Gender Equity

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

RYM BADRAN

@rymbadran
She/Her/Hers
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MKM Gender Equity Team Member, Rida Yumn Ahmed, had the wonderful opportunity to interview Rym Badran, a 17-year-old gender equity activist from Beirut, Lebanon. They chatted about Rym's organisation "Arab Girls For Peace" and her other works to empower girls in her community!

Rida: Tell us more about yourself.

Rym: It’s Rym Badran, a 17-year-old youth activist from Beirut, Lebanon.  I served as a Teen Advisor for Girl Up for the 2019-2020 class. Girl Up was founded by the UN Foundation in 2010 as an initiative to help support UN agencies that focus on adolescent girls and to advance girls’ skills, rights, and opportunities to be leaders. During my tenure, I founded Girl Up Lebanon and Girl Up Arab World and currently, I am serving as Girl Up’s Regional Leader in the Arab region. Moreover, I have recently founded my own organization/ platform ‘’Arab Girls For Peace’’.

Rida: You founded an organisation "Arab Girls For Peace" to support and empower Arab girls, which is amazing. Tell us more about it.

Rym: Arab Girls For Peace is a by girls for girls movement aiming to bring tangible change to the Arab region while tackling gender equality, girls leadership, women political and peacebuilding leadership. Our mission is to empower Arab girls to be leaders and agents of peace, enhance the capacities of Arab girls to promote and protect their rights through a transformative experience based on actions, and to offer Arab girls a supportive community and a learning platform. Finally, Arab Girls For Peace is truly a dream coming true for me! 

Rida: How do you plan to align your work with the message your motto gives- "Peacebuilding – One Girl At A Time"?

Rym: ‘’Peacebuilding – One girl at a time’’ is the motto that represents our core value. Girls are central to every decision we will be taking at Arab girls For Peace, and we will work on making our belief a must for all peace approaches in the region. Given the mission of our organization, we plan to empower Arab girls to be change-makers and leaders, thus peacebuilders.

 

Rida: How does your organisation plan to work on educating people on cultural barriers in the region for the empowerment of girls?

Rym: Educating people on cultural barriers in the region is crucial, without this step we won’t be able to understand the society thus we won’t be able to address its needs. At Arab Girls For Peace and Girl Up Arab World, we thrive to offer a fair representation of Arab Women because believing that all Arab women are oppressed, undermines the achievement of millions of Arab women throughout the region and takes aways from young Arab girls their right to be represented and to have a role model who looks like them.

 

Rida: How do you plan to develop the organisation and make it more accessible and active in the future? What milestones do you wish to achieve?

Rym: We are still giving structure to Arab Girls For Peace and I am always asking myself this question. I truly wish we will be able to create a platform in the service of every Arab girl interested in politics and also build a family/community that will benefit from our resources/training in the upcoming 2 years.  Finally, I can truly say that Arab Girls For Peace is an evolutive mission as our society’s needs to change every single day. We will make sure to take all our time to build our organization and our audience ‘’slowly but surely’’.

Rida: Your organization aims to provide a supportive community and a learning platform. How do you plan to execute the mission considering the crisis Lebanon is going through?

Rym: The crisis in my home country, Lebanon, is one of the reasons why I wanted to start this organization, thus I truly believe that the crisis won’t stop me but will rather motivate me to work on bringing tangible change. I’ve been leading Girl Up Lebanon for the past year, as we faced every single crisis a small country can experience and I think we did great thanks to the amazing team/members at Girl Up Lebanon and support from other organizations so I really hope this will be the case with Arab Girls For Peace.  Moreover, from hardships birth opportunities and we are pretty sure that this crisis will push more girls to get involved so they can create the much needed change in our country.

Rida: You also founded Girl Up Lebanon and have been leading some projects that include tackling girls leadership, kafala system and period poverty. It sounds very empowering! Can you tell us more about it?

Rym: If I get started I won’t stop!!! But I am so proud of everything we were able to achieve at Girl Up Lebanon from forming a team of 70 members from all over Lebanon, to our Kafala campaign that went viral, our petition with more than 80 000 signatures, our advocacy efforts to draft recommendations to the minister of labour which paid off as the ministry took a big step towards abolishing kafala, to our fundraising to benefit a local organization Dawrati working on ending period poverty in Lebanon and our relief efforts after the blast as lots of our members went down and helped rebuild our city and as we prepared some food boxes.

Make sure to check our Instagram page @girluplebanon so you can know more about our work

Rida: Adding to your noteworthy service, you also founded Girl Up Arab World where you're working on creating a sense of community within Arab girls. How has been your experience so far?

Rym: Amazing! It is surely hard and challenging but mostly worth it. We are now present in 9 countries and more clubs are getting started. I now have friends from all over the region and it’s so heartwarming to see them taking over the world and changing it.

I am beyond grateful for the community we have at Girl Up Arab World, that keeps me going and inspires me to love and work more for our region because the potential is present.

Rida: Can you illustrate to us some of the impacts you have done so far through all of your works?

Rym: Now, this is a hard question and I don’t know if I will be able to answer it as I truly believe it should be directed to the people I have worked with.  However, I really hope I’ve impacted their lives because they did and they pushed me to be a better version of myself. I really hope I was able to show them that it’s possible to create something in our region, to support and offer them all the needful resources, because this is when I will know if I’ve succeeded in my mission.

Rida: In what ways do you think lawmakers play a role in empowering females in society?

Rym: Laws are crucial in the fight for gender equality, lots of laws/regressive legislation are holding women back and this needs to change. We need more laws to protect us and push us further. Moreover, laws create a social debate which is immensely important in changing the mentalities/traditions and moving towards a fairer society.

Rida: What advice will you give to girls who have a lack of role models to look forward to? How do they keep themselves motivated?

Rym: I know how hard it is to not see yourself represented, to not identify and vision yourself in a movement. I’ve experienced it and this was one of the reasons why I founded Girl Up Arab World as I wanted to create a supportive community of young leaders.  My advice would be to work on being the role model you always wanted or needed for future generations.  It is amazing to be the first ones but it is way more important to make sure that we are not the last one. Build a legacy and a supportive community that will push you further. Build networks and educate yourself, never lose hope in finding someone to look up to, because you will surely do. Finally, appreciate everyone in your circle and learn from each person. 

 

LAYA VENKAT

@layavenkat19
She/Her/Hers
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MKM Gender Equity Team Member, Rida Yumn Ahmed, had the wonderful opportunity to interview Laya Venkat, a 15-year-old gender equity activist from Texas! They chatted about Amelia's efforts to fight against gender inequity through her gender equality club in her school. 

Rida: Tell us more about yourself.

Laya: I am in my sophomore year of high school at the Greenhill School in Addison, TX. I'm really passionate about activism and do my best to try and improve social justice issues. I also love volunteering in my free time because it brings me joy to know that I am helping someone else. Some of my favorite hobbies are reading, writing, hiking, traveling, cinematography, exploring shops and museums in new places, and spending time with my friends. I also love to learn new things and find it hard to be away from school for long because I always need to be absorbing new information. My favorite sports to play are field hockey and golf.

Rida: You started a gender equality club in Addison, TX. Tell us more about it.

Laya: Since one of my passions is activism, I wanted to give other people in my school a chance to come together with other activists for a common goal. I created the Gender Equality Club because I wanted to help my immediate community overcome the negative stigma that women, trans people, non-binary people, etc. are inferior. My club's mission is to promote gender equality within my school and spread awareness about events of gender inequality around the world. My club is a safe space for anyone to come and share their concerns or ideas for the school and reflect their thoughts on global issues on gender inequality.

Rida: Define a catalyst which made you establish your club.

Laya: Actually, from a young age, my parents taught me to never accept that I was inferior to another person. Growing up, I was treated equally in my family regardless of my gender. My parents taught me that everyone must do well in school, as well as learn how to cook and clean around the house. I believe it is these teachings that have helped me grow into the strong woman I am today. Because I grew up with these values, I always knew to display myself confidently and was rarely discriminated against as a woman. However, I saw other women being brought down around me, and I saw global gender inequality. These events pushed me to analyze my own life. It was then that I realized that, in class, when a boy takes charge, he's called a "leader," but when a girl takes charge, she's called "bossy." I noticed that in our school's gym, girls were dress coded and ridiculed for wearing tank tops, but boys were let off the hook for wearing the same thing. It was these small double standards that made me realize that gender inequality was everywhere, and I knew that it only took one club to try and combat it. So, that is how I came up with the idea of starting the Gender Equality Club. 


One of my biggest inspirations was Malala Youzafzai, because of all the work she's done to call for gender equality in her native country of Pakistan. It's really nice to see another POC woman doing a service to her community, and I can only hope to be as inspirational as her one day.

 

Rida: What kind of projects have you done for gender equity and what has been the response to your club so far?

Laya: The club was started just this year, in August 2020. So far, we have gathered a team of over 40 members, reached nearly 600 followers on our Instagram, and had important discussions about gender equality. Our very first project was displaying the clear sexism in our school's gym. We sent out a survey to our entire high school and found that, out of 100 students surveyed, 72% female and 27% male, 74% of students had been dress coded in the gym. Almost all of the student who had been told to leave the gym or change into something new had been female. My club used this information to stress the harmfulness of dress codes, because they disproportionally target BIPOC and girls, prohibit visibility of specific body parts, imposes a double standard for BIPOC students, and promotes hyper fixations on specific body parts. Our next step is to create a petition to ban the dress code in the school gym. On top of that, we have multiple presentations about discussion topics planned for our coming meetings- including trans/nonbinary exclusion, gender-related phrases which damage mental health, luxury tax/access to sanitary products, gender and diagnostic stats, toxic masculinity, the wage gap, high school locker room talk/rape culture, sexism in the classroom, reproductive rights, and more. We also have some of our school's alumni coming in soon as guest speakers to discuss the gender discrimination that they faced when they were students here and what has improved since then and what still needs to improve. Additionally, we are planning a fundraiser to raise money for sanitary products to donate to women's' shelters.  

 

Rida: How did you create your team of leaders and made people join your club?

Laya: First, I started the Instagram and once I got a big enough following, I started to post, promoting my club. I attached a link to sign up for leadership to the club Instagram, and instantly got so many applications. We must've had 60 applications, but I had to sift through and choose only around 20. However, I love my team and wouldn't trade them for the world. My two executive directors are some of my close friends who have extensive knowledge of gender equality and are some of the most passionate people about this topic I've ever seen. Their job is to present at the meetings, as well as planning those meetings. They also do all the scheduling for the discussion topics. I have a group of research coordinators, who do research on our discussion topics. I have a group of social media coordinators, who do the graphic designs for our infographics on Instagram and presentations for meetings. I have a group of service coordinators who research and plan all of our volunteer work. Lastly, I have a group of outreach coordinators whose job is to promote the club throughout our school. I got people to sign up to be members of the club by participating in our school's virtual club fair. I got to create one slide of information about my club, and it drew in about 20-30 members. 

Rida: What milestones do you wish to achieve through your club?

Laya: I wish that my club grows its social media presence to where our infographics are being reposted a lot. I want our follower count to grow to at least 2,000 so we are educating lots of people within our immediate community. I also wish that my club will open other branches. I'm still working on opening the club up to other schools, so that will be coming soon. Lastly, I hope that I have a legacy in my club when I graduate, and that it continues to be as productive as it is now when I'm gone.

Rida: How is your club working to make a safe space for girls?

Laya: We created and promised a judgement-free and confidential space for women to share their experiences, concerns, thoughts, and ideas. If anyone breaks those basic rules of respect, they are no longer welcome in our club. Our club is a very fun group of people, but we take respecting one another very seriously.

Rida: How has been the response of your community towards the club? Do you think the involvement of society is better for tackling an issue?

Laya: I think the response has been great! The club grew so fast – way faster than I expected. In two weeks, we have 40 members, 600 followers, and a full plan for the rest of the semester of everything we are going to accomplish. I'm beyond excited. I do think that the involvement of society is better for tackling this issue because we've put together a group of people that want to achieve a common goal, and when we're all striving for the same thing, the successful possibilities of this club are endless.

Rida: Do you think the involvement of lawmakers will empower females in society?

Laya: I do think the involvement of lawmakers will empower females in society. It's one thing to make empty promises, but it's a whole other thing to make actual change through the law. One thing I don't like is empty promises. Anything my club says we will do, we will strive our best to turn it into a reality. Governmental change is the first step to reinventing society as we know it.

Rida: What advice will you give to young people who want to bring a change in society? How do they keep themselves motivated?

Laya: Motivation comes from within. You have to really want something, and when you put in the hard work, you will achieve it. Something my mom always told me was, "Wherever you go, bring a pencil, paper, and a smile." I want to pass this same piece of advice down to young people. No matter what you do, always be ready to learn more and grow more. Education is the most important tool that our generation and coming generations have. Also, always have a positive attitude. You never know how much a smile could turn a bad situation into a bright one.

Rida: Do you have any other projects which focus on gender equity or any future plans to work on this issue?

Laya: My future plan is to just grow this club as much as I can in my remaining 3 years of high school. I know new ideas will come to me as soon as I'm settled, but having just started, I'd like to get into a tempo before I start some other projects.

 

SARA PERERA

@womeninrevolt
She/Her/Hers
Nandita Kumar.png

MKM Gender Equity Team Member, Himani Kalra, had the wonderful opportunity to interview Amelia Marcum, a 15-year-old gender equity activist and new Gender Equity Team Member from New York! They chatted about Amelia's efforts to fight against gender inequity through her social media platform – Women in Revolt.

Himani: What made you passionate about gender equity? Can you identify a specific moment/catalyst

Sara: There hasn't been one exact moment but there has been a series of events, compiled that led to me identify as a feminist. The blatant sexism that I saw in ads, in households, and especially in the media, as well as the less obvious forms of sexism, made me realize how disadvantaged women truly are in almost every area of life. Any society that neglects to harness a woman's power is at a huge disadvantage.

Himani: How did you get involved with youth activism? What advice would you give to other young people who would like to get involved?

Sara: Social media is where I really got involved. It's a huge platform and the activism side of it taught me a lot. My advice would be to find a community that truly inspires you and isn't performative with their activism. This is our future. We are being directly affected by their policies more than ever, since the pandemic. We deserve to have a say and build a society that's more ethical than the one we grew up in. Social media is a great tool to do that!

Himani: Tell me about the Women in Revolt page you run. How did it start?

Sara: After identifying as a feminist, this led me to do more research. My anger towards the injustices that I learned about propelled me to create Women In Revolt. It's a space where I can amplify female voices and spread awareness about the disadvantages that women face globally. I also dissect political and social issues and chose topics that relate to current events.

 

Himani: Can you illustrate to us the impact you have created so far with Women in Revolt?

Sara: I created Women In Revolt fairly recently and I'm proud of how it's growing! I started out being unsure of how my posts would be but after running the account for these past months I've been able to learn so much and hopefully, if others come across the account they'll feel the same way! Overall, my goal is to make my platform a safe space for anyone to learn about activism and share their own experiences.

 

Himani: What has been the response from your community surrounding your efforts?

Sara: The feedback that I've gotten has been positive and I'm grateful for their support! 

Himani: What do you think women can do to take a stand and make their voice heard?

Sara: Be comfortable being uncomfortable. Call out microaggressions, double standards, etc. Don't be afraid to be vocal! As a youth activist, adults may underestimate you and not take you seriously, but you absolutely do have a say in how your future is run.

Himani: What do you think our society needs to do better when it comes to gender equity?

Sara: Our society should realize how prevalent the patriarchy's presence is in every stage of a woman's life. From an early age we're being controlled in how we act, dress, and even speak. The patriarchy does disadvantage men but women are harmed the most under this oppressive social system. Understanding of what feminism truly stands for, how relevant it really is, and actively being one diminishes the patriarchy's influence on us. If we want to see a big change, we need to first change the little things around us and lead by example. 

Himani: Are there any current activism projects you’re working on or any plans for the future?

Sara: I'm currently involved with clubs at my school such as Girl Talk, Gender Sexuality Alliance, LMBF (a mentorship program specifically for girls of color interested in STEM), and student government. In the future, I hope to write a book that discusses the unfortunately wide range of issues that women face in our society and the patriarchy's influence. Whether it's rape culture, addressing disparities between how different genders are raised, I hope to encompass the injustices that females face head-on and include characters that make readers feel represented.

 

NANDITA KUMAR

@nandita.kumar4
She/Her/Hers
Nandita Kumar.png

MKM Gender Equity Team Director Chia Zhi Zhi had a chat with Nandita Kumar, a 16-year-old gender equity activist from Dallas, Texas. They talked about Nandita's gender equity activism through her role as the founder of Hebron Girl Up.

Chia: How old are you and where are you from? Tell us a little bit about you.

Nandita: I’m 16 years old and I’m from Dallas, Texas, where I’ve lived for 5 years so far! I’m very involved in politics, intersectional activism, and voter engagement projects. In my free time, I enjoy reading, volunteering, holding workshops, and working out! I’m on my school's debate team, which is where I developed my passion for public speaking, leadership, and political engagement. I am also a State Captain for March for Our Lives Texas, a non-profit youth led organization trying to end gun violence in America, and my work there focuses on helping reach marginalized communities and making our resources more accessible and inclusive. One day, I hope to be in Congress and working in a leadership position where I can inspire, lead, and make systematic changes to existing institutions!

Chia: When I was doing some research before reaching out to you, I was really impressed with your passion for gender equity! You are the founder of Hebron Girl Up. Can you tell the reader about it?

Nandita: I co-founded Hebron GirlUp because I have always been very passionate about global gender equity, and as I grew older I saw how important it was to bring awareness to the many struggles Womxn face all over the world. Reading about period poverty, the lack of Women in STEM, domestic violence, sexual harassment, and so many more of these topics really ignited my passion for wanting to have these discussions with people around me. There are so many misconceptions about feminism, but in reality it’s an empowering movement that started to address the many issues in today’s society. Real feminism is intersectional, inclusive, and highlights BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) leaders and experiences. For us, feminism means uplifting and amplifying the stories of the Womxn, femmes, and non binary folx that have accomplished great things and broke down barriers that were presented to them based on their race, gender identity, etc. I wanted our club to be a place where anyone, regardless of who they were, could come together and discuss their experiences and inequalities in and out of our communities. We hold meetings 3 times every month and 1 activity/event where we can go into the community and create a tangible change.

Chia: What was the catalyst that prompts you to found Hebron Girl Up?

Nandita: I can’t pinpoint a defining moment that led me to founding our club, but I can say that seeing the lack of representation in politics, finance, and STEM. Seeing the stereotypes that were posed on females for entering these male dominated fields made me very frustrated and pushed me to look for an outlet that I could bring awareness to the way stereotypes, racism, and traditional gender roles are limiting our potential and growth as individuals. I have witnessed sexism and personally experienced sexism, and I cannot live in a world where I’m not respected because of my gender.

 

Chia: What do you think makes Hebron Girl Up a unique organization that sets itself apart from other similar organizations?

Nandita: I think Hebron GirlUp is very unique because many gender equity organizations don’t put as much of an emphasis on the intersectional aspect of the feminist experience. While many of us face similar struggles like the Tampon Tax or stereotypes, Black Womxn are the most disproportionately affected by a plethora of different struggles; job discrimination, hypersexualization at young ages, natural hair discrimination, racism in healthcare, and tons of others things. In my mind, if we aren’t fighting for the most marginalized of our community, we aren’t doing our job correctly. We are not a monolith, and highlighting the discrimination that is faced by certain groups of women is crucial to understanding how we can solve the issues in equitable ways.

 

We are an intersectional club, meaning we recognize that other aspects of social justice, such as Black Lives Matter or LGBTQ+ rights, are all intertwined within the fight for gender equity. We can’t have gender equality if Trans Women and Indigenous Women are being murdered at 10 times the rate of the national average. We can’t have gender equality if Black women are dying during childbirth at 2 times the rate compared to White women. We can’t have gender equality if women and children at the border are being raped and assaulted. We know that there are many different facets of every person: age, race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, class, disabilities, etc. And how we’re treated because of these identities make up our experiences. We try to amplify these stories in order to bring awareness and change, because we are in the fight for everyone’s equal rights. It’s very simple to me: the fight for equal human rights and that means we don’t leave anyone behind. “There is no such thing as a single issue struggle, because we do not live single issue lives.” - Audre Lord

 

Our club goal is to educate, inspire, and foster growth among our community, which is why we put a heavy emphasis on service activities. Whether it’s volunteering at a domestic violence shelter, holding a STEM camp, or handing out free menstrual products to homeless shelters, service is how we grow as people and I am so proud to see our members step up to the plate and tackle important issues with compassion and a fierce attitude!

 

Chia: What has it been like running and managing Girl Up? Can you tell me your most memorable experience?

Nandita: It’s been such a rewarding experience and I really enjoy every minute I have working with my team, holding activities and workshops, and being able to teach other people about issues in our society and what we can do to fix them. For example, a few weeks back I held a meeting/discussion where we talked about the Criminal Justice System, Racism in Healthcare, and the effects of Systemic Racism on Black Women and children. That was probably my favorite discussion so far, because many of our members were able to speak about how they witnessed discrimination, having important anti-racism conversations with their family, and speaking up about racism within their own community as well as in institutions like prisons or universities that have upheld white supremacy for decades. Seeing the amount of people that were able to take away information and connect with certain ideas made me feel a sense of accomplishment in how I was able to I facilitated the discussion, was able to bring light to issues in our own school, like school to prison pipelines, and reaffirm the idea that every single person should be entitled to equal rights and treatment. The thing I love the most is how we can take the principles of feminism and apply it to almost any subject and incorporate the ideas of bodily autonomy, right to expression, compassion, and accountability to abusers into our everyday life. Since starting the club, I have been blessed with friends who are also amazing activists and champions of human rights, so I’m able to talk with them about so many important issues in today’s world, which is so important and enlightening.

Chia: What are some of the impacts Hebron Girl Up has created so far?

Nandita: Since the official start of our club in late March, we have held around 6 discussions, 2 introductory meetings, and a virtual social. We had a “calling party” once, where we discussed a bill in Congress that called for the end of natural hair discrimination and then call our legislators to ask them to vote in favor of it. In addition, we teach civic engagement as a part of our club, and I think it’s important for every single person to participate in our government, no matter who they are. Voting is not the be all, end all solution to all our problems, but it is a very important privilege to exercise, especially seeing as over 6 million Americans are disenfranchised (denied the right to vote).

 

Here are a few topics we have covered in meetings so far:

  • Women in STEM: racial disparities, wage gap, and stereotypes

  • Period Poverty 

  • Access to Education around the World: Calling legislators and funding a girls school in Afghanistan

  • Racism: The Prison Industrial Complex and it’s overwhelming side effects on Black Americans

  • Black Lives Matter: an overview of systemic racism and meaningful allyship

Chia: Since COVID-19 pandemic is forcing many activities to go online, how has this affected Hebron Girl Up?

Nandita: It’s very difficult to coordinate an activity during the pandemic, mainly because many of our members can’t leave their houses right now. We originally had exciting ideas for the summer, including a free 2 week STEM camp for children in underfunded school districts and a leadership seminar for middle and high schoolers. Since that’s no longer an option, we are transitioning our activities online and trying to find ways to reach the people who need the most help. The kids we wanted to teach over the summer don’t have accessible Wi-fi and reliable technology, so that’s made it quite difficult, but I have faith that when this is all over we will be able to restart our community work! Right now, we are just amplifying Black leaders, creating content for next school year, and raising funds for Yemen.

Chia: What was the response - positive and negative - surrounding your effects from your community and your peers? Did you find similarly minded people?

Nandita: I’m extremely grateful that I can say my friends and family have supported me through the process of starting this club. My mom has always taught me to speak up for what I believe in and that’s where I get a lot of my inspiration from. My co-founder (and best friend!) Sarosh also is a supporter of the global gender equality movement, and we’ve been able to collaborate and share our ideas with our peers which has been a great experience. I’ve found some of my closest friends through the club, and been able to spark interest in people who would otherwise never thought of learning about the movement of gender equality or calling themselves a feminist! So far, I haven’t received any negative responses, but I have come across quite a few people who don’t understand feminism: people who believe women are already equal to men and feminists just hate men. After listening to their point of view, it actually inspires me to continue doing what I do because it’s very clear that the problem is that these people just need the right education and awareness about the inequalities many women still face. It’s very liberating for me to be able to share my own (and others) experiences in order to help change the way others think about feminism and change the discussion around these topics.

Chia: What do you think our society and our lawmakers in particular need to do better at when it comes to empowering girls?

Nandita: There are a few bills right now that directly address women and girls and have the ability to break down barriers that keep them from achieving their full potential. The Keeping Girls in School Act was very important in addressing the need for U.S. aid to help assist girls receive a secondary education in other countries, and I’m glad to say that the bill has been passed. A few things we have to work towards is:

  • keeping reproductive healthcare safe and accessible

  • continuing to fund organizations who offer sex education and contraceptives at low costs (Planned Parenthood)

  • closing the “Boyfriend loophole” that allows some convicted domestic violence abusers to purchase a firearm 

  • Access to paid parental leave, regardless of sexual orientation, marital status, gender identity, or whether their children are adopted or biological.

  • Make our public school curriculum more accurate, inclusive, and less whitewashed. The only Black woman I learned about in school was Rosa Parks, and it turns out she wasn’t even the original boycotter of busses. (shoutout to Claudette Caulvin who was the real icon of the boycotts!) Our history classes are dangerously inaccurate and are told from a perspective of a White man, that is meant to erase history and the gruesome struggles during and after the Civil Right movement.

 

In addition, the CROWN act, a bill that would end natural hair discrimination, is something we, as a club, have called our legislators about and asked them to vote in favor of.

Chia: Why do you think it’s important to connect with other young people, even young people who previously were not activists when it comes to creating change?

Nandita: Our generation is the future of America, and I believe our generation is growing up in a crucial time where we have the ability to make important changes in our government, society, and way of life. We have grown up through daily mass shootings, rampant police brutality, rising cost of living but low minimum wage, climate change threats, and many other issues our generation has identified, organized, and fought against. We have the power to change the world, and it is imperative we work together with everyone, not just activists, to make our ideas more well known and normalized. As youth activists are working, helping other young people understand our goals and the flaws of the current system  I believe that our generation

What other gender equity activism works have you done or are doing besides Hebron Girl Up?

Currently, I’m planning a training with March for Our Lives Texas to address the way gun violence disproportionately affects women and LGBTQ+ youth. I mentioned this before, but all forms of social justice are intersectional; all inequalities stem from systematic oppression and a hetero-patriarchal society that has devalued women and individuals outside the straight white male body. I hope to bring awareness to these issues and how we can work towards ending these abuses.

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

Nandita: I am currently trying to organize a Period Poverty campaign to bring awareness to the issue of expensive menstrual hygiene products, the “Tampon Tax”, and the rates of homeless menstruators who do not have access to hygiene products and facilities. The plan right now is to fundraise for purchasing these products, put together menstrual hygiene kits to donate to homeless women in Dallas, and host free workshops about Period Poverty and how anyone can join the fight towards menstrual equity. I believe that being in control of your health and being knowledgeable is very empowering, and that will always be my goal: to empower and inspire. In the future, I would love to hold workshops in homeless and domestic violence shelters that help aid financial independence and foster empowerment.

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

Nandita: This is very cliche, but I would say believe in yourself and the ability to create change as an individual. Sometimes we get so caught up in the idea of being able to change the world that we forget change starts in our own communities. If you see inequality, speak up and be loud. There is no better tool you have than your voice. Post about it on your social media, do your research, talk to your friends and family about it, start a club at your school; there are so many great ways to get started! I know in the beginning it might be difficult figuring out how you can organize, but I firmly believe that every single individual in this world can make a positive impact by using their voice and being knowledgeable about. Also, I highly recommend following other youth activists and surrounding yourself with people who are doing the work day in and day out. Not only will you learn important things about social good, but you’ll get different perspectives and ideas for your own advocacy journey.I would love to be able to mentor young activists in the future (in any aspect of activism), so if you’re looking for guidance please don’t be afraid to ask for help!

 

AMELIA MARCUM

@ameliamarcum
She/Her/Hers
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MKM Gender Equity Team Member, Rida Yumn Ahmed, had the wonderful opportunity to interview Amelia Marcum, a 17-year-old gender equity activist from Denver, Colorado. They chatted about Amelia's role as a Girl Up Teen Advisor and her other work to promote gender equity. 

Rida: Tell us more about yourself.

Amelia: My name is Amelia Marcum and I am a senior in high school in Denver, Colorado. I am an avid activist for gender equality and am particularly interested in girls’ education, diverse representation of leadership, women in sports, and supporting young Native American girls. I serve as the president of my school Girl Up club, and am so honored to have the opportunity to advocate for change within my own community with some incredible ladies by my side. I also participate in my school musicals and love to sing. In my free time, I love to read, play soccer, and watch football with my family.

Rida: You are the Girl Up Teen Advisor for 2020-21, which is very commendable! Can you tell us about Girl Up and your role as a teen advisor?

Amelia: Girl Up is an international movement of over 75,000 girls around the world dedicated to the empowerment and representation of women all over the world. We seek to ensure that every girl has the opportunity to reach her full potential through working towards increased education and ensuring that diverse voices are heard throughout the movement. As team advisors, we work to advance the Girl Up mission, provide feedback and new ideas, represent Girl Up at major events, and energize other young girls to take action around the world. I am incredibly humbled to have this platform to continue to speak up about a mission that is so important to me.

Rida: What was the catalyst that made you decide to apply for the position of Girl Up Teen Advisor?

Amelia: When I first attended the Girl Up leadership summit in 2018, I knew that I wanted to become more involved in the movement. One of the Teen Advisor from that year was sitting at my table, and I was so inspired by her and the work she was doing. From that moment on, I knew that I wanted to be a Teen Advisor and sought to increase my commitment to gender equality. I founded my Girl Up club at my school and hosted multiple events throughout the year to support

the movement.

 

Rida: What kind of projects do you do to bring the voice of the new generation of girls to the forefront?

Amelia: Our generation of girls are so powerful and am proud to help amplify our youth voices! My school’s Girl Up club is my main source of advocacy. We have hosted many events throughout the last two years, including an event to encourage more young girls to participate in sports and develop a positive mindset around being active and an event to raise money for an Ethiopian girls running team. Through these events, we empower girls to actively participate and speak up about what they are passionate about, such as women in sports. Many of our members have also participated in our club speaker series, where they discussed a social issue that is important to them. Lastly, I do my best to repost unique stories on Instagram about experiences that I believe need to be heard and strive to start a conversation with my online community.

 

Rida: To tackle global gender inequity, What steps do you believe are crucial to empower women of all races?

Amelia: I believe that it is incredibly important that our young girls have role models that they can look up to. Gender inequity is an intersectional issue that coincides with other key aspects of our identity, such as race and sexuality. It is crucial that the feminist movement continues to increase its representation of all backgrounds to ensure that everyone feels empowered. The leaders of this movement are key to inspiring the next generation, so we need diverse leaders that speak to people from all different types of backgrounds.

Rida: How do you plan to bring equal gender representation in STEM fields as well as in political leadership?

Amelia: While it is getting better, the stigma around women in STEM and women in leadership continues to persist today. This standard is ingrained in young girls from a young age, so it is key to introduce STEM and leadership opportunities to girls while they are still young. As more young girls become passionate about STEM and leadership, it is important that have success stories that inspire them to be the next generation of leaders and STEMinists. Girls need to know that they can succeed in these fields, so it is key that the leaders of today share their stories. I also think that scholarships are a great way to give underrepresented groups an opportunity to succeed in these fields.

Rida: What steps do you think are required to make more women financially independent?

Amelia: Developing financial literacy at a young age is key to becoming financially independent in the future. I serve on a Youth Board for a bank that develops programming to help young people understand saving and making responsible purchases. The programming has shown to be incredibly successful in helping kids become more responsible with money. Continuing to save money throughout high school and college can make the transition to becoming a financially independent adult much easier. Financial dependence can be a huge barrier to a woman’s future success, so financial literacy is a huge aspect of helping girls become the masters of their own future.

Rida: How has your community responded to your work?

Amelia: My community, especially my school, has been very supportive of both my Girl Up club and my outside advocacy efforts. They have continued to help me develop new ideas to improve my community’s response to unconscious gender discrimination and sought my advice in how to further their outreach to girls halfway across the world. My community is very globally focused and I am proud to help support their mission of being women with and for others. I am so grateful to have such a supportive community!

Rida: In what ways do you think society and lawmakers play a role in empowering females in society?

Amelia: Recently, I think that lawmakers have been creating policies that make it easier for women to live and work independently in society. New laws that allow women to breastfeed in public and take maternity leave without the fear of being fired, help support the idea that women do not have to choose between working and having a family. These policies make the experiences of working and supporting oneself more equitable between women and men, and they empower women to support their own future success.

Rida: What advice will you give to young people who want to bring a change in society? How do they keep themselves motivated?

Amelia: I would advise young people to develop connections with people that they know are as passionate about bringing about change as they are. The more connections that one has, the wider reach they can have and the more diverse and inclusive the impact can be. Remind yourself of the importance of what you are doing in society when you are feeling unmotivated. Take joy in the impact that you are having, no matter how small, and remember that you are helping other people through the change that you are creating.

Rida: Do you have any other projects which focus on gender equity or any future plans in your journey as a gender equity activist?

Amelia: Next year, I am hoping to develop a coalition of Girl Up clubs in the Denver area and host an event that is able to bring together girls from all over the city. The more girls that we are able to bring together, the wider impact we can have on our Denver community. I am really excited for the prospect of creating a Girl Up Denver Coalition and am looking forward to meeting more girls who are as passionate about gender equality as I am!

 

RIYA  GOEL

@riya.goel_
She/Her/Hers
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MKM Gender Equity Team Member, Rida Yumn Ahmed, had the wonderful opportunity to interview Riya Goel, a 16-year-old gender equity activist from New Jersey. They chatted about Riya's role as a GirlUp Teen Advisor and Asians Lead, an NGO she cofounded!

Rida: You have served as a GirUp Teen Advisor. Can you tell us more about GirlUp?

Riya: Girl Up is an absolutely amazing space and community to be a part of. Through my experience at GirlUp, I’ve been able to make great connections, and become friends with girls from all over the world. As a teen advisor, I was able to connect with girls from countries like Lebanon, Romania, Colombia, and Australia, and it really has been the most gratifying experience, because these girls have shown me so many different perspectives other than my own, and I truly think that GirlUp has shown me the importance of being an intersectional feminist, and how stepping out of my shoes and into another’s can help me understand the world better. GirlUp has so many interesting and engaging initiatives, and really GirlUp is led by the girls, which makes it such a unique organization. From sports to STEM, GirlUp partners with some truly inspiring and change-making companies and organizations that believe in the GirlUp mission, which provides girls with so many unique experiences that one cannot find anywhere else. 

Rida: How is it like serving as a GirlUp Teen Advisor? What do you do? We would love to know your experience.

Riya: Being a teen advisor is another just honoring experience. As a teen advisor, I essentially advise GirlUp staff based off of my experience as a girl, and those that I interact with. Through a few in-person meetings, teen advisors help with programming, help to spread the message of GirlUp, and really get training on how to better implement change in their community. 

Rida: What prompted you to be a GirlUp Teen Advisor? Can you tell us any specific experience which made you decide to take up this leadership role? 

Riya: I honestly wasn’t very involved with GirlUp prior to becoming a teen advisor. I had attended a Sports for a Purpose event in New York City, where several women in sports were on a couple of panels that I could be in attendance for, and there were some activities where I could interact with the other girls at the event. It was a fairly intimate event, but one of the GirlUp staff contacted me to write an article about my experience, and I was truly inspired to say the least. When I interacted with other girls at the event, I actually met one of my teen advisor classe’s co-chairs who also lived in New York, and she told me all about her teen advisor experience! I think this event really inspired me to apply, and I actually was invited to speak at another Sports for a Purpose later again that year, to talk about my experience starting the fencing team at my school. This event was held just a couple weeks before the Teen Advisor class decisions came out, and I was beyond elated once I got accepted. 

 

Rida: You co-founded Asians Lead, a nonprofit organization that empowers young Asian and Pacific Islander leaders to embrace their cultures. Tell us more about it in the context of gender equity.

Riya: I think any issue that we tackle in today’s society has to be approached in the lens of intersectionality. There are countless intersectionalities with AsiansLead and the feminist movement, such as how in certain Asian cultures, girls are seen as a burden on families, experience gender mutilation, are shunned for menstruating, or even get married off. Another big issue that we try to tackle at AsiansLead is the Asian diaspora, which includes ALL Asians, and not just Asians that are typically associated with the name. This inversely affects the women and men that are a part of these “unconsidered” nationalities under the Asian diaspora, which we really try to highlight. I think through the course of education, and the amplification of voices all over the world is really the way to make a change in the focus of gender equity, which is what we try to do at AsiansLead. 

 

Rida: In what ways does your organization act as a platform for girls(specifically Asians) who are underrepresented in the society to amplify their voices?

Riya: We do takeovers on our page, and highlight the voices of girls all over the world. We also have such a diverse team, and I really think that this helps us accomplish this goal. We have people from Taiwan, Canada and India, which is just so amazing to think about; having this international team where we have girls that experience a whole different set of issues, and having this unique perspective to really tackle these injustices. I also want to point out that around 80% of our followers are female, which just goes to show the audience that we are targeting. 

Rida: Redefine, Inspire, Create and Educate (RICE) is the concept of your organization which is pretty impressive. How does your organization align this aim with the empowerment of women in our society?

Riya: Each letter of the RICE acronym applies to the specific intersectionalities of females and feminism to the Asian diaspora. We, as a society, really need to redefine the meaning of being a woman, femininity, and accept members of the LGBTQIA community that identify as females. By redefining our definition of what it means to be a woman, we can really move forward to the goal of equal rights. By inspiring other girls, and women all over the world to make a change by amplifying their voices, and creating content, events and even having important conversations covers the I and C in RICE. The E, the final letter, is arguably the most important letter, with education being the forefront of our movement, and our goals. By educating others, one can truly move forward with making change, destigmatizing topics surrounding females and the Asian community, and redefining one’s identity.

Rida: What are the positive impacts Asians Lead has done so far for females?

Riya: Asians Lead has really allowed us to create an inclusive, diverse, and female-led workspace. Our entire team is female, and this I think contributes to why so much of our audience is female. We have also interviewed inspiring females on our page to really inspire a new generation of Asian females, and have takeovers of other Asians girls and women doing amazing things! We are also a very collaborative space, and always promote the initiatives of other Asian girls and women. 

Rida: How does your organization plan to increase its outreach to empower girls? What milestones do you wish to achieve?

Riya: I think we definitely just want more people to engage with our content and even join our team! We are looking to put out more content, and post almost daily to increase our engagement rates and participation with our content!

Rida: How do you plan to manage to keep the organisation alive and active in the coming years to empower more females in future? Do you think the role of society's support plays a major role in this?

Riya: Society totally plays a role! With more followers, and more people really involved and inspired by the movement, we can most definitely create sustainable change that can hopefully change the narrative for generations to come. With more content being created, we can reach a broader audience, and gain new perspectives, which is imperative to our organization, and really promoting how diverse the Asian diaspora is. We also want to hold events and fundraisers to support other Asian females and engage our audience!

Rida: Do you think the involvement of lawmakers will create waves of change in how society perceives diversity and discrimination? 

Riya: Most definitely! First of all, seeing Asian lawmakers and officials provides the Asian community representation, and also breaks the model minority myth. When one can see someone that looks like them in a particular position, it makes the “unachieved” so much more in grasp, and ultimately achievable. With more representation, and with lawmakers shining a light on the Asian population, I most definitely think that society’s perception of Asians will change for the better. 

Rida: What message would you like to give to young people who want to stand up for issues and be the change?

Riya: I would say make your opportunities and don’t wait for someone to hand them to you. It is so easy to get involved with anything that you are passionate about in today’s world, with social media and the internet giving us access to practically anything and everything. I found most of my opportunities through research, and when you are doing research, I would make sure to only work in workspaces or organizations where you think you really resonate with the mission. There’s nothing worse than having someone that isn’t as passionate as the rest of the team, or having someone that is doing work for their resume. Find something that you love,and resonate with, and once you’ve identified that issue or issues, then find work that caters to that need! And if there isn’t something that you see out there, create something of your own! 

Rida: Do you have any other projects which focus on gender equity or any future plans to work on this issue?

Riya: Yes! I just started Geminism, @geminismorg on instagram! At my time at GirlUp, I really realized how eurocentric the feminist movement really was, and how there was a severe lack of intersectionality within the movement, even though that should be the approach when it comes to feminism. Geminism takes the F out of feminism and replaces it with a G for Global, generation, and gender fluid. My co-founder is actually male, and I think that this is so important, because males being allies are so important to feminism and really a fight for equal rights. Being gender fluid in our mission is also essential. I think what really sets our organizaiton apart is how global we are. Having all of these great global perspectives is vital for our organization to utilize unconventional methods of activism in order to make lasting change throughout generations. 

ARUSHI SHYAM

@aru.shi_shy.am
She/Her/Hers
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MKM Gender Equity Team Director Chia Zhi Zhi had a chat with Arushi Shyam, a 16-year-old gender equity activist from Plano, Texas. They talked about The Guide to Women's Power, a blog co-founded by Arushi.

Chia: When I was doing some research before reaching out to you, I was really impressed with The Guide to Women's Power! Can you tell the reader more about it (e.g: history, the core values, mission, vision, etc)?

Arushi: We decided that with this blog we wanted to create a place for women and girls to learn about the many women who have made an impact in our world. We wanted to show that women have had such an amazing and grand impact in our world, their stories are just ignored! That is also where our name came from, we thought that our blog was metaphorically like a guide where women/girls would be able to become empowered through learning about other strong and smart women.

 

Chia: What do you think makes The Guide to Women's Power a really special place for girls?

Arushi: I think what makes The Guide to Women’s Power a special place for girls is the women we talk about. We wanted this blog to be something that girls can learn from to learn about people similar to them who have done amazing things. It is known that men dominate certain fields such as things like computer science, or other STEM fields, but we rarely learn about the women who have made great advancements in those same fields. The Guide to Women’s Power is a place where girls are able to learn about women and show them that one day they can do the same.

Chia: What was the catalyst that prompted you to co-found The Guide to Women's Power? 

Arushi: Well, the Guide to Women’s Power is basically a blog that my co-founder, Aishwarya, and I started because we saw that throughout history and even in our modern world, men have always dominated the story. We wanted a place dedicated to only telling the stories of women, and telling about what women have done for our society.

 

Chia: How has it been like running and managing The Guide to Women's Power alongside Aishwarya? Do you have any memorable anecdotes?

Arushi: It has been really fun and inspiring. Aishwarya is very determined to accomplish our mission and works hard to do so. I remember writing our first article about Margaret Hamilton who was the first software engineer in the world, and was the woman behind the first man on the moon. It was extremely inspiring to learn about how the tons of hard work that she put in produced one of the most memorable moments in history.

 

Chia: Can you illustrate to us some of the impacts you have created in your community so far?

Arushi: I think that our blog has created an inspiration in today’s world. I see many girls and women pursuing what they want, working hard, and whether that is from our blog or not I hope that girls in my community can take the inspiration from our blog and apply it elsewhere.

Chia: How do you respond to people saying that it's not necessary for girls to have female role models and that girls can look up to male role models too?

Arushi: In all honesty, I think it is very degrading. Women are typically seen in the light of 'weak' and “motherly”. I think that this is completely incorrect, and to have men as role models are not sufficient for young girls. Sadly, there is still a split in gender in society and to overcome that I think it is a necessity to have female role models. I think that this will slowly break the roles that women have been put in but also show men and boys that women can do the same things as them and to an equal amount. Having female role models will show girls that they can succeed in a society dominated by men and will break that gender barrier.

Chia: Why do you think that we tend to have less exposure to female heroes and role models? How can we change that?

Arushi: I think throughout history women were seen as mother figures. It was often hard to succeed as an unmarried woman because they wouldn’t be able to get a job, or even be allowed to exist as such without being degraded by men, other women and the whole social system. As time has progressed those stigmas have remained, though many barriers were broken, we still have a long way to go. I believe that the way we change this is to change our thinking of stereotypes of women such as that they are too emotional, or they are not as smart as men. And to achieve that I think we need to teach our young girls and boys that they are equal.

Chia: What was the response - positive and negative - surrounding your effects from your community and your peers? Did you find similarly minded people?

Arushi: Fortunately, we have never come into contact with any negative thoughts against our mission. Our community and peers have been very supportive of what we do. I am very thankful for this and I hope that if we encounter any negativity we can help them learn our side and maybe even learn about their side and come to a conclusion!

Chia: Can you tell us some of your favourite female heroes?

Arushi: My favourite female hero is probably Elizabeth Blackwell and Marie Curie. Though Marie Curie may be more well known I am very inspired by her work because though she didn’t realize it, she actually was putting her own health in jeopardy while working on her research. This is inspiring to me to see how she made great advancements in chemistry and died doing so. My first favorite hidden figure is Elizabeth Blackwell. She is very inspiring to me because if it were not for her perseverance I would not be able to even pursue a career in the medical field. She was able to break down the barriers of women being in the medical field. As the first woman to earn a Medical Degree she was able to allow for women to become doctors and pursue a medical career, something I am thankful for.

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

Arushi: I don’t have anything right now, but in the late future I would like to expand our blog to an organization that’s mission is to bring light to hidden women figures and help young women achieve their goals and dreams.

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

Arushi: The advice I would give to young people who want to change the world is to not let anyone affect your mindset. Though it's easier to say than do, I think that the main reason people don’t follow through with their goals is either fear of others’ negativity or fear of the future. Though it may seem hard now, eventually everything will become better in the future, all you have to do is keep going, one step at a time.

ANJALI   SURANA

@_anjalisurana_
She/Her/Hers
Anjali Surana.jpeg

MKM Gender Equity Team Member, Rida Yumn Ahmed, had the wonderful opportunity to interview Anjali Surana, a 17-year-old gender equity activist from India. They chatted about Anjali's efforts to end period poverty through her organization 'FullStopp'!

Rida: Your organization 'Fullstopp' strives to increase awareness about menstruation and to ease access to menstrual products.

Can you tell the reader more about it?

Anjali: Our work consists of holding awareness sessions with underprivileged girls to talk to them about the several myths and misconceptions related to periods. In addition to that, we also provide them with re-useable cloth pads (an eco-friendly alternative as opposed to plastic pads ). 

 

Our awareness sessions touch upon the biology behind periods, certain Dos and Dos, and bust myths. We do all this in conjunction with fun activities to keep them engaged and simplify the concept for them.

Rida: What prompted you to start 'Fullstopp'? Can you identify a specific catalyst?

Anjali: There was one time when a girl I know had an accident in school and leaked through her pants. She was so ashamed that she didn’t come to school the rest of the week. I know then that I had to do something!

Rida: How does your organization help society to understand the concept of menstruation as a human right?

Anjali: I personally believe that if men had periods, period products would be free. For example, in many western countries, rogaine is tax-free whereas menstrual products are taxed heavily. That’s because people view feminine hygiene as a luxury and not a necessity, which is an attitude we’re trying to change through conversation and campaigning.

 

Rida: In rural places, women still have little or no knowledge about maintaining period hygiene. How do you manage to make them listen to your voice considering the taboo and stigma to discuss the topic? 

Anjali: The trick is to be friendly. It’s important to remember that they have lived a certain way for generations - so change doesn’t happen overnight. With some patience, an open mind, and explanation, women even from rural areas are happy to hear you out! 

 

Rida: Women still have to fight to be treated with dignity, and not as unclean or dirty while menstruating. How does your organization plan to change this regressive mindset?

Anjali: This root is the lack of awareness about WHY menstruation takes place. In our awareness sessions, we spend a great amount of time explaining how menstruation is an entirely normal and natural phenomenon in the hope that they will stop seeing it as ‘dirty’ and ‘impure’.

Rida: How does your organization plan to help the women of the marginalized communities that are being hit the hardest by this global crisis of COVID 19?

Anjali: We have held several fundraisers and have been getting donations to distribute pads to thousands of women across India. Generally, we only distribute reusable cloth pads as a long term solution but due to the unique circumstances, we are providing women with disposable organic pads to cover 3 menstrual cycles.

Rida: What have been the milestones achieved by Fullstopp so far? How are you planning to increase the outreach of FullStopp?

Anjali: We have covered thousands of women in our awareness and distribution sessions and now have chapters in UK, Malawi, and Algeria. Feel free to contact us if you’d like to start a chapter in your community! 

Rida: Do you think the involvement of males for this issue can be a catalyst for achieving sustainable development goals related to Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) considering it will promote equality?

Anjali: Definitely. Although in many areas women aren’t comfortable talking about periods to other women also, in most cases the stigma is most prevalent in the presence of males. Thus, it’s very important for men to be involved in this movement.

Rida: Biodegradable menstrual hygiene products are crucial and are need of the hour. How is your organization working on providing eco-friendly menstrual products?

Anjali: We only provide reusable/biodegradable sanitary products (and rarely plastic pads that we receive as kind donations).

Rida: Do you have any other projects which focus on gender equity or any future plans to work on this issue?

Anjali: A lot is planned! Visit our Instagram page for updates!

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

Anjali: Find your WHY and cling to it.

AISHWARYA SUDARSHAN

@
She/Her/Hers
Aishwarya Sudarshan.jpg

MKM Gender Equity Team Member, Rida Yumn Ahmed, had the wonderful opportunity to interview Aishwarya Sudarshan, a 16-year-old gender equity activist from Plano, Texas. They chatted about Aishwarya's blog "The Guide to Women's Power"!

Rida: You co-founded "The Guide To Women's Power" to share stories of strong women, which is an incredible initiative! Tell us more about it.

Aishwarya: The Guide to Women’s Power is a blog that actually started during COVID-19, when I was unable to attend events and take part in conferences or clubs that empowered women. I am a big supporter of gender equality and since I was unable to support the cause through physical events, I found a new platform that helped me voice my opinions. From the very beginning my friend, a co-founder, and I have been very dedicated towards increasing our impact in society by empowering women. We also want to increase our impact by recognizing the importance of women and bringing attention to the powerful women that make up the world.

Rida: What prompted you to start this blog? Can you identify any catalyst?

Aishwarya: Like I mentioned before, I am very involved in STEM and Computer Science related activities. I have always loved participating in events, camps, as well as organizing them. While attending a competition, I looked around me to see my competitors, and I only saw one other girl! It was a competition open to all ages and groups but there was still a lack of participation of girls, a pattern I have seen many times. That’s when I realized that the gender gap has to be fixed, for the intelligence and potential that girls hold is not seen because they don’t have an inspiration! I decided that I would do my best to inspire and empower other young girls and women to use their potential!

Rida: What do you think makes your blog unique from other empowering platforms?

Aishwarya: The Guide to Women’s Power was specifically made to impact others while acknowledging those that go unrecognized. We want to inspire girls to be powerful and impactful by showing them examples of the contributions that people make towards the society. Each and every one of the people that we talk about has made a significant contribution towards society by achieving what they pursued. We want girls to be inspired by what we have made, and to do something for themselves using other women as their role models. 

 

Rida: What impact have you created so far? What other milestones do you wish to achieve through your blog?

Aishwarya: From our first article until today, I see more and more girls step up every day to achieve what they are inspired to! I don’t know if that’s because of our blog, but the fact that girls in my community have a vision and inspiration to achieve is so amazing to see! Every day, I see new girls learning more about STEM and Computer Science and becoming familiarized with such topics. It is such a wonderful sight to see that something so small like our blog can make such a big difference! I really hope that our goal to empower women can inspire them to achieve their dreams.

 

Rida: What qualities in a role model catch your attention to get them featured on the blog?

Aishwarya: We aim to find women that go unrecognized despite their essential contribution to the community. Sometimes they don't get the credit they deserve, and other times they don't even get the opportunities that they deserve! We write about women who achieved no matter what their background is, no matter how much they struggled, and no matter how many attempts it took them to be successful. We care about the effort put in to achieve something because that is what makes a true hero. 

Rida: In what ways do you think the success of females is linked to exposure to female role models?

Aishwarya: Women have recently started to become recognized for their contributions, but a decade ago, they got almost no recognition. The recognition they got for major breakthroughs were nothing compared to the recognition that males had received for everything in the past. Women are changing the world just as equally as men if not more and because of the lack of recognition and honor they get, they are not seen as equals. Our mission is to make sure that women gain recognition for their contribution and uncover the unsung heroes. By giving attention to the women around us, we can change how women were viewed and help them give them what they deserve: recognition.

Rida: What advice will you give to girls who have a lack of role models to look up to? How can they keep themselves motivated?

Aishwarya: Like the famous quote, be the change you want to see in the world! You will always be remembered if you have an impact in your community! Never give up and even if you don't have someone to look up to, be the person that you wish you knew, you were, and you want to be!

Rida: What advice would you give to other young people who want to get into the field of activism and change the world?

Aishwarya: Always follow your mind and heart! If you want to do something, set your mind to it and you will always be able to achieve what you want to. Be persistent and keep trying, but never give up, you will always get there no matter how many obstacles you have to overcome. 

Rida: Do you have any other projects which focus on gender equity or any future plans to work on this issue?

Aishwarya: We actually haven’t been working on much! We have just been established and we are really dedicated to our mission of closing the gender gap in STEM and CS but empowering women in all fields all over the world! We would love to get more involved very soon, so please keep up with us! We will be doing some great things very soon!

EMILY LIN

@emilyemilyomg
She/Her/Hers
IMG_1138.jpeg

MKM Gender Equity Team Director Chia Zhi Zhi had a lovely chat with Emily Lin, a 17-year-old gender equity activist from Taiwan. They talked about Emily's Boba Feminist and role as a Girl Up Teen Advisor!

Chia: When I was doing some research before reaching out to you, I was really impressed with Boba Feminist! Can you tell the reader about it?

Emily: This might sound bizarre, but I originally started Boba Feminist just for fun. It was going to be an account for me to post random aesthetic pictures. (I did post some pictures taken with my polaroid, they are still in the archives of Boba Feminist!) But deep down, I have always wanted to start an account where I can channel the power of words and feminism to make a difference. So after jotting down some ideas, I started to create posts, categorizing them as Boba Sayings (hopefully empowering advice) and Boba Diary (poems that focus on love, hurting and healing). (Stay tuned for Boba Femicinema!) I see it as my mission to show readers of Boba Feminist that it takes being vulnerable to be strong. We are tough, not because we never get hurt, but because we allow ourselves to be weak sometimes. It is also a safe space for people to talk about their problems and thoughts. Every week or so there will be a question sticker on the story of Boba Feminist and the Fellow Bobas (how I call the readers) can freely share their thoughts and anticipate replies from Boba Feminist. Like how the bio read, it is “the land of empowerment and inspiration”. As for why I named it Boba Feminist, it is a representation of who I am: an advocate for gender equality from Taiwan. (Plus the fact that I am addicted to boba milk teas!).

Chia: What was the catalyst that prompted you to found Boba Feminist?

Emily: Besides what I mentioned earlier of simply just wanting to start an account to post any creations I have made, I wanted to let those who are suffering to know that they are not alone. I see so many friends around me dealing with the same problem but they blame themselves for being the “only person” that has it. And it is such a shame, because if people are all hurting what they can actually do is to heal together, especially in the case of female empowerment, the power of sisterhood is something we often overlook. I was prompted to found Boba Feminist because I wanted to be the person I wish I had when I was lost, I wished that someone reading Boba Diary would think, “hey, this is my diary too, maybe I’m not alone after all.”

Chia: Aww that's so sweet of you! How has it been like running and managing Boba Feminist?

Emily: Since it is a blog and not exactly an organization, I am the only staff and the Boba Feminist is me (awkward laughs). My favorite part about running it is to interact with Fellow Bobas and reply to them. But it can be difficult sometimes when I have to keep myself active or when I have to come up with new ideas and have no one to discuss things with. 

 

Chia: You're also part of the Girl Up ‘20-‘21 Teen Advisors. Can you tell us more about Girl Up and your role?

Emily: Girl Up is an initiative of the United Nation Foundation dedicated to fighting gender inequality by focusing on issues such as gender-based violence, girl’s access to education, and female presence in STEM. It has reached across 120 countries with 3500 clubs. My co-founder and I started a Girl Up club, Girl Up Fuhsing, in 2018 and it was then the only active Girl Up club in Taiwan. I have recently just handed the position as the president to the rising junior after two years of running it. For the upcoming school year, I am very lucky to be given the opportunity to continually work with Girl Up by being part of the Girl Up ‘20-’21 Teen Advisors. Very excited to keep working on feminism in Asia alongside leaders from all over the world!

 

Chia: Can you illustrate to us some of the impacts you have created in your community through your works?

Emily: Under the influence of conservative Asian values, many girls shy away from topics such as body positivity or really just to talk about female empowerment. I can’t really say I know the extent of the impact my works have in my community, but if there is any change I can confidently say that I have brought about to my community, it is to let people know that it is ok to point out issues that exist in the system and speak out against unjust. I have seen girls that originally joined our Girl Up club as the quiet person that never spoke now speak up their minds and stand up for themselves, and that to me is the best impact my works can ever have to the people around me.

Chia: What was the response - positive and negative - surrounding your effects from your community and your peers? Did you find similarly minded people?

Emily: There are definitely both positive and negative feedbacks. Some of my peers just cannot relate to why I am doing this and would be cynical. If only every time someone makes fun of the name “Girl Up”, one less girl would be out of school. But I have also met similarly minded people along the way. My best friend is actually the same person who co-founded Girl Up Fuhsing with me. There are also classmates who didn’t care about social justice issues but grew to be passionate about gender equality and support my cause.

Chia: As a feminist, I'm sure that you have encountered people telling you that we don't need feminism anymore. What do you think of this and how do you respond to statements like this?

Emily: Yes, people love to say “what about the boys?” and “I think girls are doing fine”. I think what everyone needs to see is the impact of feminism extends beyond female empowerment. When girls are given equal opportunities as boys to reach for their dreams, when we no longer set boundaries according to gender, so many changes can be made. The sad truth is, there are so many brilliant young female leaders, so many future scientists, entrepreneurs, policymakers, artists, unable to take further actions simply because of their gender. When someone tells me we don’t need feminism anymore, I would ask them, would you, under any circumstance, think that we don’t need basic human rights anymore? No? Then why would you think that the fight for equal rights for all gender is unnecessary?

Chia: What are some of the challenges that you face uniquely as an Asian feminist?

Emily: Most of the ideas surrounding the feminist movements originated in the West. Feminism is not as accepted and familiarized in the Taiwanese society and there is a taboo surrounding the word for “feminism” in Chinese. Whenever I say that I’m a feminist, people would be super intimidated. I once had a relative ask me if this would get me arrested (we are a very democratic country but the relative is an elder and didn’t understand the term feminism). 

Chia: I totally understand the struggle when telling people that I'm a feminist in Chinese! It's truly a shame that people think that it's a bad thing! Are there any current activism projects you are working on that you would like to talk about, or plans for the future?

Emily: Elimination of gender-based violence is a social justice issue I am very passionate about and I am laying out plans to do something for it in the near future. At school, I recently initiated a platform called Work in Progress to raise awareness of how there is more that needs to be done for marginalized groups in Taiwan. I am also part of Asians Lead, an organization working to bring issues Asians face that are often neglected to the table. 

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

Emily: As cliche as this may sound, I have always lived by the quote, “be the change you wish to see in the world”. I joined the feminist movement because there are issues in my community that need to be addressed yet no one is taking the necessary actions about. Yes, it will be very hard to balance your own life and the work you do. But whenever you feel like giving up on pushing for changes, try to think about how you might feel if combating social injustice is no longer a part of your life. I imagine my life without fighting for gender equality and it scares me. Remember, no action is too little action. And don’t let anyone ever make you feel small. Look at Boba Feminist, it started out as a spam account! You are more than capable of making changes!

VIBHA  SHIVARAJAN

@vibhashivarajan
She/Her/Hers
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MKM Gender Equity Team Director Chia Zhi Zhi had a chat with Vibha Shivarajan, a 14-year-old gender equity activist from Washington. They talked about Vibha's fight against period poverty for homeless women through her soon-to-be registered non-profit organization – Hygiene for Her!

Chia: When I was doing some research before reaching out to you, I was really impressed with Hygiene For Her! Can you tell the reader about it (e.g: history, the core values, mission, vision, the events held, etc)?

Vibha: Hygiene for Her originated while eating Hot Cheetos and watching Netflix. When two of my other friends and I were hanging out one day, we had conversations about how often we take things for granted. Our discussion drifted into homelessness, and then to the topic that started it all: period poverty.  For most of us, tampons and pads are just another things on the grocery list, and we overlook their necessity until the horrifying moment when we realize we don't have one. Even then, we can run out to the nearest convenience store and get some in no time; unfortunately, many can’t. 

 

Despite having absolutely no experience, we decided to start an organization that would help women when they're on their period. Although periods aren't the best conversation starters, the injustice women face is something that cannot be ignored. We knew that enacting a new law or starting a twitter rampage was a little bit above our heads, so we turned to an ever-familiar resource: the internet. As teenagers living in the era of TikTok, Snapchat and iPhone 11's, we decided that a website was the best way for people to help. Our ultimate goal is to make feminine hygiene products such as pads and tampons free of cost and/ or easily accessible to every woman from all walks of life. As a facet of life that unites all women, periods are essential to life and should be treated with the proper tools that allow women to live cleanly and with dignity. Unlike a blanket or sweater that embodies comfort, feminine hygiene products are necessities and should be considered as a basic amenity. In theory, this sounds wonderful, but we understand that this issue is well beyond our heads. This doesn't mean that we give up, instead, we make it easier. 

Chia: What was the catalyst that prompts you to found Hygiene for Her? What makes you so keen to start an organization to end period poverty?

Vibha: Our main inspiration was a YouTube video on how homeless women deal with their periods on the streets. The video was really eye-opening because before watching it, this crisis didn’t even cross my mind. The lengths that these women had to go through were truly shocking, and we felt the need to help at least a few people not have to deal with this. Another inspiration came to me as I was researching some info to add to our website. I came across this thing called the luxury tax. Essentially it places a sales tax on hygiene products because they are considered nonessential, “luxury” items. This issue is being tackled by millions of protesters nationwide who (like us) believe that the tax undermines the severity of feminine hygiene. As minors, we can’t really do anything legally, so we have been collecting donations and have raised over $2000. For now, we’re crowdsourcing so we can provide nearby shelters with a stock of products. There are many wonderful organizations dedicated to helping the homeless etc. but not as many dedicated solely for feminine hygiene. The importance of feminine hygiene is often overlooked upon, and we hope to change that. 

Chia: What has it been like running and managing Hygiene for Her? Can you tell me your most memorable experience?

Vibha: Running and managing Hygiene for Her has been a truly memorable experience. In about two months, we will be an actual registered fully functioning non-profit. Which is crazy because it feels like just yesterday we were sitting on the couch with our Flaming Hot Cheetos.  I think I speak for the three of us when I say that starting Hygiene for Her has taught us so many core values and life lessons. From patience to responsibility, even time management. Through this experience I’ve met amazing new people, I’ve been given some amazing opportunities and for that, I am incredibly thankful. Some of our most memorable moments was getting our first email from an online magazine asking for an article feature. I recall that very moment- when we were jumping up and down, filled with joy, when we realized “maybe we can actually make a difference”.

 

Chia: What are some of the important impacts Hygiene for Her has created so far?

Vibha: The COVID-19 pandemic is unprecedented and has changed our lives in so many ways, which is why it’s important to be there for our community now more than ever. The homeless community does not have access to the basic hygiene needed to protect themselves from the virus. They rely on homeless shelters, which do not have enough resources or volunteers to support them right now. In response to this, we have connected with over 65 students in our state, who are now our student representatives. So far, we’ve raised 1.2 thousand dollars in total. We recently made a donation of over 2,000 feminine hygiene products to Angeline’s Day Center in Seattle. Aside from donations, we’ve also contributed to our community in several other ways. We’re collecting cards to thank local healthcare workers, who have worked so hard to protect us during this global pandemic. We also have a blog where our student representatives and guest writers share their stories and explain why our cause is important. Some of our student representatives have started selling art or providing services and giving a portion of the profits to Hygiene for Her. We’re currently discussing some new projects, and we’re very excited for what the future will hold!

 

Chia: What was the response - positive and negative - surrounding your effects from your community and your peers? Did you find similarly minded people?

Vibha: When first brought up the idea of actually starting a non-profit, people around us were quite unsure of our thoughts. Not in a lack of support, but being the impulsive indecisive people we are, it wasn’t clear as to if this was just another one of our ideas, or if it was something we truly wanted to go on with. Throughout this experience, we’ve met so many like-minded people, and gotten to meet others who hope to make a difference as well. We received huge amounts of support from our family and friends, and have even inspired some of our other friends to start a non-profit of their own. All the overwhelming amounts of support only encouraged us to keep pursuing our hopes and dreams, and seeing the smiles of the women who get the products only make it easier.

Chia: There is no doubt that period poverty is a very serious issue and that having access to menstrual products should be a human right. Why do you think that society and many lawmakers fail to put in efforts to solve this problem? What do you think they can do better at?

Vibha: I think the reason that lawmakers and society, in general, fail to realize the importance of menstrual hygiene is simply because mensuration is completely stigmatized; not only in the US, but all around the world. For example, back in India menstruating women are seen as impure, and are forced to sleep outside their houses during that time of the month. Numerous young ladies can’t afford the cost of menstrual materials. Although a few countries around the world have lifted the expense on menstrual products, others continue to use it as a form of gender-based discrimination. I believe that in order to solve this problem, we must first work on normalizing menstruation in our community today. We think that the most important thing that especially teenagers should bring to combat this issue is an open mind. For years, the topic of periods and menstruation has been a taboo, and people are uneasy to speak about it. But ignoring this issue makes it harder for women to understand their bodies, which makes it difficult for them to keep themselves healthy. If teenagers have an open mind about this topic, then we can break down the shame that has surrounded menstruation for generations and empower women everywhere.

Chia: What other gender equity activism works have you done or are doing besides Hygiene for Her?

Vibha: Aside from Hygiene for Her, I help and volunteer with other women empowerment organizations. I have done several posts on gender equality and women empowerment. I have used my platform (even though it may not be very big) bring attention to important issues such as structural racism and gender equality, and I often participate in sessions, classes, and discussions about gender equality as I believe that communicating and discussing our thoughts is the best way to end rumors and destroy the stigma around such topics. 

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

Vibha: Even though I might not directly be able to help, I like to do what I can to inspire those around me to do the same. With my passion for video editing, I am working with some of my close friends to develop documentaries and short films on women. Some of the key phrases being things like “a woman is more than a pretty face, an object. And we have more to us than just being there to love”, “with the lack of power we have been given throughout history, it has lead to a buildup of misconceptions, leading to needs for re-evaluations of why we do what we do, and the injustices we face every day”, “rape, body shaming, the pink tax, periods, the period tax.” , “ society needs to raise awareness for all the women who are afraid of walking to their cars at night, or shave their head due to experiences they’ve had”, and “People need to know that it's not ok to disrespect us. We are humans and we have rights, and we deserve respect just like anyone else.” 

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

Vibha: If I were to give advice to someone who aspires to change the world it would only be two words. “Do it”. Don't let anyone or anything stop you from pursuing your dreams and hopes, and its never too late. Its never too late to make a change, you don't have to wait till a certain age to start making a difference. Everyone has a voice for a reason, so make sure you speak out and use yours.

TIFFANY LEVEILLE

@tiff.any26
She/Her/Hers
Tiffany Leveille Photo.jpg

MKM Gender Equity Team Director Chia Zhi Zhi had a chat with Tiffany Leveille, a 17-year-old gender equity activist from Orlando, Florida. They talked about Tiffany's word as a Teen Advisor for Girltelligence and the founder and Executive Director of In the Write! 

Chia: When I was doing some research before reaching out to you, I was really impressed with Girltelligence! Can you tell the reader more about it?

Tiffany: Girltelligence is an app for teen girls and young women where they can find a supportive community of other girls. There are two main sections of the app: Girl Wisdom and Girltalk. In Girl Wisdom, girls can share posts on body image, relationships, identity, sexual harassment, the LGBTQ community, and so much more! In the Girltalk tab, girls can post questions for the community to respond to. That way other girls can offer advice, encouragement, and support- just what every girl needs!
 
The name Girltelligence was chosen because we wanted the app to have a positive connotation while also incorporating the words “girl” and “tell.” Therefore, we combined the words “girl” and “intelligence” into Girltelligence!
 
Our main goal is to provide a safe space for girls and young women where they feel comfortable sharing their experiences and asking questions without the fear of judgement. You can even choose to post your questions and comments anonymously or with your name. The app is also super fun because you get to choose different icons to represent your profile picture when posting.

Chia: What do you think makes Girltelligence a really special place for girls?

Tiffany: There truly isn’t another app out there like Girltelligence. We as women don’t always have the space to talk openly and freely without the fear of judgement. We aren’t always invited to the table to present our perspectives. But on Girltelligence, it’s an entirely new atmosphere. Girls don’t have to be scared to ask their questions (even if they think they sound silly) because they know that everyone else on the app is going to be kind, caring, and supportive. For those of us who don’t have sisters or female friends, this app is so welcoming and is a really important place to form female alliances and sisterhoods.
 
Growing up I was very lucky to have multiple female mentors who helped me become the woman I am today. But not every girl has these types of female figures in their lives. And even when we do have these women supporting us, sometimes we need outside opinions or advice. And that’s where Girltelligence comes in. Maybe you don’t feel comfortable talking to your mom about dating, or your sisters about your period, but you can always post your questions on our app and get responses from so many other girls who want to see you succeed!

Chia: What was the catalyst that prompted you to become a Teen Advisor for Girltelligence?

Tiffany: Over the last few years I have been learning about feminism and trying to become the best intersectional feminist I can be. Women like Malala Yousafzai, Michelle Obama, and Ava DuVernay are some of the women that have inspired me to start taking action in my community even if I am only a 17-year-old girl. Since then, I have started seeking out opportunities that allow me to grow as a woman and also help other people, but it was actually a total coincidence that I discovered Girltellience when they were looking for advisors! I just so happened to stumble upon their Instagram and was scrolling through their posts when I saw that they were looking for teen girls to apply for their Teen Advisory Board. I did some research on the app and their website and I felt that this was the type of community I wanted to contribute to and learn from. They believed in everything I did: girls supporting girls, women empowerment, and sisterhood. I worked on the application for a couple of hours and then submitted it. From there I got to speak with the founder on the phone and learn more about her and the app and was welcomed onto the team a few weeks later!

 

Chia: How has it been like being a part of the Teen Advisory Board? Can you tell us some of your most memorable anecdotes?

Tiffany: It has been one of the best experiences being a part of the Girltelligence Teen Advisory Board. I’ve learned so much about the behind-the-scenes of app and merch development. But my favorite part of being on the Girltelligence team is answering questions on the app. A lot of the time, questions will come in regarding mental health, body image, friendships, relationships, and sex education. It’s so interesting to see that no matter where we are from or our different backgrounds, we all ask the same questions at some point in our lives. This is why it is so beneficial for girls to have other girls responding to their questions from personal experience. It makes me feel good when I am able to provide helpful advice either from experience or by providing resources when I can.
 
It has been one of the best experiences for me! I’ve learned so much about the behind-the-scenes of app and merch development and leadership. My favorite part though is answering questions on the app. We frequently get questions on mental health, body image, and friendships and relationships. It’s so interesting to see that no matter our backgrounds or where we are from, we all ask very similar questions throughout our teen years. We all struggle with similar things. This is why it is so beneficial for girls to have other girls responding to their questions. Sometimes we feel that we are the only girl out there who struggles with confidence or making friends, but we are far from alone! I always try to give advice based on my experiences and other girls do the same, that way the person asking the question gets many different perspectives and can hopefully find a solution to their question.

 

Chia: That's so cool! Can you illustrate to us some of the impacts you have created in your community through your role?

Tiffany: Although I’ve only been on the Teen Advisory Board for a little while, I would like to say that I have been able to provide some useful advice to other girls on the app. Or at least I hope that I have! But I have been able to give a few ideas that have been implemented in the app, share my opinions on merchandise, and do a lot of cool behind-the-scenes planning with the team. All in all, my main goal is to learn through this experience, help other girls as much as I can, and find ways to reach more girls so they can use this amazing app!

Chia: Even though I'm a feminist who is all for girls supporting girls, I would still succumb to my old beliefs and see other girls as my competition rather than sisters sometimes. Do you have similar experiences? If so, how do you deal with that?

Tiffany: I love that you asked this! We frequently discuss the unfair treatment we receive from men, but we don’t always talk about how we cause issues for our own sisters. Personally, I find myself seeing other girls as competitors when I am jealous or self-conscious. Instagram is a major contributor to this. When scrolling through Instagram it is easy to compare because all you see is a perfect selfie. You see perfectly white teeth, perfect hair, perfect bodies, and the list could go on and on. But in reality, no one is perfect. What I’ve come to realize is just because another girl is pretty or smart, does not mean that I am not pretty or smart. The strange thing is, I don’t think I’ve ever compared myself to a man in the way that I have compared myself to other girls. And it goes back to the idea that we are competitors. I don’t know where that came from and I am really trying to dismantle this idea in my own head and I hope other girls can do that too.

Chia: What was the response - positive and negative - surrounding your effects from your community and your peers? Did you find similarly minded people?

Tiffany:  Yes! During our meetings and messages, I have seen other girls on the advisory board use their own talents to further our mission. Some girls create content for our Girl Wisdom tab, others design merchandise, and some come up with new ways to market the app or how to improve it. Even though we are all from different parts of the country, we all have one thing in common: we are girls. Which means that we have a lot of common ground already. Our founder has also been a joy to work with. She’s so encouraging and is full of ideas. She always gives us the stand to share our opinions and ideas and I’ve learned a lot about leadership by watching her. So I definitely found a group of women that are similarly minded and it really creates a wonderful sense of community.

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

Tiffany: Currently, my blog, In the Write, is hosting a hashtag challenge on Instagram. The purpose of the #InthewriteUNFILTERED challenge, is to get teenagers talking about how social media can cause us to compare ourselves. Throughout the month, our staff and participants will post photos of themselves without any editing or filters, and in the caption discuss a ‘flaw’ that they are beginning (or already have) learned to embrace. Everyone has flaws so we might as well embrace them and work on them! We’d love to have more people participate. All are welcome to join, not just girls!
 
I am also currently working on a new project proposal that will give teenagers and young adults an easy and effective way to make a lasting impact on the U.S. foster care system. More details will come on this soon, so be sure to give us a follow on Instagram so you don’t miss the announcement! Our handle is @inthewriteblog.

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

Tiffany: I would say don’t focus on changing the world. Start on something small that you are passionate about. For me, that’s raising awareness about foster care on my blog and helping girls on Girltelligence. But for other people, that might be helping the homeless in their city, donating tampons to schools, or starting their own organization. But if we all focus on one problem in our own communities and form alliances with other young people who are making change, then we can have a much larger impact than we could ever imagine. You have to be passionate about what you are doing. So find that passion and get started!

ZIKORA AKANEGBU

@zikora.a
She/Her/Hers
404E31D3-9BD4-4C83-88C4-DA9E3FBD85E1-A19

MKM Gender Equity Team Member, Rida Yumn Ahmed, had the wonderful opportunity to interview Zikora Akanegbu, a 15-year-old gender equity activist from Ellicott City, Maryland. They chatted about Zikora's efforts in building a safe space to amplify Gen Z girls' voices through her initiative called GenZHer! 

Rida: Your initiative GenZHER is really praiseworthy! Can you tell the readers about GenZHER?

Zikora: GenZHER is a global, online media platform dedicated to amplifying the voices of Generation Z girls. GenZHER provides the marginalized voices of Gen Z girls with a place to share their opinion and stories by creating and sharing content on youth activism, STEM, politics, social issues, and more! The mission of my initiative is simple: on- and offline. It was created to empower Gen Z girls through spreading our stories of success, hardships, and inspirations. These stories have been published by teenage contributors from across the world. Though Gen Z girls and women encompass a spectrum of experiences, we feel that there are aspects to each story that everyone can relate to and we seek to build solidarity. Information on how to get involved with GenZHER is available on our website here. Follow @genzhergirls on Instagram!

Rida: Can you specify any incident or people who inspired you to start GenZHER?

Zikora: I went to a private all-girls school in my freshman year. Instead of uplifting one another, I was shocked to see girls being cruel to each other on and offline. I believe girls should not have to put each other down to raise themselves up. I realized how girls often see each other as competitors, fighting despite a longtime campaign for unity. I noticed how this was especially prevalent in the age of technology. The question, then, is 'how do we break this cycle?' In a time of division and hate, I wanted a space for Gen Z girls to not be afraid to speak their truth and to build a community so that solidarity and inclusivity can continue to grow between the girls of our generation.

Rida: I love how you use the terms GenZ-hers for young girls! Why did you coin this term? Can you tell us the psychology behind that?

Zikora: It certainly took me a long time to come up with a name for my initiative, but once I originated the term I immediately knew it was the perfect name to capture the movement I sought to create. Gen Z girls are often not taken seriously, whether it be because we are women or because we are seen as simply too young. However, I believe we are unstoppable! When we put our minds to dismantling societal norms, we accomplish that. Not only will Gen Z girls shape the future, we are changing the present. My initiative inspires all “GenZ-hers” to feel empowered to reach their full potential.

 

Rida: You're also working for GenZ Writes, another organization that focuses on empowering youth girls. Can you briefly tell us what does the organization do?

Zikora: GenZ Writes is a student-led online platform and digital community hub stomping grounds for Gen Z-ers. It was founded on the vision of empowering marginalized youth voices from across the globe by sharing stories written by Gen Z-ers and featuring GenZ-run organizations.

 

Rida: What has been your experience been like as the Advocacy and Outreach Coordinator for the organization?

Zikora: It’s a dream to be able to work alongside so many talented Gen Z individuals. I work with the Gen Z Writes team to empower Gen Z with a voice because I passionately believe our generation has the power to demand that our stories be heard and to impact change. I love being in charge of conducting social media outreach tasks and establishing partnerships with other GenZ-run organizations for GenZ Writes!

Rida: Considering how it takes extra efforts to reach out to all the strata of the society, how can we reach out to girls in remote areas to empower them or those who have become adoptive to oppressive surroundings?

Zikora: The ideas of Gen Z girls are often dismissed because of our gender and age. It’s super important to make sure all of the girls in the world know that they can dream big and achieve their goals. Living in a world full of technology, we must reach out to girls from all parts of the world by exposing them to empowering leadership opportunities, where international students are encouraged to apply. Through actively sharing opportunities for girls to thrive, we’re advocating for equality where there is no equality yet. Additionally, social media allows girls to find and connect with mentors. We shouldn’t limit girls from achieving their full potential – we need to equip them with confidence so that they can take on the world themselves.

Rida: How do you think we can make society see beyond what girls are at face-value and how do you educate the public about this issue?

Zikora: When more and more Gen Z girls push for gender equity and other political issues, the standard that young women don't know what they're talking about starts to break down little by little. I think that the discussion of gender equality in public schools should highlight the contributions and accomplishments of female scientists, historians, or scholars to the same degree as their male counterparts. 

Rida: In this age of infinite connectedness and social media, it is very easy for girls to compare themselves to one another, which would then translate to unhealthy rivalry. How do you think we can work on fostering healthy relationships between girls?

Zikora: We must have our school officials, tech companies and lawmakers continue to look for ways to combat cyberbullying. More anti-bullying tools must be rolled out by social media companies, and more states need to enact laws prohibiting cyberbullying.

Rida: How do you think that public representatives can be a catalyst for gender equity awareness?

Zikora: Gender equality affects everyone, just in different ways. However, we can’t have equality as a whole unless we are focusing on everyone. I believe that our society and lawmakers need to focus on the idea that all genders need to work together to create a successful society. Keeping this in mind, society and lawmakers should represent all people because as a collective group, we create a flourishing society and we can make positive change. Lawmakers have to make laws for women to have the chance to thrive and shine.

Rida: Can you throw some light on your other future gender equity projects?

Zikora: As for the future, I plan on continuing to expand my initiative, GenZHER, to empower, connect, and inspire as many Gen Z girls as I can worldwide. I am inspired by my generation. Knowing that there are people who are the same age as me or even younger, who are no longer waiting for adults to make change. We are creating our own organizations to do the work that is needed.

ILA PRABHURAM

@ilaprabhuram
She/Her/Hers
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MKM Gender Equity Team Member Rida Yumn Ahmed had a chat with Ila Prabhuram, a 15-year-old gender equity activist from Georgia. They talked about GenZ Writes and College Pathway!

Rida: Your organization 'GenZ Writes' is a completely student-run, online media platform which is pretty impressive. Can you tell the readers more about it?

Ila: GenZ Writes is a global, online media platform empowering marginalized youth voices across the world, with a team of 50+ students from 7+ countries. Our website and articles written by our writers have amassed thousands of views from people across the globe, and we're only growing from here. Our platform is a space for youth to voice their thoughts on current events and social issues through forms of poetry, articles, short stories, and even the creative arts side. Our creative department, GenZ Creates, hosts creative writing and arts contests, and publishes artwork and musical pieces by our contributors.

Rida: What were the setbacks you faced while setting up 'GenZ Writes'? How did you overcome all the obstacles?

Ila: When I started GenZ Writes in April 2020, I had no idea about social media marketing & networking, although I knew it was a key part of growing an organization. I never had any experience with growing an organization solely through social media, but since we are in the midst of a nationwide quarantine, I had no other choice but to turn to grow GenZ Writes through social media platforms, specifically Instagram. While I was inexperienced at first, I gained a great amount of expertise after learning from my fellow peers about social media marketing and management. GenZ Writes has grown solely through social media and word of mouth, and we are constantly expanding!

 

Rida: How did 'GenZ Writes' evolve into a platform for girls to amplify their voices?

Ila: I started GenZ Writes with the vision for not just girls, but for all of GenZ, to amplify their voices & share their stories. I wanted to make GenZ Writes an inclusive and empowering platform for youth of all backgrounds, upbringings, ideologies, etc. I use GenZ Writes to make the aspects of ourselves that usually set us apart to bring us together. Our contributors write many articles about female empowerment and the inequalities many women face around the world in an effort to raise awareness about gender inequalities, and we host several events aiming to spread awareness about the importance of gender equality. Through GenZ Writes, our team and I advocate for a gender-equal world.

 

Rida: When was the first time you realised 'GenZ writes' was creating waves and making an impact?

Ila: It was when I started to realize some of the vulnerable topics our contributors wrote about, and how they were able to express a part of themselves they weren't able to express elsewhere. That was when I realized that GenZ Writes was becoming something more than just an online magazine: it was an outlet for youth to express themselves freely, without any barriers or pressures of conforming to certain standards. We're all just students, looking for a place to share our voice for people who will listen. And I'm beyond proud to see that GenZ Writes has become one of those places.

 

Rida: How are you planning to increase the outreach of 'GenZ Writes'?

Ila: As of now, GenZ Writes has grown solely through social media. However, we hope to start hosting more events and spreading awareness about our different ways for youth to get involved through starting chapters, becoming writers, participating in our contests, and more. We have already expanded internationally, but we want to reach a larger audience in many more countries around the world! The team and I are working on planning more informative events to engage our audience & inform them of important topics.

Rida: How can girls become a voice in mainstream society and make positive changes and what steps need to be taken if she is starting from scratch to make her voice heard?

Ila: So many girls around the world face inequalities and lose access to so many resources purely because of their gender- which is why it's crucial for girls to have platforms to share their voice and invoke societal change. Young girls need to be able to find their passion & be able to take the steps needed to really make a difference. This can include reaching out to organizations that already have a large audience to share your voice, forming your own organization about the issue(s) you care about, or getting involved with organizations that have to do to with the issue(s) you care about. Going to protests & marches is a great way to get your voice out there and see, in-person, how you can make a difference. It's also important for us girls to learn essential cold-emailing, resume-building, and networking skills in order to put ourselves out there & share our passions.

Rida: We need to undo the mistakes done by the past generations by defying inequality so that we give a better world to our future generations. Being a Gen Z girl, what duties and responsibilities do you think young women need to adopt?

Ila: As women, we should not be afraid to step out of our comfort zone in order to pursue a passion. No one can determine our future but us, so we should step out of our comfort zone to invoke change in our society. We need to educate men on the importance of gender equality, and why women should have access to the same resources + opportunities as men. I believe that it's up to the girls of Gen Z to take the next steps towards a more gender-equal future.

Rida: You're also the founder of the College Pathway, a non-profit which is dedicated to spreading awareness and campaigning about the inequality in education. Can you tell more about it emphasising on lack of opportunities of education for students, especially girls?

Ila: College Pathway (collegepathwayus.org) is an international, youth-powered nonprofit, registered with the state of Georgia, combating education inequity in schools worldwide. We believe that every student, regardless of their race, ethnicity, gender, or socioeconomic status, should have access to quality education. Our curriculum, virtual tutoring, & financial aid workshops have reached 1000+ students globally through sustainable partnerships with other organizations. We've established worldwide chapters & collaborated with 20+ congressional & state representatives. We also co-founded the KNOW Movement, an international network of youth-led NGOs in 10+ countries combating education inequity. Underprivileged youth, especially girls, across the world receive less access to quality resources because of their socioeconomic status. These youth lose critical opportunities that help further the quality of their education, thus putting them at a huge disadvantage when compared to their wealthier peers. College Pathway works to provide resources for these low-income students and help even the playing field for youth across the world.

Rida: How do you think we can reach out to girls in marginalized sections of the society or low-income households to pursue education?

Ila: I think having a sustainable approach is extremely important. How are you planning on encouraging these girls to pursue education? How long will this last? What is different about your approach? College Pathway partners with organizations in developing countries to directly reach out to the youth they work with. If your plan isn't sustainable, organizations will most likely not want to partner with you. Unless you have ties with the country you're planning on working with, it's important to find the right organizations to partner with to really make an impact on these students. Cold-emailing these organizations with a plan on how you want to help these girls pursue education (providing resources, a platform, mentorship, etc) will help you stand out in the midst of emails & partnership requests. 

Rida: Do you have any other projects which focus on gender equity or any future plans to work on this issue?

Ila: As part of GenZ Writes, I run GenZ Girl Con- a virtual, girl empowerment conference consisting of girl activists as student panelists and women executives as mentors from around the globe. Our aim for this conference is to inspire young girls to share their voice and defy the obstacles present. Young girls will be faced with many different hurdles throughout their lifetime, simply because of their gender. Through initiatives like GenZ Girl Con, we hope to provide girls across the world a platform to learn from other girls and become a better version of themselves.

COSETTE BURRESE

@cosetteburrese
She/Her/Hers
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MKM Gender Equity Team Member Himani Kalra had the pleasure of chatting with Cosette Burrese, a 16-year-old gender equity activist from Montana and the founder of Femme for Education. They talked about Cosette's works in promoting education among young women through Femme for Education!

Himani: What made you passionate about promoting education among young women?

Cosette: From a young age, I have always loved learning new things. During some harder times, I have seen myself and my friends struggle to gain access to the information necessary to succeed in the careers we want to go into. I think it is extremely important for everyone, despite financial and geographical circumstances, to have the same access to educational materials as everyone else. In order to build a solid society, a global community, and a world full of change makers, it is vital to have these resources present for all. I knew that I had to play my part to make a difference because the only thing I want to see out of this world is changed for the better.

Himani: Your work at Femme for Education is very inspiring! Can you tell us more about the organization and its work?

Cosette: Femme for Education is an online platform made of youth worldwide dedicated to providing educational resources and opportunities for kids around the globe. Our goal is to provide free resource packets full of information on STEM topics, business, finance, politics, law, and anything education-based. We also plan to host youtube videos, podcasts, and other events to help educate the youth especially during a time like this. 

 

Himani: Tell us about a Femme for Education event where you realized the impact of your work surrounding education for women.

Cosette: I realized that our work was significant after seeing our Instagram page take off so quickly. I never realized how passionate people could be about a cause like this. We have seen so many stories of people who want to make education available for everyone. This realization of seeing our following grow, and seeing so many other young individuals dedicated to such a cause proved to me how important our organization actually is. 

 

Himani: Why do you think it is important to establish organizations like Femme for Education?

Cosette: Organizations that aim to change the world are a necessity. Even though many countries and areas have made progress towards having a safe, progressive, and reliable culture there are still many problems that our world faces. This is something that the youth must be able to change. Without advocating for our rights, without providing more resources, without aiming to make a difference, we will not see change. We have to be able to bond together and create these organizations to help further our passions and make more dreams a reality. 

 

Himani: What has the response been from the community surrounding your efforts?

Cosette: The response to Femme for Education has been amazing. We have received over 70+ applications to join our executive board and we are constantly on the rush to create new member positions. So many people have been so kind and generous with what they have to offer to help us. Many other organizations have partnered with us and we have seen a massive change within the stigmas surrounding girls, youth, or anyone in traditionally male-dominated fields. The community has truly made this whole process worthwhile. 

Himani: What do you think our society needs to do better in regards to education for women?

Cosette: The response has been amazing so far! We have met a lot of people willing to help us grow in Melbourne and have even been contacted by some women working in the STEM field showing their support! 

Himani: What do you think our society and our lawmakers in particular need to do better when it comes to encouraging girls to enter the STEM field?

Cosette: Our society has greatly improved its educational quality over time. However, the stigma still lies. We need to focus more on the mindset and encouragement. When a girl is too afraid to join a class or a career and the stigma still stands, this is where we see the gaps. This is what we need to target. Women are passionate about their lives. However, passion can only go so far when you feel like the world is against you. Education-wise, we need to focus on changing our mindsets. Focusing on making learning fun. We need to focus on making education a safe and reliable space for everyone. Once we do this, the stigma will slowly disappear. 

Himani: Are there any current activism projects you’re working on or any plans for the future?

Cosette: Currently within our own organization, we are working on creating classes and workshops. As well as this, we are working on building our platforms on youtube and starting a podcast. Hopefully, once the coronavirus is over we can start creating local chapters across the globe. These chapters would help young women come together, share their ideas, collaborate, and learn new skills together. 

Himani: What advice would you give to other young people who want to make a difference in the world?

Cosette: My advice is to go for it. Do NOT let your fears hold you back. If you are afraid of people judging you, they do not deserve to be in your life. The people you surround yourself should be supportive of whatever endeavors you pursue. Put yourself out there. DM, email, tweet at, Link up with people who you want to be around. Ask them if they know of any opportunities. Always be on the lookout. Your difference could be as simple as getting a group of friends together and coming together to fight a cause. You can come together to tutor younger kids in your area, start a protest, start a local movement within your school. The goal is to just start and not let your fears hold you back. Anyone can do anything if they really want to. 

SRUSHTI SHAH

@
She/Her/Hers
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MKM Gender Equity Team Director Chia Zhi Zhi talked to Srushti Shah, an 18-year-old gender equity activist from Melbourne, Australia! They chatted about females in the STEM field and Girls for Science Melbourne! 

Chia: When I was doing some research before reaching out to you, I was really impressed with your work, especially Girls for Science Melbourne! Can you tell the reader about GfS Melbourne? 

Srushti: Most out our previous works are done by two young activists Sweta and Divya in Florida, USA. My partner and I were both heavily inspired by their working in promoting STEM subjects for girls and reached out to them to continue the work in Melbourne. GFS aims to encourage more girls to enter and study STEM field subjects in order to eradicate both the sigma that engineering and maths is a “boys subject” and well as the gender gap in these workplaces. 

Chia: What got you involved in youth and student activism specifically? Can you identify a catalyst?

Srushti: I feel like there is almost an unspoken stigma around women entering these types of fields, where girls are told that from a young age that these subjects such as maths and physics are considered subjects for boys and are dominated for men., and although we live in such developed society this gender gap still exists. due to this I really felt driven to encourage young girls to try these subjects out and reduce the gender gap in these fields. 

 

Chia: What do you personally identify as the main cause of the gender gap in the STEM field?

Srushti: I believe that it is due to girls being told or even shown from a young age that STEM-related subjects are predominantly for guys. When you watch certain movies where there is a tech ‘guy’ or a ‘guy’ who specializes in IT, it may indirectly affect the mindset of girls. It may also be due to cultural aspects and it may just be because it is such an uncommon thing that young girls don’t know that, that opportunity is available to them. 

 

Chia: What has it been like organising events to encourage girls to enter the STEM field in Melbourne? Can you tell us some memorable events/instances for you when starting and running GfS Melbourne?

Srushti: Organising events has been pretty nice so far, we have contacted some very like-minded people which has been great to see! Most of our current events like running workshops in libraries have been unfortunately delayed due to the current COVID-19 situation. However, girls for science continue to advocate our message on social media (@gfs.melbourne) where we are currently interviewing women in STEM fields on how their work life is. 

 

Chia: What was the response - positive and negative - 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 empowering girls in the STEM field?

Srushti: The response was extremely positive, which was very heartwarming. The reason we proceeded with this project in the first place was to distribute some more knowledge and inspiration about girls in STEM, which we thought was severely lacking in Melbourne. Currently, I haven’t met with many activists in Melbourne, but I would love to see more individuals speaking about empowering women in STEM!

Chia: What was the response - positive and negative - 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 empowering girls in the STEM field?

Srushti: The response has been amazing so far! We have met a lot of people willing to help us grow in Melbourne and have even been contacted by some women working in the STEM field showing their support! 

Chia: What do you think our society and our lawmakers in particular need to do better when it comes to encouraging girls to enter the STEM field?

Srushti: I think it is by showing girls that this is more is a viable pathway for women, and not just men. Whether it is having more exposure through cartoons or even seeing more females scientists interviewed on the news or in science programs. There could also be science programs targeted to kids that have an equal spread of men and women working in a range of different fields of science showing all kids that science is interesting.

Chia: Why do you think it’s important to connect with other young people, even young people who previously were not activists when it comes to creating change?

Srushti: Its important to connect to other young people as we create the world that the next generation as it us who will shape the future for those who come after us. It is important for us to get involved as eventually it is us who has to deal with the consequences of current actions or current social constructs. If people our age and younger get involved it is better that our voices can be heard so that we can shape our future the way we want it to and for it to most benefit us. 

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

Srushti: Other than GFS there are not many activism projects that I have been involved in.

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

Srushti: I would say that if there is something you are passionate about, it best to talk about it as much as you can. Let your voice be heard. The more you speak out and the more often you do it the more seriously people will take you and the more people will back you up and support you. 

SAMYUKHTA  SRIGANESH

@samu.sriganesh
She/Her/Hers
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MKM Gender Equity Team Director Chia Zhi Zhi talked to Samyukhta Sriganesh, a 17-year-old gender equity activist from Melbourne, Australia! They chatted about females in the STEM field and Girls for Science Melbourne! 

Chia: When I was doing some research before reaching out to you, I was really impressed with your work, especially Girls for Science Melbourne! Can you tell the reader about GfS Melbourne?

Samyuktha: Sure! Girls For Science was formed in Florida by 17-year-old activists Sweta and Divya Srinivasan. I was inspired by their work and their mission to cultivate passion and awareness for girls wanting to do STEM subjects. I contacted them earlier this year, and that’s how GFS Melbourne happened! We wanted to bring the same concept to Melbourne.

Chia: What got you involved in youth and student activism specifically? Can you identify a catalyst?

Samyuktha: I really wanted my opinion and voice to be heard. Student activism was a perfect opportunity to voice my ideas without any judgment, which I loved. Specifically, I really wanted to highlight the existing stigma of women in STEM subjects, and GFS was a perfect canvas for that.

 

Chia: What do you personally identify as the main cause of the gender gap in the STEM field?

Samyuktha: Society, specifically media representations plays a major role in forming gender stereotypes in the STEM work-field. Though the gender gap has decreased significantly, I would love to see more representation of POC women in STEM and their achievements. For example, I tried searching up about a women doctor in Iran by the name of Shirin Rouhani, who died while treating patients with Covid-19. However, I barely got any solid information on her.  

 

Chia: What has it been like organizing events to encourage girls to enter the STEM field in Melbourne? Can you tell us some memorable events/instances for you when starting and running GfS Melbourne?

Samyuktha: Unfortunately, we haven’t gotten any chance to execute some of the events that we planned due to Covid-19, but we have many interesting things in the store! Our workshops are planned around teaching about specific women achievements in science that are not well known, as well as including many fun hands-on activities. As of now, we are creating monthly articles about successful women in STEM at our Instagram @gfs.melbourne

 

Chia: What was the response - positive and negative - 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 empowering girls in the STEM field?

Samyuktha: The response was extremely positive, which was very heartwarming. The reason we proceeded with this project in the first place was to distribute some more knowledge and inspiration about girls in STEM, which we thought was severely lacking in Melbourne. Currently, I haven’t met with many activists in Melbourne, but I would love to see more individuals speaking about empowering women in STEM!

Chia: What do you think our society and our lawmakers in particular need to do better at when it comes to encouraging girls to enter the STEM field?

Samyuktha: I personally think that introducing science from the start of schooling will make a huge difference in encouraging girls in STEM. Currently, my sister, who is in year 5, has only just started learning about science, even though her interest in science peaked from year 1. It would be greatly beneficial to start introducing simple concepts from a young age, to give girls a taste of the fantastic world of STEM!

Chia: Why do you think it’s important to connect with other young people, even young people who previously were not activists when it comes to creating change?

Samyuktha: We are the future! Creating change is all about coming together as one and collaborating on different ideas and notions to make an impact on a bigger issue. 

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

Samyuktha: As mentioned before, we have many workshops planned! For now, we are structuring as many lessons/workshops, so hopefully, we can execute them next year! 

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

Samyuktha: I don’t think I’m qualified to give advice just yet, since I am new to this as well! However, a piece of advice that I always follow is to never ever hesitate. If you are passionate about something, then find as many avenues as you can to let your voice be heard! Be respectful of others opinions, and follow your heart

PRIYA MANDA

@priya_manda
She/Her/Hers
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MKM Gender Equity Team Director Chia Zhi Zhi talked to Priya Manda, a 17-year-old gender equity activist from Stillwater, Minnesota. They chatted about Priya's efforts in empowering first-generation, immigrant and refugee girls, and her non-profit organization Female Refugees of the Future!

Chia: When I was doing some research before reaching out to you, I was really impressed with Female Refugees of the Future! Can you tell the reader about FRF?

Priya: Thank you! Female Refugees of the Future maintains a mission focused on providing necessary resources to first-generation, immigrant, and refugee girls. Our focus remains on addressing disparities in resources offered to marginalized communities as well as advocating for marginalized groups.

Chia: What was the catalyst that prompts you to establish FRF? 

Priya: Both my founder and I are first-generation (I am half) Americans and have seen first-hand the difficulties our parents and family members have struggled with as they immigrated to the US. We are also from Minnesota where there are a large immigrant and refugee populations that tend to be the most marginalized and tend to face the worst disparities in education and other resources in our state. We saw these issues and wanted to make a change. 

 

Chia: What has it been like running and managing FRF? Can you tell me your most memorable experience?

Priya: Honestly, it has been very difficult to get a non-profit off the ground as young people. It is certainly not impossible but can feel like it at times. However, this work is incredibly important and rewarding. Some of my most memorable moments include attending events to interact with organizations working with refugees and learning from them what their needs and experiences are. 

 

Chia: What other gender equity activism works have you done besides FRF? (I read it on Project WOC page that you worked with Girls Inc and the United State of Women before, maybe you can talk about your experience working with these organisations!)

Priya: Outside of FRF, I have worked with Girls Inc. at the YWCA which was incredible and allowed me to interact with other impassioned women from a very different background than me. Furthermore, I was able to interact and network with lawmakers and other local organizers. Girls inc. is an incredible organization focused on getting young women involved in grassroots organizing. Similarly, I have worked with the United State of Women and was their ambassador for Minnesota last year, this is an incredible organization that encourages women to leverage the resources they can to make improvements in their local communities. I was tasked with reaching out to media, had the opportunity to write pieces for Forbes (have not yet done this but is a very cool aspect of this organization) and formatting an action plan with other organizations. I have also worked with Planned Parenthood and am a part of their youth advocacy program which takes reproductive action into schools and helps young activists advocate. With all of the gag rules, we have been up against over the last few years, I was so glad to be a part of planned parenthood—actively working to protect people’s right to access their reproductive care. 

 

Chia: What do you think our society and our lawmakers in particular need to do better at when it comes to empowering first-generation, immigrant, and refugee girls?

Priya: First off, our society and lawmakers need to understand what these young women’s experiences are. Our lawmakers, need to understand that a stipend offered to refugee families or the small amounts of aid typically available to immigrants families in need, do not scratch the surface. There is a cultural barrier that must be addressed. Young women have to deal with the cultural pressures at home and cultural pressures that are very different at school and outside. Furthermore, there can be language barriers and other issues that come with the acclimation process. 

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

Priya: I am going to college next year and am looking to start connecting with organizers and programs there! As of now, I am still working with the organizations I mentioned above. I am really interested in leveraging the resources I will have in Los Angeles to connect with local activists and continue to pursue activism. I am sure there will be much work to do in the future given all that is going on with the COVID-19 outbreak. Also, I am super excited to work with organizations focused on issues impacting women of color!

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

Priya: Honestly, I would say to start reaching out to organizations and activists that are already doing the work and offer your help. I would also say that you need to be open-minded to the fact that you can always learn more! I think it is very important to be well versed in the issues you are passionate about or the issues that impact you most however, be open-minded because you can always learn something. Also, I think my biggest advice is to have confidence in yourself and try not to spread yourself thin, make sure you aren’t taking too much on, and cutting your focus or ability to actually help create change shortly. You can do anything!

SHIVALI GULATI

@shivaligulati_
She/Her/Hers
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MKM Gender Equity Team Director Chia Zhi Zhi talked to Shivali Gulati, a 17-year-old gender equity activist from San Francisco Bay Area. They chatted about the empowering females in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) and Girl Genius Magazine!

Chia: When I was doing some research before reaching out to you, I was really impressed with all of your work, especially Girl Genius Magazine! Can you tell the reader more about the magazine? 

Shivali: Even in 2020, social norms and abiding by gender stereotypes have contributed to the disproportionate ratio of men to women in engineering. Although the feminist movement has served as a catalyst for programs like Kode With Klossy & BUILTBYGIRLS, there is still a lot of work left to be done in terms of closing the gender gap in the technology industry and making stem a more comfortable and universally accessible space for all.  

 

As a result, I founded Girl Genius Magazine, an online magazine created by aspiring girls in STEAM which provides a platform for girls to learn about accomplished women in STEAM, showcase their projects, as well as connect with girls nationwide. Since 2018, our initiative has impacted over 150+ female change-makers from 40 different countries and seeks to ensure females (non-binary and trans-inclusive) and people of color are given a voice through our three mediums: magazine issues, blog posts, and YouTube videos. My mission at Girl Genius is to make girls feel that they belong and become leaders in the STEM community. Over the past four months, our team has been working on our empowerment issue, which you can read HERE.

Chia: What made you decide to establish Girl Genius Magazine? 

Shivali: Girl Genius Magazine was created after I saw the impact of girls being involved in stem programs such as Girls Who Code, BuiltByGirls, and Kode With Klossy. Despite living in the Bay Area, I struggled to find females interested in technology to work on projects with and noticed that many of my friends from different states had the same interests as me. During my sophomore year, I had many video calls with females interested in technology who lived in New York and Chicago in which we discussed app ideas we had, tips on navigating the tech industry as a high school student, and meeting more females in STEAM.  I wanted to create a platform through which connecting with girls with like-minded interests was easy and through that Girl Genius was born.

 

Chia: What has it been like starting GG magazine, recruiting members, and overseeing the magazine?

Shivali: Starting Girl Genius Magazine as a high school student was definitely a hustle.  After pitching the idea to one of my closest friends, I recruited girls, primarily from California, New York, and New Jersey, by posting on Instagram, Linkedln, slack groups, discord servers, Roundpier, and pitching the idea to female empowerment clubs at my school.  However, as our following increased with the support of BUILTBYGIRLS, recruiting girls became easy which has allowed our initiative to have several diverse voices. Although Girl Genius magazine is a big time commitment, overseeing the magazine has allowed me to grow as a leader.  For example, I decided to implement a directors system and choose not to be a director for our third issue; this served as a catalyst for productivity, more ideas being implemented like our Medium blog, and allowed me to spend time securing partnerships with initiatives, like Miss CEO and Kode With Klossy, to expand our impact. I like to call each and every one of our team members a female change-maker because we’re all working towards fueling social good in our community, which comes with a lot of work.  However, running Girl Genius is extremely fun and rewarding because of the great community of girls that help run our initiative. We recently had our first team bonding call and it lasted over 3 hours, despite all of us living all over the world. 

 

Chia: What was the response - positive and negative - from your community?

Shivali: The response from my community was really positive. Being recognized at the BUILTBYGIRLS submit, the Kode With Klossy Community, Wogrammer, and my school’s education board for my work at Girl Genius have confirmed that initiatives like Girl Genius – even if we only manage to convince 1 female a year that they can and are represented in STEM – are necessary to close the gender gap in STEM. Working with female change-makers worldwide through our team and the empowering women we feature on our social media platforms assures me that the future in STEM is female and I’m very excited to see even more girls be confident for their passion in STEM.

 

Chia: Other than GG magazine, do you do any other activism work to empower girls in the STEAM field?

Shivali: Yes! My contributions as the technology director at Superposition, the west coast’s largest all-female hackathon, have allowed hundreds of female and low-income students to learn about computer science and how rewarding it is to create something out of nothing. At Superposition IV, I mentored 200+ high school and college students in creating their first hackathon project for 24 hours.  Although I didn’t sleep, there is nothing that beats an attendee’s face when they finally make their code work after trying which is truly why I love supporting hackathons in the Bay Area.  

 

I’m also the president of Girls Who Code at my high school and love teaching 30+ girls each week how to build projects in computer science. Our club recently collaborated with the other female empowerment clubs and filmed a video for women’s history month that was presented at our school’s board meeting.

Chia: What do you think our society and our lawmakers in particular need to do better at when it comes to empowering girls and women in the STEAM field?

Shivali: I think the root of not having women and other minorities int the STEAM field comes down to how unaccessible computer science education is nationwide.  Although there’s been an increase in online resources, there is nothing comparable to having a computer science or engineering course at school that you can take.  For example, at my high school, I’m one of nine girls in the junior class who is part of the Engineering & Technology Academy, a three-year rigorous program where students complete college-level engineering coursework and learn how to CAD 3D objects.  Having the opportunity to be a part of this program at no cost has allowed to me grow my skill set in engineering, as I can now not only code but operate 3D printers, build robots, and CAD 3D objects all because of this one program. I think Lawmakers and society need to work towards making programs like E-Tech accessible at all high schools to allow anyone, including women, to see themselves as engineers.

Chia: Why do you think it’s important to connect with other young people, even young people who previously were not activists when it comes to creating change? 

Shivali: I think there’s a big misconception that high school students cannot create change because we aren’t equipped with the skills to do so.  By connecting students with like-minded interests through initiatives, like Girl Genius, you are allowing students to grow as leaders and have the ability to learn how to communicate, start initiatives, and most importantly overcome obstacles.

 

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

Shivali: Yes! My computer science story began in the fourth grade when I participated in an introductory coding class in which students were taught Drag N Drop code on code.org.  This course simply sparked my interest in engineering, which continued throughout high school as I learned Python and C++, built complex websites, and attended coding camps. However, as I attended more coding classes, I noticed the number of females and individuals in general in the courses decreasing drastically each year. Despite the Bay Area being the heart of technology, learning to code still remains a seemingly unreachable privilege to many.  The coding classes that I fortunately had the opportunity to attend are undeniably costly which prevents students from acquiring the skills needed to pursue a career in technology.  

 

To solve this problem, I co-founded Coding4Kids, a nonprofit initiative that is dedicated to fostering a love of coding in 350+ underprivileged students with chapters in California, Virginia, Texas, Massachusets, and India.  I have brought this program back to my elementary school where I learned to code for the first time and am excited to spark an interest in computer science in the next generation of students by expanding Coding4Kids worldwide.

 

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

Shivali: Just start. I had the idea of Girl Genius Magazine and I pitched it to my best friend, who encouraged me to go with it. I then posted about the platform on my social media accounts and at school clubs and slowly began recruiting girls to create issue one. Girl Genius was not built overnight and did face a lot of obstacles, but over time we made it the top. If you have an idea, just get started. See what you need to make this successful and work towards achieving that goal, even if it takes time. 

AUDREY PE

@audreyisabelpe
@witechorg
She/Her/Hers
Audrey Pe.jpg

MKM Gender Equity Team Director Chia Zhi Zhi talked to Audrey Pe, an 18-year-old gender equity activist from Manila, Phillippines. They chatted about the gender gap in the STEM field in the Philippines and WiTech (Women in Technology)!

Chia: When I was doing some research before reaching out to you, I was really impressed with Women in Technology! Can you tell the reader about WiTech (e.g: the core values, mission, vision, the events held, etc)?

Audrey: Thank you! WiTech (Women in Technology) is a nonprofit organization that aims to educate, inspire, and empower youth to break gender barriers and use tech to make a difference in society. We envision a future wherein all youth—regardless of gender or socioeconomic status—can use tech to solve issues within their communities. Starting as a blog I launched at 15 that shared stories of women in tech from around the world, WiTech hosts an annual woman in tech conference (which was the first women in tech conference for students and by students in the Philippines back in 2018). We also bring CS and tech literacy modules to marginalized communities around the Philippines with little-to-no access to tech education.

 

Chia: What was the catalyst that prompts you to found WiTech? 

Audrey: After experiencing a lack of support in entering tech from my immediate community (teachers, peers, tech events I attended, etc.) I realized that I didn’t want to wait until I ‘grew up’ before making an impact on the world. Since the issue of gender inequality would continue to impact my generation unless things changed, I couldn’t do something to help. My reasoning was that I couldn’t sit and wait for the tech industry to change itself—I wanted to do something like a 15-year-old Filipina to help change the narrative surrounding what it meant to work in the ever-growing tech industry. 

 

Chia: What has it been like running and managing WiTech? Can you tell me your most memorable experience?

Audrey: Running and managing WiTech as executive director has been such a crazy experience. The nonprofit really picked up pace in terms of partnerships and projects while I was in my last two years of high school. Because of that, I had to juggle WiTech with academics (I did the rigorous IB program), college applications, and other extracurriculars at school (such as Model UN and tennis). Those two years taught me a lot about time management and prioritization. There would be days wherein I’d go to school from 7 AM to 3 PM, leave as soon as possible to give a talk after class, do my homework in Manila traffic, get home to do calls, and then study until 12-2 AM. I’d wake up at 4 or 5 AM the next day to study and looking back I can honestly say what drove me to keep up a schedule like that was an immense love of the work I do with WiTech and the reminder that my education at an international school was such a privilege that I needed to maximize. 

 

Chia: What was the response - positive and negative - surrounding your effects from your community and your peers? Did you find similarly minded STEMinist? 

Audrey: A positive outcome of WiTech would have to be the growth of the community. From writing blog articles alone in my bedroom in 2016, WiTech in 2020 is a registered nonprofit with 70+ members from three countries (Philippines, US, and UK). I no longer feel alone in the pursuit of equality in the tech industry and see that the work we do at WiTech is creating change within communities. For instance, our events have impacted over 1,100+ youth and taught 100+ how to code for the first time. On the flip side, some negative experiences I had dealt a lot with the culture of comparison that exists especially in high school. A couple of peers weren’t the most supportive of what I’d do with WiTech, which taught me a lot of lessons about shaking off the haters and just doing my own thing. After all, as my uncle put it, not everyone will like or appreciate what you do; you just have to keep moving forward. 

 

Chia: What other gender equity activism works have you done or are doing besides WiTech? 

Audrey: Besides WiTech, I try my best to use platforms online (like Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn) and offline (via public speaking at events, conferences, and schools) to start conversations about gender equality. My online platforms have content that shows what it’s like managing a nonprofit, my gap year experiences, and other quirky parts of my life. Meanwhile, my talks depend on the audience but usually focus on how I started WiTech and why more attention should be brought to the lack of diversity and accessibility in tech (especially in developing countries like the Philippines). 

Chia: What do you think our society and our lawmakers in particular need to do better at when it comes to empowering girls in the STEM field? 

Audrey: In the Philippines, the main barriers that I see preventing girls from entering STEM/tech as a whole are cultural norms and lack of tech integrated into the national curriculum.

Cultural norms include the notion that boys should go into STEM and girls should go into the humanities. Personally, I experienced a teacher telling me that she “couldn’t imagine me in tech and that I seemed to fit better in the humanities” after I expressed an interest in studying STEM in college. That experience happened in the ninth grade, a couple of months before I started WiTech. Intentional (and unintentional) sexist remarks containing notions of gender roles can harm so many girls from even expressing an interest in STEM--a major stepping stone to going into the field in the first place.

Lack of tech in the Philippine curriculum also hinders young girls from gaining exposure to potential careers in tech or simply getting their interest in STEM sparked. Because schools are not required to teach CS, many boys pursue it separately either through clubs or other means outside the classroom. By the time they enter CS classes in college, they likely already have the experience that many girls lack should they choose to take their first CS classes in college.

Calling out sexist remarks and microaggressions that perpetuate gender norms can create room for conversations about why STEM is so male-dominated and how we can begin to change that. Additionally, having a national CS curriculum established can go a long way in terms of ensuring that all young people--regardless of their gender--get some sort of exposure to tech so they can have the potential to explore it as a future career path. I could honestly write a whole essay based on this question because there are such a plethora of factors that go into how to get more girls in STEM.

Chia: Why do you think it’s important to connect with other young people, even young people who previously were not activists when it comes to creating change? 

Audrey: We need more youth activists because youth are simply the future. The world that we are seeing growth and change is the world we are going to deal with when we get older. If we want seats at the table in which decisions are being made about our futures, we need to speak up and engage with adults (even if they try to shut us out).

RIDA YUMN AHMED

@rida.yumn.ahmed
She/Her/Hers
Rida.jpg

MKM Gender Equity Team Member Himani Kalra interviewed Rida Yumn Ahmed, a 17-year-old gender equity activist from India. They chatted about the female empowerment in the STEM field and Rida's experience as a STEMinist!

Himani: What made you passionate about promoting STEM education to girls?

Rida: My life completely changed when I chose the path of STEM to create a positive impact. It happened when I became the Young Member of ‘The New York Academy Of Sciences’, which is one of the oldest scientific societies in the United States. I was selected for three of their STEM programs. Through the program ‘1000 Girls, 1000 Futures’, a groundbreaking initiative designed to engage young women interested in STEM and advance their pursuit of STEM careers through mentoring and 21st-century skills development, I felt really encouraged to promote STEM to other girls! More specifically, I am extremely lucky to be mentored by the magnificent Ms. Nicole Bjorklund (Assistant Director, Scientific Affairs at Alzheimer's Drug Discovery Foundation, New York City)!

 

Being a STEMinist, I believe that more girls should be a part of STEM to close the gap and that equality and representation are very important in this field as well. I am very thankful to have female STEM mentors to look up to and to encourage me in my passion! This privilege made me realize that I want to play a part in discovering the potential of youth changemakers. So, I mentor girls in the form of Skype interactions, meet-ups, workshops, field trips, etc. Not every girl is encouraged to get into STEM due to gender stereotypes, male-dominated cultures, a lack of female role models, low confidence, and anxiety in STEM topics. The percentage of women in STEM has fluctuated from 25%, down to 24%, and finally up to 26% in 2018. This was a wake-up call for me as I strive to work on closing this gap and ensuring that girls get what they deserve in the STEM field. 

Himani: Tell me about your other work in gender equity activism.

Rida: I conduct interactions and workshops on "Challenges Girls Face And Ways To Empower Them". The aim is to empower girls, to help them develop a voice and leadership skills. We share our opinions and experiences and also ways to promote feminism and to end misogyny. The interactions prove to be an effective platform for networking, imbibing new methods of development, building connections, and giving insights into the opportunities for girls. Occasionally, I will utilize my international connections by inviting them to interact and mentor the girls to give them more global exposure! I believe that the girls understand that the power lies within them and by subverting the patriarchy, they can come together to find solutions to global challenges and unleash their ability. 

 

Himani: That’s very interesting! Can you tell us more about what you did in the workshop you conducted?

Rida: I got an invitation from a Girl Up Club in Albania to conduct a productive workshop on Challenges Girls Face and Ways to Empower Them. The aim of the workshop was to empower girls, to help them develop a voice and leadership skills. 

 

I recognized that this would be a great opportunity to discuss the many issues girls face across borders and so, I decided to invite the girls I mentor to be a part of the interaction as well! I was so glad the girls were there beside me throughout the workshop because they really gave me a boost as I conducted the Skype interaction. 

 

Even from the ice-breaking session, I was already feeling amazed and inspired by the stories, dreams, and aspirations of so many amazing young women from around the world! Throughout the workshop, we discussed the challenges of a girl in STEAM, the current scenario of gender inequality in our respective countries, the measures the citizens and the government are taking to improve the situation, how males can play a major role in ensuring gender equality in society, and how we can grow together in a community by supporting each other. We also exchanged an array of questions to further understand the concept of gender equity. I was happy to see my mentees being involved in this fruitful discussion and having a global exposure as it was their first international interaction on the topic of gender equity. Other than that, I also shared some tips and my personal experiences in STEAM and as a youth advocate! 

 

Himani: How did you realize the impact of your workshops on your participants?

Rida: I realized my impact on the participants when they began to express that they were inspired by my journey and considered me as their role model! They also mentioned how the one-to-one interaction gave them encouragement to step outside of their comfort zones and start exploring their passion. I saw their aroused curiosity from their numerous questions on how to start their journey in being a leader, how to start their exploration into STEAM, and how to a vocal and empowered female youth advocate. This really made me believe that I could make an impact on a girl’s life!

 

Himani: What has been the response from your community surrounding your efforts?

Rida: The community has been really supportive. Of course, there are always brickbats, but then those are part and parcel of life, and I usually choose to ignore them. My family has been really supportive and encouraging, and this helps me to develop a positive bent of mind! As a youth advocate for various issues, my community would sometimes help me to brainstorm on it and help me find solutions to global challenges by broadening my perspective and also increasing my interest to explore about different cultures and to develop multicultural relations so that I can understand how we can work together to make this world a better place to live in!

Himani: What do you think our society needs to do better when it comes to promoting STEM education for women?

Rida: In terms of the most prestigious awards in STEM fields, fewer have been awarded to women than to men. Between 1901 and 2017 the female:total ratio of Nobel Prizes was 2:207 for physics, 4:178 for chemistry, 12:214 for physiology/medicine, and 1:79 for economic sciences.

We need to defy these statistics. We need to make girls identify themselves with the women in STEM and for that, we need to bring forward stories of Female STEM Superheroes. We need to celebrate the accomplishments of them.

 

My mentor, Ms.Megan O' Shea, who is a manufacturing engineer and a STEM coordinator in the Aerospace and Food Industries, gifted me a book titled 'Women In Science – 50 fearless pioneers who changed the world' by Rachel Ignotofsky. This book helped me realize all the things these female STEM role models and I have in common. 

 

The society needs to start realizing that STEM is not just about a laboratory or a research center. We need to make STEM education a part of our daily life and identify the component which matches with our day to day activities. 

 

According to the UNESCO groundbreaking report Cracking the code: Girls’ and women’s education in STEM, only 35% of STEM students in higher education globally are women. This is due to the general mindset that girls cannot excel in STEM. Issues of low confidence and anxiety towards STEM subjects arise in girls as young as a third grade! We need to work harder to encourage them to pursue STEM in higher education as well as getting a job in the field!  Comments like "Girls do not have a scientific temperament" should be avoided because they are harmful and definitely not true! If she is facing any issues, she should be encouraged to overcome the hurdles and should not be discouraged because of her gender.

Himani: What advice would you give to other young people who want to change the world?

Rida: With many more great things coming up each day, I am surprised at the avenues the world has opened up for young people. I have always felt that youth has the power to change the world and be the voice. I firmly believe in one saying: “Generation Z doesn’t wait for the future. They build the future.” One should always remember that our lives are not just ours but we owe it to hundreds of people who will be affected by our actions. Every time when a junior or a young girl brimming with energy comes to me saying that I inspire her or she wants to do something like me, it forever amazes me that my actions could mean so much. However, this is also potentially a double-edged sword as one wrong step could affect someone else’s life – someone other than my loved ones. Young people should roll up their sleeves and follow their passion in making differences in the world. When in doubt, just believe in Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi's quote: "Be the change you wish to see in the world!"

HIMANI KALRA

@
She/Her/Hers
2.jpg

MKM Gender Equity Team Member Rida Yumn Ahmed talked to Himani Kalra, a 16-year-old gender equity activist from Atlanta, Georgia, our new Gender Equity Team Member. They chatted about Every Girl Matters, raising awareness about female gendercide, and her work with the Invisible Girl Project!

Rida: I am really impressed with all of your work, especially Every Girl Matters! Can you tell me more about “Every Girl Matters”?

Himani: I started a project called “Save the Girl Child” a few years ago. Its mission is to raise awareness about female infanticide and female feticide. Female infanticide is the deliberate killing of a newborn female child by her family. It most commonly happens immediately after birth or within the first year of the girl’s life. Female feticide is the deliberate selective abortion of a female fetus after prenatal sex determination, thereby preventing a girl child from even being born. The scale of these issues is huge - female gendercide has silently claimed the lives of over 200 million girls in the world. As I developed my work and addressed its root causes; one of which is to raise social awareness and make people across the globe aware of this issue – I set up a Facebook page called “Every Girl Matters”. It has thousands of followers. Through this page, I post thoughtful articles and
newsworthy items to make the public realize the true depth and nuances of female gendercide.

Rida: What got you involved in the representation of females and gender equity specifically?

Himani: I am the 2nd daughter in an Asian family, from India. Though we live in the United States, I travel to India every year and have often stayed for months at a time. Female infanticide and female feticide are problems predominantly prevalent in South Asian and East Asian countries, particularly in India and China, which are two of the world's most populous countries. In these countries, for a variety of reasons, boys are culturally preferred over girls.


Since I have spent so much time in India, I have come to understand the patriarchal influences and different reasons that lead to female gendercide. It is a complex issue in which poverty, culturally ingrained preferences for a male offspring, societal problems like dowry, government family-restriction policies, and lack of education – lead to a devaluation of the girl-child in people’s mind and therefore the cavalier decision to terminate a life. Now, due to immigration, female gendercide is also being seen in cultural communities in the UK, Canada, and the United States. The fact that countries outside of Asia are demonstrating a propensity to abort females at high rates, shows that no culture or country is immune to gender discrimination in the form of female infanticide and feticide. Rather, this is a human global problem.

 

Rida: What has it been like working to raise awareness about female gendercide?

 

Himani: It is been an eye-opening for people to hear about gendercide. Even though many are educated and socially progressive, they do not realize the true scale of female gendercide. This is an unspoken, ignored topic - the darker underbelly of many countries – and people simply do not realize it is happening or its magnitude and implications. The unchecked killing of baby girls has had serious consequences in the countries where gendercide is being practiced. The male-female sex ratios have
been seriously skewed with only 940 girls per 1000 boys, and some areas, the numbers falling as low as 850 girls for 1000 boys. This has led to an increase in crime, trafficking, child brides, the poverty cycle perpetuating, population decline, social instability, and labor market economic distortions due to the potential of one gender not being recognized. Other than Asia, gendercide is being seen in cultural communities in developed countries like the UK, US, and Canada - through skewed sex ratios at birth (SRB’s). A normal SRP is usually 106 boys to 100 girls. When gendercide is being practiced, the ratios change -shifting as high as 130 boys for 100 girls – due to female feticide. This has a great impact on countries when it continues unchecked. Yet people are often unaware this is happening in their communities or choose to ignore it!


Working to raise awareness about female gendercide is not like waving a magic wand to wish a problem away. It is a complicated multi-factorial issue that has been years in the making and is embedded in the societal and cultural consciousness. Working to eradicate it, means not only raising social awareness about the issue but also actively working for the empowerment of the girl-child and ensuring her education and health so that she can survive and thrive.

 

Rida: How has been your experience working as an ambassador for the Invisible Girl Project?

Himani: The Invisible Girl Project is a non-profit organization based in North Carolina, the USA that is working to end female gendercide in India. It rescues girls who are in troubled homes and vulnerable situations and who are at risk for gendercide and trafficking. It also assists Indian organizations in working for health, education, and empowerment of women. The girls that are rescued by IGP come from vulnerable situations and have faced abuse and neglect by their families. IGP provides them a safe
place, stabilizes their living situations, and arranges for their care, education, and eventual adoption. One goal of IGP is to ensure that these girls know that they are precious, loved, and valued – to promote a sense of self-worth. It asks for thoughtful cards and letters to be sent to the girls periodically throughout the year – delivering messages of hope and encouragement.


I have been involved in a number of letters drives, and my work to raise awareness about female gendercide led to my joining The Invisible Girl Project as a Brand Ambassador. Together, our collective voices become amplified as we fight to protect innocent girls whose lives are being snatched away. There are other organizations like Women’s Rights Without Frontiers that are also actively working against female gendercide in China.

 

Rida: What do you think our society and our lawmakers need to do better when it comes to empowering women and girls?

Himani: Female gendercide must first be recognized for what it is! Female infanticide constitutes one of the worst forms of human rights violations, where a girl is denied her most basic and fundamental right -“The right to life”. In terms of the sheer size of the atrocity, the number of victims claimed by female infanticide exceeds the number of deaths in World War I and World War II combined. It surpasses the number killed in all the genocides of the 20th century and has eliminated more people than the
AIDS epidemic or the great flu epidemic of the early 20th century. Female infanticide is a huge atrocity much like the decimation of Jews during the Holocaust.


It is important for all of us, no matter what part of the globe we live in, to be concerned about female infanticide. The consequences of gendercide are adverse and far-reaching. In populations with skewed SRBs, the very fact that many millions of girls have been deliberately eliminated simply because they would have been female establishes a social reality that colors the whole realm of human relationships. Sex-selective termination tears at the very fabric of liberty by denying equal protection under the law to one half of the population. The preference for boys and gender inequities will not change without outside intervention. Failure to address female gendercide is a failure to address the role of women in society. Gender equality lies at the very heart of each country’s successful progress and development. The loss of the girl child in society is a tragedy of lost potential. We must join forces to ensure that sex-selection is understood as discrimination against girls and must end.


To end gendercide, society and lawmakers must address it on many levels. Raising awareness by educating families, banning gender-based abortions, passing equal opportunity employment laws, revising patriarchal family laws to give girls more rights, improving girls health through free vaccinations and medical care, and subsidizing free schooling for girls will all go a long way in
empowering girls.

Rida: Why do you think it’s important to establish organizations like Neelok Foundation? Describe your journey in empowering society through this institution.

Himani: I have co-founded a non-profit organization with my sister called The Neelok Foundation. It is in memory of my grandmother who was a pediatrician who lived in India and died of oral cancer. She treated children of the slums, and we were deeply inspired by her spirit of service. She strongly believed in the potential of the girl-child and the need to invest in her health and educational upliftment. The Neelok Foundation honors the name of her medical practice – The Neelok Medical Center – and is working to support the education and healthcare of girls in low-income communities where gendercide and patriarchal mindset are known to be prevalent and the early detection of oral cancer to decrease its high mortality rates. The Neelok Foundation is supporting free vaccinations and health camps for girls and the setting up of rural/village schools by Ekal. It is also continuously working to raise social awareness of gendercide and oral cancer.

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

Himani: One of the projects that I am working on is the support of Ekal schools through fundraising. The Ekal Foundation is a non-profit organization involved in education development in rural areas and villages of India. Since village children cannot get to school, Ekal’s mission is to bring the school to them. It is the largest grassroots, non-government educational initiatives in India with a presence in 96,000+ villages. It provides free education to more than 2.6 million children, especially focusing efforts on girls. $365 sponsors education for one Ekal school and 35 students. Ekal is able to maintain a dollar-a-day cost because it works with a low overhead budget and is supported by the villagers with whom it works. Since tackling and eradicating female gendercide ultimately involves addressing the root causes – one of which is the imperative need for education of girls, my project
work is actively partnering to support and sponsor multiple Ekal schools. We are also committed to sponsoring two girls each year for free schooling and medical care funded through The Neelok Foundation.


Rida: Can you discuss the challenges faced in countries where there is a One-Child policy in reference to the awareness you are creating.


Himani: The One-Child policy was introduced in China in 1979 to set a limit and control the size of the rapidly growing population. It lasted three decades before the government announced a reversion back to a two-child limit in 2015. However, during its time, the government monitored its compliance through enforced contraception, abortion, sterilization, and fines and harassment for violations. Atrocities like women being strapped on tables and forced into abortions, often in late stages of pregnancy were reported. The Chinese Communist Party has boasted that it "prevented” 400 million births (of which most were female) through its One Child Policy, a mind-numbing statistic! Some of these practices are still continuing even though the policy has been discontinued.


The resultant consequence is that China has a serious female deficit and faces among the world's most severe gender imbalances. According to official estimates, there are currently 60 million more males than females in China and it is estimated that in a population of 25 million babies born each year, there are 750,000 more males than females. In a hearing before the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, demographic experts have warned that China's large number of “surplus males; will lead to societal instability and higher crime rates and has already increased the trafficking of women and girls. It will also cause population decline and by 2100 the population of China, according to predictions, could plummet to 700 million from its current 1.3 billion, in part due to the many years of female baby killings. However female gendercide continues unabated. Women’s Rights Without Frontiers, that is crusading against gendercide in China, has substantial information on its website.

MAYA RAO

@maya_rao
Maya Rao.png

MKM Gender Equity Team Director Chia Zhi Zhi talked to Maya Ghosh Rao, a 15-year-old gender equity activist from California. They chatted about women's access to education and She Dreams!

Chia: When I was doing some research before reaching out to you, I was really impressed with all of your work, especially She Dreams! Can you tell us about She Dreams?

Maya: As our mission says, She Dreams strives to bring the power of education to disadvantaged and underserved children. We host succulent planting fundraisers in communities around San Francisco Bay Area. The funds are used to build libraries and provide educational programs in underfunded schools. We also work with youths that have special needs by bringing them sensory learning workshops. I started She Dreams when I was in 7th grade. I was already selling succulent container gardens through an Etsy store and Craigslist, but I wanted to do something meaningful with the profits so I started She Dreams.

Chia: What got you so involved in being an activist for female education? Can you identify a specific catalyst?

Maya: I’ve been lucky enough to be surrounded by many educated women throughout my life. So, from an early age, I appreciate the importance of education in female empowerment and the power it has to increase a person’s quality of life. When I found out that some women were not getting access to education, I knew that I had to do something about it. I understood that education is such a valuable tool. One of my main influences is my grandmother who received a PhD in a time and place where it was unheard of for women to be educated, especially to that extent. 

 

Chia: What has it been like organizing events to bring the power of education to disadvantaged and underprivileged children, especially girls? Can you tell us some memorable anecdotes?

 

Maya: People from my community have come together for the common goal of education for all because of She Dreams. For example, at a recent She Dreams fundraiser to open a library in a rural school in India, people from ages 9 to 80 came together. The stories they shared were so inspiring!

Something memorable to me was when Ms. Sarkar, who lives in the community, attended a fundraiser, and shared the story of her parents who lived in a mining community in India. Her parents noticed that the miners’ children were not going to school and the wives of the miners were staying home. So, they started a school at their home which has grown into a school that is educating hundreds of children today. Ms. Sarkar’s mom started teaching the miners’ wives how to make and sell condiments. It evolved into a store that is still run and managed by the miners’ wives. 

I also met Sandie, a successful pharmaceutical executive who grew up in Guyana. Sandie told me about her childhood, in which she often did not have the means to purchase sanitary products keeping her out of school. However, she was resilient and continued to study. She was thrilled that She Dreams is helping keep girls in her previous situation in school. 

Chia: What was the response – positive and negative – surrounding your effects from your community and your peers? Did you find similarly minded activists who were also willing to take on this important issue?

 

Maya: The response from the community has been overwhelmingly positive. As I mentioned before, people have been super supportive and willing to share their experiences regarding women’s’ education and other related issues.

 

Chia: What do you think our society and our lawmakers in particular need to do better when it comes to ensuring that girls are afforded the same opportunities to education as boys?

 

Maya: I think that as a society we should be more aware of the different ways that girls are deprived of educational opportunities. For example, almost a third of girls who drop out of high school do it because of teenage motherhood. While in the U.S. we are provided public education, lawmakers should take factors like teen pregnancy into consideration to find ways to provide these young mothers with the education they need.

Chia: Why do you think it’s important to connect with other young people, even young people who previously were not activists when it comes to creating change?

Maya: It is so important to connect with other young people because change cannot come from one person. Without a community of people who believe in change, it is impossible to truly create an impact.

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

Maya: There is a very interesting research project that I am working on. I am looking at the effect of antipoverty measures on teen childbirth in the U.S. As you may know, teen childbirth/motherhood is a major cause for girls dropping out of High School. My research shows that providing anti-poverty measures to persistently poor communities reduced teen childbirth. I plan to publish my findings soon. 

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

Maya: My advice would be to seek out other people and build a community that can help you achieve your goals. Don’t sit around and wait for someone else to make the first move. “Be the change you wish to see in the world” -Mahatma Gandhi

DIVYA SRINIVASAN

@divya_srinivasan
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MKM Gender Equity Team Director Chia Zhi Zhi talked to Divya Srinivasan, a 17-year-old gender equity activist from Orlando, Florida. Divya is also apart of MKM's mental health team. They chatted about the gender gap in the STEM fields and Girls for Science.

Chia: When I was doing some research before reaching out to you, I was really impressed with your work, especially Girls for Science! Can you tell the reader about Girls for Science?

Divya: Girls for Science was started by my twin sister (Sweta Srinivasan) and me in 2017. We started the organization after conducting a workshop with another organization called North South Foundation. We teamed up with them to teach a group of students in India about disease prevention and the scientific method. After we had this opportunity, we realized that we had a true passion for passing on our scientific knowledge through education and advocacy. Since then, we have grown our organization immensely and have an amazing team of strong, young women whom we work with to increase our outreach!

Chia: What got you involved in youth and student activism specifically? Can you identify a catalyst?

Divya: The main reason I became involved with student activism is that I identified a problem. Much like the start of a science experiment, I identified a problem that I wanted to solve. In this case, it’s the gender gap and the overall inequality within the STEM fields. I needed to come up with a way to try and solve this problem, so I decided to start from the beginning. It is now the goal of Girls for Science to teach young students about STEM and hopefully inspire them to learn more about the STEM fields as they continue to advance in their educational journey.

 

Chia: What are some of the most memorable events/instances for you when starting and running GFS?

 

Divya: The most memorable event that I have experienced while running Girls for Science was at the very end of our first India-based workshop. We taught a large group of students and on the last day, I got to truly interact with each student as a friend rather than an instructor. I had the opportunity to speak with them and answer all of their questions regarding life in America. The genuine interest that each student had towards learning more was definitely inspiring for me. Being able to understand that you have a direct positive impact on someone truly keeps me going with what I do in the realm of student activism.

Chia: What has it been like organizing events to encourage girls to enter the STEM field across the globe?

 

Divya: It has definitely been a mix of both fun and stress! I love what I do and being able to have a global outreach is so amazing! The collaboration, communication, and effort that our team puts into creating quality work are what makes Girls for Science so successful. In order for me to balance my life between activism, school, and family, I have to prioritize my tasks, something that can be a bit of a difficult task for me. My family has been so supportive and they definitely help me out and make the overall process of balancing all of the work that I have to do so much less stressful!

 

Chia: What was the response - positive and negative - 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 empowering girls in the STEM field?

 

Divya: I am so grateful to have gotten an overwhelmingly positive response from my community and peers! Once I announced Girls for Science on my social media, the people around me were so supportive of our mission, something that has helped us get to where we are now. Through Girls for Science, I have had the amazing opportunity to communicate and collaborate with others who have a similar mission to that of Girls for Science. We have also built up a team of over 30 young women from around the world who help make Girls for Science what it is today!

Chia: What do you think our society and our lawmakers in particular need to do better at when it comes to encouraging girls to enter the STEM field?

Divya: The first step to fixing any problem is acknowledging that there is a problem. Society and lawmakers should both acknowledge the fact that there is a gender gap in the STEM fields (as statistically proven) in order to progress with positive change. Creating a positive environment in which change can be made is one of the most impactful things that society can do in order to move forward with creating change.

Chia: Why do you think it’s important to connect with other young people, even young people who previously were not activists when it comes to creating change?

Divya: It is so important to connect with other young people who are not activists in order to spread the message about what I do. Connecting with students who are not activists allows people to enter the world of activism and increase overall outreach. Providing new opportunities for young students who have never entered the realm of activism allows for students to gain the chance to take part in a greater movement and opens up a wide variety of opportunities.

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

Divya: We are currently in the process of conducting a book drive with another student-led organization, Touch the Words! Because Girls for Science is about education and the positive impact that education can have on a community, we are collecting books for students to be able to gain the opportunity to increase their English literacy. We also just opened a new chapter of Girls for Science in Melbourne, Australia! We are so excited to be extending our outreach globally and are so thrilled to be able to positively impact many more students throughout the world. We are always looking for new ways to expand and get the word across!

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

Divya: One of the biggest pieces of advice that I have for younger people who want to enter the realm of student activism is to not give up. Activism is difficult. It takes a lot of time, patience, perseverance, and support. You are fighting for a change in a world that is inherently against it. It’s so important for young people to be able to just keep going despite what other people might think or say. Knowing that positive change is coming and working towards creating it is definitely what keeps me going.

CHRISTINE  MAZZI

@christine.mazzi
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MKM Gender Equity Team Director Chia Zhi Zhi talked to Christine Mazzi, a 17-year-old Ugandan-American gender equity activist from California, U.S.A. They chatted about The Woman of Color Project (ProjectWOC).  

Chia: When I was doing some research before reaching out to you, I was really impressed with all of your work, especially Project WOC! Can you tell the reader about Project WOC? 

Christine: The Woman of Color Project (ProjectWOC) is an Instagram-based community organization that strives to inspire and empower young women and girls of color.  We do so by launching different projects and initiatives that promote sisterhood and community. These include (but are not limited to) inviting successful women of color to do story takeovers on our account, a mentorship program between high school girls and college students, and a College Application Assistance Series that takes place via Instagram Livestream.

Chia: What got you involved in youth and student activism specifically? Can you identify a catalyst?

Christine: I do not think there was one catalyst per se, but I can say that after starting ProjectWOC in 2018, my involvement in student activism spiked. I found myself seeing the things that the women who hosted were up to, and felt an instant inspiration to do similar work. I have always been that girl in Socratic seminars during English and History class who did not fear to vocalize my opinions and support for marginalized communities, so seeing what I could be doing with my passion through the actions of ProjectWOC hosts sparked my involvement.

 

Chia: What has it been like reaching out to many talented young women of colour and running the project?

 

Christine: It has been extremely fun! Before someone hosts, either I or my outreach coordinator would orchestrate a consultation call to break down the hosting process. During these 15 minute conversations, my hope for humanity is restored. Talking to these young women is rejuvenating. This is because we all have a common goal – to inspire the younger generation. So, our conversations end up flowing quite easily. Getting to meet all these women is honestly one of the best parts of leading ProjectWOC.

 

Chia: What was the response - positive and negative - 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 empowering woc and giving them a platform to shine?

 

Christine: The response from my community and peers has been overall positive. My friends and family have especially been very supportive of the work that I do with this platform. Additionally, I have met some amazing and like-minded activists through ProjectWOC. Granted we only communicate via Instagram and text messages, I have been blessed to make so many new friends through my work.

 

Chia: What do you think our society and our lawmakers in particular need to do better at when it comes to empowering women of colour?

 

Christine: Our society in particular needs to allow for affinity groups and movements for WOC by WOC to thrive. Oftentimes these groups are dubbed as discriminatory for simply seeking to uplift their communities. Other than promoting diversity and inclusion in their policies and actions, society and lawmakers should simply support these organizations in their endeavours.

Chia: Why do you think it’s important to connect with other young people, even young people who previously were not activists when it comes to creating change?

 

Christine: I think it is important to connect with other young people, even young people who previously were not activists when it comes to creating change because it truly takes every single one of us to catalyze progression. Besides, if it weren’t for the Project WOC hosts who show their unapologetic activism during their takeovers, I would not be as involved as I am today. It takes nothing but one person to encourage another to become more socially aware. That is why we need to constantly talk about what’s going on in the world to anyone and everyone. 

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

Christine: This June, ProjectWOC will be launching the Second Cohort of our mentorship program. This is a program where past hosts sign up to mentor viewers and followers for a certain duration of time. If you are a high school or middle school student looking for help with anything (WOC related or not), be on the lookout! 

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

Christine: I would say one thing: take the leap. Sometimes it can be scary to speak out and shed light on issues that are dubbed ‘sensitive’, but if you don’t do it then who will? Plus, it is insanely fulfilling to use your voice for good. So take that leap and say something. You might be surprised as to what and who it may lead you to.

ALISHA SYAKIRA  TRIAWAN

@alishasstt
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MKM Gender Equity Team Director Chia Zhi Zhi talked to Alisha Syakira Triawan, a 16-year-old gender equity activist from Jakarta, Indonesia. They chatted about PERIOD@Jakarta, Indonesia, and Girl STEMpowerment Jakarta. 

Chia: When I was doing some research before reaching out to you, I was really impressed with PERIOD @ Jakarta, Indonesia, and Girl STEMpowerment Jakarta! What got you involved in youth and student activism specifically?

Alisha: Well, when I was in elementary school, I always told myself that someday I want to change the world! At the age of about 11 to 12, I wrote 5 Indonesian children's books and short stories for competitions and the media to promote moral values, but it did not feel enough. I constantly saw many people demanding action, especially women and girls here in Indonesia who are struggling under patriarchy! I saw minorities trying to find where they belong, seeking justice and acceptance. I saw silence from authorities and communities. I saw people giving me weird looks when I started to talk about normal things that Indonesian culture still categorized as taboos.

So, what can a shy, introverted, insecure girl like me do? I choose to stand up and start organizing something impactful. I choose to keep working to amplify the voice of the marginalized (especially girls and women)!

Chia: What has it been like organizing events to fight period poverty and empower girls to strive for a better future in STEM across Indonesia?

 

Alisha: There still aren’t still many Indonesian youths organizing activism events and projects. So, naturally, there are some struggles, which are mostly from adults who are sometimes quite hesitant to accept our partnerships and give us a license. It took great efforts to convince adults that children can make impactful events and projects too.

Despite the hurdles, I always enjoy the process. For the project to end period poverty, I feel delighted when PERIOD@Jakarta, Indonesia can finally give homeless women and their daughter's proper menstrual products; I feel ecstatic when we started to advocate that menstruation isn't, and shouldn’t be, taboo and we don't have to hide our pads in sleeves. 

 

As for Girl STEMpowerment Jakarta, I feel so energized when fellow girls from educated families passionately share their knowledge with younger girls. It really motivates me to think that one day, the local government would notice our movement, and maybe even lend a hand to us!

 

Chia: What was the response – positive and negative – surrounding your effects from your community and your peers? 

 

Alisha: Most of my family and friends support me and my activism. However, there are some people in my community who said that I am too 'feminist' or even too 'secular' (In Indonesia, being secular and liberal can be controversial). No matter what they say, nothing will affect any of my upcoming activism! I know what I want to do and I don't need the negativity.

 

Chia: What do you think our society and our lawmakers in particular need to do better at when it comes to ending period poverty and empowering girls in the STEM field?

 

Alisha: Since I live in a conservative area, so demanding to stop any taboo and the stigmatizing of women is the first thing I would think of! When it comes to ending period poverty, I think the most important step for our society and lawmakers is to change our mindset towards menstruators – girls and women. As far as I'm concerned, there is still a lack of awareness among 'notable people' to embrace period positivity. 

 

As of women and girls in the STEM field, there aren’t any significant acts from lawmakers in order to reduce the gender gap of women and men workforce in the STEM fields. I believe that if they take the initiative to change the mindset regarding our capabilities in the field and start to realize that these issues are urgent, then they will start to work, act and enact better policies!

 

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

 

Alisha: My organizations are preparing for more STEM workshops and menstrual products funding projects.

I also keep writing on Indonesian online media about my organizations in the hope that more people will notice or support our upcoming projects. 

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

 

Alisha: Keep being you and do your job! Don't let other people bring you down! Your acts matter! Especially for fellow shy and Introverted girl like me who also wants to change the world, just walk out of your comfort zone! All of our work will pay off eventually!

SNEHAA GANESH KUMAR

@snehaaganesh
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MKM Executive Director Shayna Rutman talked to 17-year-old gender equity activist Snehaa Ganesh Kumar from California. They discussed the Queen Bee Project, PowerSchool, and mental health.

Shayna: What catalyst made you passionate about gender equity?

Snehaa: I aspire to be an astrophysicist; the wonder that I feel while looking up at the stars is unparalleled. I’ve known all my life that I wanted to pursue astrophysics, but I began to doubt myself. How was I going to make a career for myself in such a heavily male-dominated field? 

Last summer, I interned at PowerSchool. I met women that were often the only girl in the room, like Marcy Daniels: the CPO of PowerSchool, and the only woman on the executive team. Under the mentorship of her, and my advisor Monica Merrill, I realized that I had nothing to be scared about. When women have thrived in fields like computer science when there were even fewer women in these fields, why would I not be able to.

I didn’t want any other girl to doubt herself the way I did, ever. 

Shayna: Tell us about the queen bee project.

 

Snehaa: We have a dual mission, and two teams working on these missions: Team Queen and Team Bee!

Team Queen works to bring the stories of women in male-dominated fields to the light to inspire young women to pursue their dreams no matter what. So far we’ve interviewed Lilia Luciano (an Emmy winning journalist), and discussed the challenges a woman has to face as an aspiring journalist. We’ve also released a mini video series on Sevrine Banks, a female veteran, where she discusses her experience as a woman in the army (as well as the countless instances of prejudice she’s endured). Articles and videos are upcoming on Mayor Pro Tem Angelique Ashby and mental health activist Macy Lee!

Team Bee aims to aims to shatter social inequalities in academic competitions, disprove the stigma around failure, reduce competition anxiety, as well as increase knowledge of lesser known competitions like the astrophysics olympiad or the brain bee! So far, we’ve started a podcast called Spill the Bee, where we interview competitors about their failures, as opposed to the typical questions of “How did you feel when you won?” We believe that our failures define us, are fundamental to self-growth, and that failure is not something to be scared of. Also, we are partnering with Storybox Books - a nonprofit that distributes books to low-income communities - to develop curriculum to go alongside the books, emphasizing vocabulary. This will give low-income students a headstart on the skills required to compete in spelling bees! We are currently hosting the International Queen Bee, an international spelling bee that aims to recognize ALL our participants, and de-emphasize the ranking system. Lastly, we have hosted a state-wide neuroscience workshop in West Virginia to encourage participation in brain bees!

 

Shayna: What was the response surrounding your effects from your community and peers? 

 

Snehaa: More than I had ever expected. I announced my ideas on my Instagram prior to QBP’s launch, and put out an announcement for a team. I received an overwhelming response, and was able to handpick a team of dedicated and passionate individuals.

We have hundreds of reads on our articles, as well as 1000+ downloads on our first season of Spill the Bee, and 300+ on the first episode of our second season. On a recent article released about Sevrine Banks, someone commented that as a wounded veteran, she gathered hope and strength from Sevrine’s story. It’s the little comments like this from spellers, women, veterans, etc. that make me so thankful for making the decision to found the Queen Bee Project.

Also! At school, I used to be known as “the spelling bee girl.” Every time someone met me, they’d ask: “Oh you’re the girl who competed in the spelling bee, right?” But now, everyone asks me: “Don’t you run the Queen Bee Project?” It makes me proud to be recognized for something even more personal to me than the spelling bee.

 

Shayna: What do you think our society and lawmakers in particular need to do better when it comes to acknowledging the importance of gender equality?

 

Snehaa: I think in order to pass laws to improve girls’ education, close the gender wage gap, and tackle other gender equality based issues, we need more women in politics. With only a quarter of Congress being female, how can we expect a majority vote favoring one of the aforementioned policies? We should encourage more women to become politicians, and run for office.

 

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

 

Snehaa: I’m currently planning a school district-wide neuroscience week, filled with activities and speakers to do with neuroscience! I want to increase participation in our local brain bee, and give our aspiring neuroscientists some more exposure to the topic. I’m also working on restarting a book blog that I started about two years ago! But most importantly, I’m taking some time for myself, reflecting on high school, and preparing myself for the enlightening journey that college will be.

 

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

 

Snehaa: We all have that one issue that’s so personal to us, that we long to change. Some of us even have ideas to fix these issues, but acting on it seems so far-fetched.

My advice is to go for it. If you know the issue is one that impacts people, and you can think of a way to reduce this impact, the world needs you.

SWETA SRINIVASAN

@sweta_srinivasan
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MKM Gender Equity Team member Shayna Rutman talked to Sweta Srinivasan, a 17-year-old gender equity activist from Central Florida. They chatted about Girls for Science, STEM, and workshops.

 

Shayna: What drove you to get involved in student activism?

 

Sweta: I have always had a love for the STEM fields, specifically science. I think it is such a fascinating field with so many opportunities. I realized that I was so privileged to have the opportunity to even learn about STEM and was encouraged when I was young to pursue a career in STEM. This passion drove me and my twin sister, Divya Srinivasan, to create Girls for Science about 3 years ago. We believe that all girls should have the opportunity and support to pursue their career in the STEM fields if they are willing to put in the work. 

 

Shayna: What catalyst made you passionate about gender equity?

 

Sweta: We realized that not every girl that is encouraged to pursue a STEM career has access to learning about the various STEM fields, which drove us to start Girls for Science. I am very grateful for all the support and the opportunities I have been given, and I want to give other young girls the same opportunities. 

 

Shayna: Tell me about Girls for Science and what drove you to promote the cause?

 

Sweta: We felt that more girls needed empowerment and drive that they can pursue a career in the STEM fields if they are willing to put in the work. We wanted them to realize that they are just as capable as any other person to enter the STEM fields. Through Girls for Science, we have conducted workshops with 8th graders in India about influential women in STEM and about disease prevention. Also, here in Central Florida, we have held workshops for 1st-5th graders about influential women in STEM and conducting different science experiments. Through this exposure, we strive to show them the importance of STEM and they can make a huge impact through STEM. 

 

Shayna: What do you think our society and lawmakers in particular need to do better when it comes to acknowledging the importance of gender equality?

 

Sweta: I believe that our society and lawmakers need to focus on the idea that all genders need to work together to create a successful society. Keeping this in mind, society and lawmakers should represent all people because as a collective group, we can make positive change and we can create a flourishing society.

 

Shayna: Do you have any plans for the future you would like to talk about?

 

Sweta: For the future, I would love to conduct many more workshops though Girls for Science. I feel this is the most effective way to interact with other girls who have a passion for STEM and to spread our goal. I also want to enter the STEM field when I am older to become a doctor. 

 

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

 

Sweta: If you have something you are passionate enough about and you want to see change, then speak out and take action. It can be scary sometimes, but if you are determined enough, then you will find a way to make positive change. 

SHARAYNA POGAKU

@sharanyapogaku
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MKM Gender Equity Team member Shayna Rutman chatted with Sharanya Pogaku, a 17-year-old gender equity activist from New Jersey. They talked about Period Kit Packing Parties, girls’ education, and just starting. 

 

Shayna: What made you passionate about gender equity issues?

 

Sharanya: I don’t think I’ve had one epiphany that made me become as passionate about

gender equality as I am now. As a child, I remember quietly noticing the ways that girls and

boys were treated differently. Now that I’m older, I’ve learned to say something when I noticed

discrimination (even if it was unintended). Seeing girls who aren’t being given the same

opportunities as their male counterparts or being forced into lives that they don’t want has made me furious, but I’ve learned to turn that frustration into action.

 

Shayna: Can you tell me about your organization Period Kit Packing Parties?

 

Sharanya: Period Kit Packing Parties is an organization that helps teen activists host period parties in their community. Period parties are magical events where people come together, donate period products, and pack period kits for homeless women. Imagine a room full of excited people bustling around to get every item into every personalized kit, sparking deep conversations about period stigma, and meeting new lifelong friends. They’re always nights of inspiration and community – and, of course, we always try to include pizza! We specifically help changemakers through the entire process of organizing one of these events. It started when I held my first party in NYC last year – the event was a success and we got to personally deliver the period kits we made to the local homeless shelter. Seeing the people we were helping was super inspiring and I knew I had to continue working. We’ve created a streamlined process to organize a period kit packing party and we guide the teens we work with through the entire process. So far, we’ve helped over 600 menstruators get the period products they deserve and we’re working with girls from North Dakota, Kenya, Texas, and other locations to organize period parties in their communities.

 

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

 

Sharanya: I think that fighting for gender equality starts at a young age. It’s super important to make sure all of the young girls in the world know that they can dream big and achieve their goals. We shouldn’t limit them from achieving their full potential – we need to equip them with confidence so that they can take on the world themselves. I’m also a strong advocate for girls’ education. We need to encourage every girl to be educated and use their knowledge as a means to transform their lives. In some developing countries, girls stop going to school once they get their period because of a lack of indoor plumbing facilities. It’s important to not let these issues get in the way of a girl’s future and this is another reason I’m passionate about fighting period poverty.

 

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

 

Sharanya: I think the hardest part of being a changemaker is starting off. And with that being said, the most important part is to just go ahead and start. Do something you’re passionate about. If there’s an issue that infuriates you or is keeping you up at night, then devise a plan of action and get out there to make change. It can be joining an existing organization or starting your own. Or writing something online or making a video. It can really be anything that you want, but if you’re interested in fighting an issue, then just do it. Taking that first step is half the battle (and it’s easier said than done) but once you put yourself out there and start taking on the world, nothing will stop you.

RENEE MENDONCA

@renee.mendonca.77
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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.

AINSLEY JEFFERY

@ainsleyjeffery
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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. 

CHIA ZHI ZHI 

@s.czhizhi
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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!

ALANA CURLEY

@alanacurley
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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. 

NATALIE GOLDBERG

@natalie.goldberg
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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. 

EMMA BURDEN

@emmaburden57
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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. 

STEPHANIE  YOUNGER

@blaquewomanist
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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.

VICTORIA BALLESTEROS

GONZALAZ

@ballesteros_gvictoria
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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. 

OLIVIA SELTZER

@thecrammnews
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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. 

SHAYNA RUTMAN

@shayyyyyyna
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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! 

CAROLINE SKWARA

@carolineskwara
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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.

CLARA MEYERS

@clara.meyers
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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.

LILLIAN MINOR

@lilly_minor_
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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.

ROXIE RICHNER

@roxierichner
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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.

ALLIYAH LOGAN

@alliyahlogan
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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.

MAYA SIEGEL

@maya.siegel
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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.

STHUTHI SATISH

@sthuthi.satish
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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.

RITA NGUYEN

@ritanguyenn
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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?

KATE DEGROOTE

@katedegroote
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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.

FATIMATA CHAM

@fatimatacham_
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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.

ADITI NARAYANAN

@aditinnn
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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.

AMANDA NOLAN

@theamandanolan
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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.

RUBY KARP

@rubykarp
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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!

© 2019 by Meddling Kids Movement