth opportunities to get involved in activism. 

 

Isabel: What advice would you give to other young people who want to speak out and change the world?

 

Caroline: Take time for yourself. A lot of times we compare ourselves to other activists on social media, but even a small grassroots organization can make a huge impact. It’s important to remember not to take on too much.

CAROLINE SKWARA

@carolineskwara
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I spoke with Clara Meyers, a 16-year-old gender equality activist from Guilford, CT. We chatted about Feminist Alliance, working with PERIOD, and free menstral products.

 

Isabel: I want to talk a little bit about your gender equality activism and your work with PERIOD. How did you get involved in the fight for women’s rights?

 

Clara: It’s difficult for me to pinpoint a moment I decided to fight for women’s rights. It really stemmed from an increasing awareness of the injustices that women face, and my exploration of these issues within school and on social media. I attended the first Women’s March which empowered and motivated me to want to take action. Luckily, my school had a Feminist Alliance which I joined pretty early on and it was run by a group of passionate, older girls who I was able to learn from and find community with. I also had the privilege to be able to attend the Hugh O'Brien Youth Leadership Seminar in my state and the Brown Leadership Institute, both of which motivated me and allowed me to see how I could manifest my beliefs through direct action.

 

Isabel: Cool! What inspired you to create a PERIOD chapter in your community and what has the impact been like so far?

 

Clara: One of my closest friends, Emma Bonz, actually had the idea to start a PERIOD chapter as a research project during our sophomore year and I was excited when she asked me to do it with her. We were both in awe of Nadya Okamoto, the founder of the organization and already knew about the issue through the annual menstrual product drives we did through the Feminist Alliance. Joining PERIOD has had a huge impact on my local community and myself. We have been able to provide menstrual product care packages to local homeless shelters while also working to understand the stigma around menstruation. Talking to people about menstrual justice has allowed for increased dialogue about race, class, gender identity, and sustainability; the more I’ve learned about PERIOD and the menstrual movement, the more I understand just how large a role intersectionality plays in activism.

Isabel: What do you believe your community could do to better support menstrual justice?

 

Clara: Providing free menstrual products in local schools and community buildings would be a huge step toward supporting this cause. When schools don’t provide menstrual products to students, they restrict those students’ access to education. Menstrual products are just as essential as toilet paper, yet are largely inaccessible in public places, which can cause students to miss school or feel shameful about their period.

 

Isabel: Why do you think that young women are so powerful in activism when it comes to creating change?

 

Clara: Young women are so powerful because our activism comes from a place of personal and historical relevance. The issues that we champion are those that not only affect us, but that affected our mothers and grandmothers. And because we have such strong connectivity to the idea of social change, we are able to empathize when other marginalized groups or people who face different challenges push for change as well.

Isabel: Are there any current activism projects or plans for the future you would like to talk about?

 

Clara: One project that I’m very excited about is PERIOD’s #UnitedForAccess and #ISignForPeriods campaigns which are aimed at bringing national attention to period poverty. In the future, our PERIOD chapter will try to aid in this movement on the state level. I am also working on a project to diversify English classes in my school to include books from authors of a wide array of genders, sexualities, and races.

 

Isabel: Wow, that is awesome. What advice would you give to other young people who want to speak out and change the world?

 

Clara: Start with what’s there, with the people who are already doing the work. Learn to work with others and rely on others because activism is collaborative in nature. Don’t be afraid to connect with other people, ask questions, and take opportunities that come to you. Make sure the people who are affected are the ones at the forefront. Listen to those you are fighting for. Something that I wish someone told me as a young activist was that what you do locally matters; if you want to do big things you need to have a foundation.

CLARA MEYERS

@clara.meyers
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I had a great conversation with Lillian Minor, a 16 year-old gender equality activist from Elverson, PA. She's also the Communications Coordinator for MKM! We talked about women in political positions, education, and period poverty.

 

Isabel: You do a lot of work with human rights around the world, but what got you involved in women’s rights specifically?

 

Lillian: Well, my mom was the first woman in her family to go to college, so she always raised me to be aware of women’s rights. Living in a more conservative area, we always fought for what we had.

 

Isabel: For sure. What has your experience been like as a teenage girl working in political spaces?

 

Lillian: It’s been surprisingly positive. Obviously, the political climate isn’t always where I want it to be and sometimes people can be patronizing, but overall it is really nice seeing women gain political positions. It makes my life so much easier.

 

Isabel: What do you believe that your community in Pennsylvania could do to support equality on a local or state-wide level?

 

Lillian: I think education is the most important thing. I feel like most people are not ignorant by choice, but by a lack of education. Education and outreach could not only turn around Pennsylvania, but the whole world.

 

Isabel: Totally. So, you are the Communications Coordinator for Meddling Kids Movement. We love that. Why do you believe it’s important for young people to form communities when advocating for change?

 

Lillian: When you are advocating for change, it can be really frustrating. You feel like the most alone person in the world especially when everyone else is an adult. When you form a community with young people, you start to understand that there is a whole generation that cares about what you care about. You can help each other.

 

Isabel: Are there any current activism projects or plans for the future you would like to talk about?

 

Lillian: I’m currently working on a bill with my representative that would require all schools in Pennsylvania to provide menstrual products for all students between 6th and 12th grade. That is important to me because I feel like it is often overlooked because of stigma or being considered “gross.” Period poverty is very real and by requiring schools to provide these products just like they provide toilet paper or soap, you are ensuring that girls get the same access to education that people without periods get.

 

Isabel: Preach. What advice would you give to other young people who want to speak out and change the world?

 

Lillian: People might be mean to you at first and it is going to be hard, but it will also be so worth it to create a better world.

LILLIAN MINOR

@lilly_minor_
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I spoke with Roxie Richner, a 17 year-old gender equality activist from Ann Arbor, MI. We chatted about perfectionism, being a youth organizer, and political campaigns.

 

Isabel: I saw that you are part of the Women’s March Youth Empower program. Why do you believe it’s important for our society to empower young women?

 

Roxie: It’s very important to mobilize young women because we are often scared to succeed and perfectionism is so instilled in us from an early age. We can lose our voices and it is important that we get those back because they are some of the most important voices out there.

 

Isabel: Absolutely. Teenage girls face a lot of misconceptions in our daily lives. What misconceptions have you encountered?

 

Roxie: I have met a lot of people who don’t directly tell me I can’t, but they convey with their actions that they don’t think I can succeed. So many people think that we are just kids, which we are, but we are also undervalued and underestimated. Our experience is belittled in a way. There are so many young organizers that are incredible qualified for positions that they don’t get to work on because of their age.

 

Isabel: I know that you also do a lot of work with other issues within gender equality. Why do you believe that gender equality should be an intersectional discussion?

 

Roxie: I think that every issue is interconnected. People think of feminism and they are like “yay women,” but the real feminism movement is about the empowerment of everyone. That’s people who identify as femme or trans or gender nonconforming. We also need to understand the different subsets of privilege in the activist community. I am a young white girl from a privileged community. We need to listen to the voices of people who aren’t heard, and usually that is not me.

 

Isabel: You work on the frontlines for a lot of different political issues. What have you learned about youth activism through your work?

 

Roxie: Youth activism has become a trendy thing which can be a problem, but I also think there are some really awesome people in it. Through my work in politics, I have gotten to meet so many wonderful people who I wouldn’t have met otherwise. You learn and you listen which is what I think we are all trying to do.

 

Isabel: Totally. Are there any current activism projects you are working on or plans for the future that you want to shout out?

 

Roxie: I’m working on starting a project that will connect people from underprivileged communities to internships on political campaigns. I got my start in the organizing world as an intern and I was able to work my way up, but that’s because of the resources that I had. The experience changed my life and I want every kid to have that.

 

Isabel: That is honestly incredible. What advice would you give to other young people who want to speak out and change the world?

 

Roxie: I would say to find where the need is and then believe that you can make an impact. Remember that this is our world too and we are going to have to live with our future, so we need to shape it.

ROXIE RICHNER

@roxierichner
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I had a great conversation with Alliyah Logan, a 17 year-old gender equality activist from New York City, NY. We talked about equity for women of color, stereotypes on TV, and girls being unstoppable.

 

Isabel: As a young woman of color, what does the concept of gender equality look like for you and why is it so important to achieve?

 

Alliyah: Gender equality involves changing the mindsets and perspectives away from a stereotypical point of view to the actual experiences that women face. Gender equity involves the equitable distribution of resources to women of color. Equity needs to be implemented to ensure that women of color are given the opportunity to succeed in any environment that we enter. We need to have more resources in the education, justice, and healthcare system. Women of color understand the disheartening experience of walking into a room and feeling unaccepted. This must change now.

 

Isabel: What do you feel like could be done to better improve the way we speak about marginalized groups in our society?

 

Alliyah: We must change the perception of marginalized communities in media. I’ve always seen dark-skinned Black people portrayed as thugs and criminals on television shows. The continuous portrayal of Black people changed my perspective. I started thinking of myself as a thug and a criminal. I tried to distance myself from my culture as much as possible so I wouldn’t be considered “one of those” black people. We have to refrain from using these toxic stereotypes to gain views on shows, movies and more. When we remove them we dismantle prejudices that people have of marginalized communities.

 

Isabel: How do you feel that issues like gun reform and racial equality are intersectional with something like gender equality?

 

Alliyah: Gun reform and gender equality are directly connected to each other. When we begin to listen to the perspectives of women we are able to start ending gun violence in our communities. These issues overlap directly with domestic violence and the impact it has on young women.

 

Isabel: Teenage girls have been on the frontlines of a lot of different movements that you work with. Why do you feel like we are so powerful when it comes to creating change?

 

Alliyah: Girls are unstoppable! The empowerment that we radiate builds a movement for change. When we put our minds to dismantling societal norms, we accomplish that. Girls are able to bring people into the movement to educate them with kindness and acceptance, thus building a stronger community. As a Jamaican-American woman, I understand the importance of respecting and valuing cultures. I incorporate my values into activism to ensure that I am respecting intersectionality and the identities of others.

 

Isabel: Totally. Are there any current activism projects you are working on that you wanna shout out or plans for the future?

 

Alliyah: I am the Director of Outreach for Youth Over Guns. Youth Over Guns is a student-led coalition to end gun violence in Black and Brown communities. We plan to do more outreach for people who are impacted by gun violence.

 

Isabel: What advice do you have for other young people who want to speak out and change the world?

 

Alliyah: Be confident in yourself and your ability to lead. Every young person has the ability to lead a movement and make change. I’ve noticed that many people don’t believe in their abilities because they compare themselves to others. A quote that I live by is: “Don’t compare your beginning to someone else’s middle.” This is an important mentality to have in life. When you compare your activism to another person's you are invalidating your own experiences. Confidence and self-love are the most important ways to be the best advocate for your community.

ALLIYAH LOGAN

@alliyahlogan
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I talked to Maya Siegel, an 18 year-old gender equality and justice activist from Evergreen, CO. We discussed cultural changes, the stigma of sexual violence, and youth voices.

 

Isabel: What have you learned through your work for gender equality when it comes to how different movements succeed?

 

Maya: In talking to many movement leaders, supporters, and advocates, I’ve come to discover immense value in changemakers that are driven by passion instead of anger. I’ve seen how much more powerful movements grounded in frustration towards an issue (instead of at a person or group) can be. I believe that cultural change requires full participation and that these issues transcend every boundary whether political, racial, or other.

 

Isabel: Definitely. I read your piece for Lune Magazine about sexual violence and thought it was really impressive. How does writing help you advocate for political issues like gender equality?

 

Maya: I am not the most comfortable public speaker, but I am a young Gen Z woman with a lot to say. Writing provides me a platform where I can speak on the issues that I am passionate about. It allows me the time to organize and process my thoughts, so that I have the power to confidently convey them.

 

Isabel: As a student, how do you feel that we can better prevent/de-stigmatize sexual violence in our high schools and colleges?

 

Maya: I feel that there are many components to changing the stigma of sexual violence, one being to allow more youth voices into the movement. Social justice issues such as gun violence prevention and mental health have young leading voices, but the movement against sexual violence does not. I’m trying to spark this change because, as a survivor, I would have wanted to know that more young people could empathize with me. Additional components involve expanding sexual education to include explicit talks about rape kits, creating a space for survivors who don’t want to tell their story but want to speak on the issue, and educating people close to survivors about how to support them long-term.

Isabel: You are also an activist for a lot of other projects relating to climate change and equality overall. Why do you think it is important for young people to be on the frontlines of social justice movements?

 

Maya: Most social justice issues require an expansion, shift, or change in the cultural norm. They require leaving room for new ideas or accepting adjustments to the current ones. The passion of young people is key to creating innovative solutions and monumental progress. Youth are being directly affected by the current political issues. We have personal experience, we have passion, and we have our whole lives to work towards social justice. We will change the world.

Isabel: Are there any current activism projects you are working on that you wanna shout out or plans for the future?

 

Maya: Yes! I’m currently involved with many activism projects including: Think Ocean, a nonprofit that is dedicated to the protection of the ocean and the environment. We work to educate, engage, and prepare youth so they can get involved to preserve our ecosystems. Bridge the Divide, a worldwide forum for peaceful discussion of global political issues, and Defiant Magazine, a political and social justice magazine driven by teen writers. Lastly, I aspire to change the stigma of sexual violence. I am working toward starting a movement that gives youth the space to speak on this issue and urges more education regarding rape kits. The movement is driven not by anger but by unrelenting passion to help survivors and denormalize rape culture by talking about sexual violence in a new way. It aims to spark conversation about sexual violence and the importance of hearing young voices. Follow @space2speak on Instagram!

 

Isabel: I’m asking everybody this: What advice do you have for young people who want to speak out and change the world?

 

Maya: My advice for young people who are starting a career in activism is to remember that many others are trying to accomplish the same goal you are. There are so many amazing young activists out there to collaborate with and build up. It isn’t about fame, it’s about making a positive global difference.

MAYA SIEGEL

@maya.siegel
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I had an amazing conversation with Sthuthi Satish, a 15 year-old gender equality activist from Bangalore, India. We talked about girls in science and literally changing the world.

 

Isabel: So, you are actually the first international interview that our site has had. Why do you think it is important for kids to fight for things on a global level and stay aware of what’s happening outside of their country?

 

Sthuthi: I think most of the generation that will lead tomorrow is in school today. They are children and it is important for them to fight for what they believe in. There have been generations of oppression against women around the world and our generation needs to fight against that.

 

Isabel: What is something that you think world leaders should know about when it comes to global gender inequality?

 

Sthuthi: I think they need to consider the fact that gender inequality varies for each woman in  each region. It doesn’t make an impact if you just fight for things in one way because each community has issues with gender inequality.

 

Isabel: For sure. What does gender equality mean for you as a young woman of color?

 

Sthuthi: Gender equality has a lot of importance to me. I specifically advocate for gender equality in the sciences. I aspire to be a neurosurgeon and that means I want to pursue science as a career. I am also a double-minority as a woman/person of color and I want our generation to achieve equality so when I am a neurosurgeon, I won’t have to face the bias that women of color face today.

 

Isabel: That leads me to my next question. You are a proud advocate for girls in science, so what inspired you to fight for that and why do you think it is so important?

 

Sthuthi: So, I am from India and we already have a lot of gender inequality in our country. There are so many cases regarding violence against women and I learned how privileged I am compared to a lot of women in this country. There is so much inequality in the entire country of India that it can overshadow the gender inequality in science. That is what inspired me to start fighting. A lot of women don’t have the opportunity to speak out for what they believe in, so I wanted to speak on their behalf and amplify their voices.

 

Isabel: Are there any current activism projects you are working on that you would like to talk about?

 

Sthuthi: I am currently working with the Royal Academy of Science International Trust and they have started a project called #Girls in Science 4 SDGs. SDGs are Sustainable Development Goals for the United Nations and we are trying to see how girls in science could help achieve them. There are so many people my age who believe that the UN is just a security council, but it is so much more than that. There are so many opportunities for women in science to be involved.

 

Isabel: That is so cool. What advice do you have for other young people who want to speak out and change the world?

 

Sthuthi: Speak for what you believe in. Gender inequality in science isn’t something a lot of people speak about and it doesn’t get a lot of coverage, but I wanted to focus on it because it was something that really got to me. I would just tell kids my age to fight for what you believe in regardless of what other people may think.

STHUTHI SATISH

@sthuthi.satish
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I spoke with Rita Nguyen, a 17 year-old gender equality and human rights activist from southern California. We talked about sexism, voter outreach, and not holding yourself back.

 

Isabel: So, I know that you did a lot of voter outreach for these past mid-term elections and the results showed that over 100 women were elected to Congress. Does that give you hope about the future of gender equality in this country?

 

Rita: It definitely gives me hope about gender equality in the United States. I feel like in these mid-term elections we have seen so many more women become empowered to run for positions at local and federal levels. It’s not even just about who is running, but there has been a huge rise in students wanting to learn more about politics and marginalized communities being given the chance to be a part of it. Even outside of politics, it is becoming more widely known that women should be a part of everything.

 

Isabel: Totally. I feel like sometimes the fight for gender equality can be a little exclusive toward marginalized groups of people. What does gender equality mean for you as a woman of color?

 

Rita: As a woman of color and an immigrant who lives in Southern California where it is pretty liberal, I don’t really see that inequality as harshly as in other places, but it has definitely happened. I will walk into a room, say an idea, and nobody listens, but when a guy walks into the room and says the same idea, everybody pays attention. People think we are only supposed to be feminine. I am a very feminine girl and I like a lot of “girly” things, but I also love politics. I think women should be able to do whatever they want regardless of what people think.

 

Isabel: As a young person who does a lot of outreach on small and large scales, why do you believe that youth community activism is so important?

 

Rita: Studies have shown that when you are involved in politics from a young age, you will continue to be involved in it as you grow older. I think right now everyone is really energized and it is important that we keep that going even after this presidency. The youth has so much power and we could be the largest voting demographic if we utilized it. It’s just so important that we use our voice because it can really shift everything in this country.

 

Isabel: I agree. Are there any current activism projects you are working on that you would like to talk about?

 

Rita: Yeah! I am the California State Vice Chair for the High School Democrats of America and we are really working on expanding to get more clubs started. I have also started working with Asian-American Girl Club on Instagram which isn’t entirely activism, but it is encouraging Asian-American women to be whatever they want to be.

 

Isabel: That is really cool. I’m asking everybody this: What advice do you have for other kids who want to speak out and change the world?

 

Rita: This is really cliche, but don’t be afraid. I was really afraid at first because I thought that there were so many things holding me back, but really it was just myself. I think that you should believe in what you want to believe in and if the people around you try to isolate you then they weren’t meant to be in your life anyway. There is always a community that will stand with your movement. When I first became an activist, it was really difficult because I go to a predominantly math and science school where no one really cared that much about politics, but it is important to educate the people that might not know otherwise. I felt like it was my civic duty to speak out and for anyone who doesn’t, I would just ask what do you have to lose?

RITA NGUYEN

@ritanguyenn
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I had a great conversation with Kate Degroote, a 17 year-old gender equality activist from Utah. We talked about young people starting activism, her non-profit We Talk, and how joining mailing lists can lead to change.

 

Isabel: What inspired you to start fighting for gender equality and women’s rights as a teenager?

 

Kate: I have always noticed the inequalities around me with things like gender and race and even though I am young, there are still a lot of things I have been able to do. I noticed that there is a lot of power in what I say and I can make people that are older listen. If I wait until I am an adult to address these issues, they are just going to get worse.

 

Isabel: Totally right. As a young person, what do you think lawmakers can do when it comes to protecting women’s rights?

 

Kate: I think just acknowledging that something is wrong. Acknowledging things like women being paid less and women of color being paid even less. At the moment, so many of our lawmakers are just pushing it under the rug and pretending there is nothing they can do about it. If they acknowledge that this is a problem that can be fixed through their actions, a lot of progress will be made.

 

Isabel: What has been your most memorable experience as a gender equality activist and what did it teach you?

 

Kate: This might be my favorite memory in general, but in Utah, there was no student representation on our state school board to address gender inequality or mental health issues until this year. I noticed that young people did not have a voice in our own school system, so I worked with my state school board representative and we got a bill passed that created an advisory council to focus on student issues.

 

Isabel: That is incredible. So, I hear that you are starting your own non-profit which is really cool. Can you talk about what it is and what inspired you to organize in that particular way?

 

Kate: I noticed that a lot of young people are not willing to listen. That doesn’t make the opposing sides correct, but I think it allows us to misunderstand civility. So, I have been working with my friends to create this non-profit called the We Talk project to create that dialogue from all sides of the political spectrum. It’s not about saying that racist and sexist comments are ok because they are not, but it’s about being able to listen so that we can reach an agreement and make change. We want to create a generation that can be more tolerant of other people’s opinions while also having strong opinions themselves.

 

Isabel: That is a perfect segway to my next question haha. Are there any current activism projects you are working on?

 

Kate: Well, basically that. The Instagram and Twitter for it will be @wetalkproject. We are just trying to get people talking and we are setting up the website, so it’s all really fun. Eventually, we want to have ambassadors from all over the US who can host political conversations at their own schools.

 

Isabel: I’m asking everybody this: What advice do you have for other young people who want to speak out and change the world?

 

Kate: Realize that your voice does have impact. I know so many people who have ideas that could change the world, but they are scared and they don’t think anyone will listen to them. The thing is that people want to listen. There are so many organizations and ways to get involved. It can be something simple like signing up to be on a mailing list for a volunteer group and then starting to go to those events and speak out about the issues. True activism is not about getting fame or recognition because I know so many activists around the world who are going unnoticed, but are also doing incredible work. Just do it for the right reasons and know that your voice has weight.

KATE DEGROOTE

@katedegroote
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I had a conversation with Fatimata Cham, a 17 year-old gender equality activist from New Hampshire. We talked about Girl Up, solving global problems, and changing the narrative.

 

Isabel: So, you are an teen advisor for the foundation Girl Up. Can you talk about what that group stands for and your experience within it?

 

Fatimata: Girl Up is a movement that began in 2010 and has been able to impact girls around the globe through advocacy, fundraising, and communication. The een advisor program is special in the sense that Girl Up works closely with a group of girls hailing from different parts of the world. It has been an amazing experience so far. In the Spring of 2018 when I learned that I was a teen advisor, I was shocked, but it was really heartwarming because I learned that anything is possible. Girl Up has provided me with so many opportunities. I had the chance to speak at the youth assembly with a fellow teen advisor, I also had the chance to start my own chapter at school which will be the first in the state of New Hampshire. Girl Up has provided me with the tools needed to tackle gender inequality in my community and I am forever grateful.

 

Isabel: You are also a youth delegate for the United Nations. What inspired you to take on that role?     

 

Fatimata: When I was selected to be a youth delegate, I was once again shocked, but I really wanted to find a place where there were teens like me who were passionate about the UN sustainable development goals they have set for 2030. When we convened at the UN, I was so happy to see the myriad of ideas that came out of just being there. The networking opportunities and speaking really allowed me to step out of comfort zone. It was the first time that I found my voice. After that day, I went back to school and started speaking up while putting in the work needed to achieve the goals. My parents always motivated me to go for what I was passionate about and that led me to finding new opportunities for myself to help my community become a better place.

 

Isabel: So cool. Why do you think it is so important for young people to find a community to make change with?

 

Fatimata: I think it is really important for young people to find a community to make change with because it motivates you and pushes you to do better. Being in a community allows for collaboration to happen and it helps you come up with ideas that you wouldn't have thought on your own. Having a support system is also really important because the work can be draining and sometimes not many people agree with what you are doing, so it is really great to have a solid community that will be able to uplift you.

 

Isabel: What is your definition of gender equality as a young woman of color and how can that be achieved?

 

Fatimata: Gender equality is when women and men enjoy the same rights and opportunities across all sectors of society, including economic participation and decision-making. It is when the different behaviors, aspirations and needs of women and men are equally valued and favored. Gender equality for a woman of color is different for a non-woman of color because when we look at statistics, women of color are at the bottom. I think women of color should not be seen as angry individuals, but rather people who will speak up when we see something wrong. Gender equality can be achieved when we start talking about it in our school curriculums and when we start allowing for conversations revolving around it to take place. I think sexism was created by not allowing the narrative to change. We have been allowing for young men to grow up thinking that it is okay when it isn't. Having conversations, incorporating it into our curriculum for school, writing letters to congress, electing more women, changing the beauty standards to allow for a diverse range of women to be in magazines, and helping to encourage young women is how we are going to achieve global gender equality.

 

Isabel: Absolutely. Are there any current activism projects you are working on that you want to shout out?

 

Fatimata: I am currently working with students from across the country on coming up with solutions to the world’s greatest problems. I created this program called Leaders of the Future so that students can get a chance to collaborate. Furthermore, I will be working to start my own Girl Up chapter at my school in New Hampshire. It’s in progress and we are trying to start hosting events at my school. I will be also publishing my own book of poetry titled “Perfectly Imperfect” in the Spring.

 

Isabel: I’m asking everybody this: What advice do you have for young people who want to speak out and change the world?

 

Fatimata: My advice for young people who want to speak out and change the world is to start in your own community and background because that’s how you can make the greatest change. Look for students who have the same passions as you and collaborate. Start conversations within your school and push for the school to allow for these conversations to happen. Most importantly take care of yourself and know that change does not happen overnight. It takes time and just by having the conversation, you are taking a step into the right direction. It’s the little things that add up to make a difference.

FATIMATA CHAM

@fatimatacham_
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I had a fantastic conversation with Aditi Narayanan, a 16 year-old gender equality activist from Arizona. We talked about Meddling Kids, listening to women of color, and hope for the future.

 

Isabel: So, I am interviewing you now as an activist, but you are also the Outreach Coordinator for Meddling Kids Movement. Can you talk about what youth activism means to you?

 

Aditi: I know a lot of people who aren’t represented in our government right now. A lot of them are youth and a lot of them are undocumented people who just don’t have a voice in our government, so I think one of the most powerful ways they can get involved is through activism. I honestly think that this can change our government in so many ways as we have seen with the historic mid-term elections where so many barriers were broken, but I also think that another part of activism is just people learning. Learning how to phone bank, how to train volunteers, how to knock on doors, and I think that is so important in our society. I’m so grateful to politics for giving me the chance to show people that.

 

Isabel: You just mentioned this, but in these mid-term elections we elected over 100 women to Congress. How do you think that is going to benefit gender equality overall?

 

Aditi: First of all, I am just taking a moment to appreciate how historic that has been. Obviously, all these women are not in favor of things like reproductive rights, but a lot of them are and this can re-enfranchise a lot of people. Women didn’t even have the chance to vote until the 1920s, so these are disenfranchised groups taking back power. I think these are the first steps to a political revolution. We didn’t win the Senate, but step-by-step progressive voices are getting more representation. We are electing women, women of color, other historically disenfranchised people, and it’s just so exciting!

 

Isabel: Totally. What do you think lawmakers tend to get wrong when it comes to women’s rights?

 

Aditi: I mean, the most pressing women’s rights issues going on right now are about reproductive rights. It’s just the fact that a bunch of men make these decisions that affect women worldwide and the women don’t get a say in it. I don’t think people understand the ramifications of reproductive rights and what not having access to birth control or abortion resources can do to young women. I honestly just think lawmakers become so distant from these issues that don’t affect them, they don’t even know how to pass legislation about it. Politicians need to be in touch with their constituents to realize what affects them and what issues they should be focusing on.

 

Isabel: What does it mean for you to be a young girl growing up in the era of this particular administration? How has that affected your views on activism and life in general?

 

Aditi: I live in the suburbs of Arizona and I have not had to deal with discrimination against me directly, but there is always this element of fear. My undocumented friends may tweet “oh my god DACA repeal coming up” and things like that are such little things for lawmakers that have such concrete effects on our lives. Specifically as a girl, I just think the toxic political environment is such a worrying thing for me and for the women around me. I might be a very self-assured person, but I worry about my sister and my mom who are affected by these words and this toxic political culture. I do think the mid-terms bring us one step closer to redefining what it means to be a woman and what our power really is.

 

Isabel: Absolutely. How do you feel like being a woman of color in the fight for gender equality affects your perspective on the larger movement?

 

Aditi: I believe that women of color have been such a rising force for change. There were two women of color running for seats in Arizona and even though they lost, they had such a good fight in historically Republican districts. I’m just feeling very inspired being a woman of color in this fight. A big mistake that a lot of white women make is not hearing out women of color and their perspectives. I feel like this is slowly changing and we are finally bringing women of color to the table.

 

Isabel: Are there any current activism projects you are working on now?

 

Aditi: Since the mid-terms are over, I am kind of done campaigning and registering voters, but I am planning on working for a representative in my area and learning the government side of politics. I am also starting a publication with the High School Democrats of Arizona where we collect articles written about politics by high-schoolers across the state, so that is exciting. I want kids to get their voices heard no matter what corner of Arizona they live in.

 

Isabel: Very cool. I’m asking everybody this: What advice do you have for young people who want to speak out and change the world?

 

Aditi: I think you are definitely gonna have your haters and the people who will call you “just meddling kids” or whatever, but you have to overcome that. You have to stay involved because if these issues affect you, you are not too young to talk about them. I can’t vote yet, but that doesn’t mean I can’t get other people excited to vote. So, ignore your haters and keep pushing. I am so excited because youth turnout in 2018 was historically higher than in 2014 and we need to keep that momentum going. We have to keep fighting for what we believe in.

ADITI NARAYANAN

@aditinnn
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I had a great conversation with Amanda Nolan, an 18 year-old gender equality activist based in Tennessee. We talked about destroying the patriarchy, exploring other cultures, and old white men not understanding social media.

 

Isabel: So, you are incredibly active within your community when it comes to running for student offices. Why is it so important for you to make a change where you are?

 

Amanda: What I tend to end up doing is looking at my surroundings and thinking “how could I make this better?” Even when things are pretty great, I just want to know what is missing from the picture. So, I like running for student office because I want to make what’s great even better.

 

Isabel: I like that. I am also very interested in politics and human rights causes a lot of which are led by women. Do you feel like young girls using their voices in politics is helping break down sexism on a larger scale?

 

Amanda: Honestly, yes. The whole patriarchy we have going on is trying their hardest to keep young girls from using their voices, but I am so proud of how strong we are and how we are breaking down those barriers. We are changing the world right now.

 

Isabel: There are a lot of misconceptions about teenage girls in our society. Why do you think teenage girls speaking out against the norm is still seen as a revolutionary act?

 

Amanda: In our history, women have been told to just be quiet or be submissive to the patriarchy. We weren’t allowed to express our feelings or be independent. It’s this societal standard that when people try to defeat it, they get questioned. Hopefully that’s changing in the future.

 

Isabel: Yeah, totally. What do you think would change if more young people decided to run for office?

 

Amanda: That would be revolutionary. Right now our offices are just a bunch of old white men (with the exception of some amazing women) and they don’t understand our society. Like when they did the questioning of Mark Zuckerberg, they didn’t know anything about social media and that’s just one aspect of a billion things they don’t understand. If young people stepped in they would understand their surroundings and not be close-minded to change.

 

Isabel: I know from following your social media that you love Japan and that is really connected to your history. Why do you think it’s important for young people to learn about other cultures and explore outside the United States?

 

Amanda: I was so lucky that my parents could take me to Japan, so I could get accustomed to another culture. As I have gotten older, I am noticing that people who go to other parts of the world see different perspectives and realize their opinions aren’t the only ones that exist in the world. It really opens your mind because when you explore other cultures you can see what there is in the other parts of the world, take back with you the values you like, and become an even greater person.

 

Isabel: That’s awesome. Are there any activism projects you are currently working on that you wanna shout out?
 

Amanda: I legally can’t say entirely what I am working on, but it has to do with elections and it is a cool thing.

 

Isabel: I’m asking everybody this: As you know mid-term elections are coming up November 6th. In your opinion, why is it important to get out and vote?

 

Amanda: Getting out to vote in general is so important because voter turnout is awful. People think their vote isn’t going to count or don’t see the point of even trying, but every vote literally matters. If we all work together and choose to vote for people we believe in, it really matters. Using your right to vote is so important. Just to go off a little bit, Tennessee is known for having the worst voter turnout among all of the states and this mid-term is neck and neck. We just started early voting and I am so proud of the people in Tennessee because we have had at least 10,000 people in Nashville early vote and in the first 12 hours of the last mid-term it was only like 300 people. Our Senate election is going to be between 2 or 3 points so literally like 2,000 votes. This could be life-changing to Tennessee and to our country.

AMANDA NOLAN

@theamandanolan
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I had a conversation with Ruby Karp, an 18 year-old comedian and gender equality activist. We discussed writing jokes about scary things and the emotional rollercoaster that is high school.

 

Isabel: When did you realize that you could incorporate messages of equality and activism into your art?

 

Ruby: I realized when Trump became president that the world was in a very scary state and that it was no laughing matter. Then I started writing jokes about it!

 

Isabel: I watched your interview that you did with Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls at age 8. What is your definition of feminism now? Has it become more complex?

 

Ruby: Yes and no. I still believe that feminism is as simple as equal rights for everyone- but my feminism has changed in that I understand that feminism is a complex concept. My feminism is different than that of a woman of color. We have to work towards intersectional feminism, and remember that feminism affects people differently.

 

Isabel: It’s super cool that you are so involved with the Upright Citizens Brigade as well. As a young person in comedy, what is something you would like to change about that industry?

 

Ruby: I would like to change the stigma that you can't pursue comedy. Comedy is a career that has various different fields that are highly competitive and take their comedy very seriously. While pursuing comedy means you are pursuing a form of joke writing, the career is anything but a joke.

 

Isabel: For sure. As a current high school junior, I was really inspired by your poem “10 Things I Learned In High School.” Can you talk about writing that and what the message of resistance means to you?

 

Ruby: I wrote that right after Trump had been elected, and it came from a place of fear and rage for our political state. I wrote it not really knowing how people would react and feared that people wouldn't like my message, but performing it was one of the greatest feelings I've ever had.

 

Isabel: Your book “Earth Hates Me” gives advice to teenagers while also making it clear that we are all still figuring it out. What inspired you to write that?

 

Ruby: Being an emotional mess in high school and needing a place to channel it allowed me to get very vulnerable in my writing as it quickly became a form of therapy for me.

 

Isabel: What advice would you give to teenage girls who want to be empowered and use their voices?

 

Ruby: Don't be afraid of what people will say about you when you speak up about what you care about. Trust me, as someone who only got out of high school a few months ago, the opinions of the people I cared so much about then literally don't matter to me at all now. Be yourself, as cheesy as it sounds. Your best activism and art will happen when you are fully embracing who you are and what you believe in.

 

Isabel: Yessssss. So, what is coming up for you? Is there anything you are working on now that you wanna shout out?

 

Ruby: Right now, I'm in college and working on some low-key stuff that I can't quite announce yet. I'm developing my stand up and continuing to do sets and my show at UCB.

 

Isabel: I’m asking everybody this: As you know, the mid-term elections are coming up November 6th. In your opinion, why is it important to get out and vote?

 

Ruby: It is so important to vote because your voice truly does matter, and the young people's vote frequently has the lowest attendance rate. Please go vote if you can!

RUBY KARP

@rubykarp