International Women’s Day is an annual, global event that pushes for women’s rights. In today’s political climate, there’s a lot to be done in achieving equality.
Feminism isn’t all pink hats and snappy tweets — to be an intersectional feminist, you need to acknowledge the many levels of inequality that affect women worldwide.
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From young women fighting for access to clean water to those advocating for gun control or acceptance and trans rights, here are seven young activists you should know about for International Women’s Day.
The woman tackling mental health stigma: Elyse Fox
Elyse Fox runs Sad Girls Club, an online and in-person community dedicated to promoting mental health awareness among young women. The 27-year-old got her start on Tumblr, where she wrote about struggling with depression. She released a short documentary about her mental health called Conversations with Friends one year ago.
After releasing Conversations with Friends, Fox received hundreds of messages from other young women struggling with mental illness. She created Sad Girls Club as a community to tackle the stigma surrounding mental illness and help other young women with access to therapy. In addition to the online platform, Sad Girls Club hosts monthly meetings in New York.
How to follow Sad Girls Club:
The teenager who organized a mass student walkout in NYC: Hebh Jamal
When Hebh Jamal was 15, she was featured in a New York Times article about young people facing Islamophobia in the midst of the 2016 presidential election. After the story was published, Jamal was invited to speak at local schools, and became politically active. At 17 years old, the first generation Palestinian-American organized a mass student walk-out in New York City to protest Trump’s travel ban against majority-Muslim countries.
Since then, she’s worked extensively to organize rallies and advocate against Islamophobic agendas. Still fresh out of high school, she’s now the Director of Public Relations of Integrate NYC, an advocacy group dedicated to diversifying public schools.
She told Broadly that although she understands that her activism is interesting because of her young age, she wants to create a movement of thousands of voices, not just her own. “I want to emphasize it isn’t about one person,” she said, “Although it’s really great that I’m able to have a platform that a lot of Muslim women are not able to have I really want to use it to emphasize that it needs to be a movement.”
How to follow Jamal:
The first transgender women’s officer in the British Labour Party: Lily Madigan
At only 20 years old, Lily Madigan is the first transgender person to hold public office as a women’s officer in the British Labour Party. She came out as trans when she was 16, but her Catholic high school threatened to suspend her if she presented as a woman in class and insisted on using her male name. Madigan visited law firms in London until she found one that would represent her for free. The school eventually apologized.
She was elected in November 2017 amidst pushback from other politicians who claimed that because Madigan was assigned male at birth, she was unqualified for the position of women’s officer.
Despite the transphobic tweets she’s received, she’s still determined to be the UK’s first trans member of Parliament. In a Guardian essay in remembrance of Harvey Milk, Madigan wrote: “I’m constantly attacked for running for women’s roles as a transwoman. Milk rightly spoke on ending the disenfranchisement of oppressed groups in politics, and how we can’t always be representative but we must be inclusive. To loosely paraphrase him: I fight for women because I’m one of them.”
How to follow Madigan:
The student taking on the NRA: Emma Gonzalez
Image: Rhona wise/Getty Images
Emma Gonzalez survived the mass shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, and has since become an outspoken advocate for tougher gun control in the United States. Her Feb. 17 speech in Fort Lauderdale, three days after the shooting, went viral. She called out politicians who accepted donations from the NRA, and implored her audience to contact their local representatives.
Gonzalez now has more Twitter followers than the NRA, and uses her platform to push for stronger gun control laws.
Friendly reminder that the argument to Protect Schools completely ignores Churches, Malls, Concerts, etc. that have also been host to mass shootings – we can’t build our world out of Kevlar, just remove the guns that cause the most carnage it’s so Simple
— Emma González (@Emma4Change) March 6, 2018
The high school senior also confronted NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch during a CNN Town Hall and told her, “I want you to know we will support your two children in a way that you will not.”
In an essay for Harpers’s Bazaar, Gonzalez criticized the adults who were skeptical of the teen-led movement. “We have always been told that if we see something wrong, we need to speak up; but now that we are, all we’re getting is disrespect from the people who made the rules in the first place,” she wrote, “Adults like us when we have strong test scores, but they hate us when we have strong opinions.”
How to follow Gonzalez:
You can keep up with Gonzalez’s activism on Twitter.
The woman who united Sioux youths to fight the DAPL: Jasilyn Charger
Jasilyn Charger co-founded the One Mind Youth Movement when she was 19 years old, after a wave of young people on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation died by suicide. The youth group, formed with Charger’s cousin Joseph White Eyes and friend Trenton Casillas-Bakeberg, petitioned the tribal council for youth safe houses. The youth movement became politically active and also protested the Keystone XL pipeline that would cut through the Cheyenne River and the Dakota Access pipeline that would go through the neighboring Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s land.
Charger and White Eyes formed a prayer camp in Standing Rock called “Sacred Stone.” Although it received little support from tribal elders, it became a safe haven from drugs and alcohol for native teenagers. To further raise awareness, One Mind Youth Movement ran a 500 mile relay run from North Dakota to Nebraska to deliver a letter to the Army Corps of Engineers. The letter asked the Army Corp to deny the pipeline’s access to the Mississippi River. The run involved young people from several Sioux reservations, according to the New York Times.
After the run, Charger and other members of the One Mind Youth Movement stayed at Standing Rock to continue to protest. She told Democracy Now that she wants more young women to get involved: “Don’t listen to the men. Don’t listen to people telling you to go away. Make that mind up for yourself.”
How to follow Charger:
Although Charger doesn’t have any public social media accounts, you can follow One Mind Youth Movement on Facebook.
The student who ran for city council: Nadya Okamoto
Nadya Okamoto made headlines last year when she ran for Cambridge City Council in Massachusetts at only 19 years old, making her the youngest candidate in the race. She ran on a platform of housing policy, focussing on the prevention of gentrification in Cambridge’s low-income neighborhoods. Although she ultimately lost the election, the Harvard College student remained active in civic engagement.
In 2014, she co-founded PERIOD, a nonprofit organization that distributes sanitary products to people in need, aiming to de-stigmatize menstruation through social and legal change. Okamoto’s family was homeless during her freshman and sophomore years of high school, and she noticed that care packages for homeless women often lacked menstrual products.
She was inspired to create PERIOD after conversations with other homeless women, who often resorted to unconventional and unsanitary methods because they couldn’t afford pads and tampons.
“It really is a huge obstacle to global development because it’s holding back more than half our population,” Okamoto told The Cut in 2016, “We say the menstrual movement is our push to make menstrual hygiene and menstruation a more open topic.”
How to follow Okamoto:
The girl fighting for clean water in Flint: Mari Copeny
Amariyanna “Mari” Copeny is one of the youngest activists on Twitter. The ten year old, who posts under the handle “Little Miss Flint” with her mother’s help, has been fighting for clean water in Flint, Michigan for the past few years. Copeny has organized water drives and distributed school supplies to other children in Flint, where costly bottled water claimed many families’ budgets. She also attended the Congressional hearings on the water crisis in Washington, DC.
She became famous for her letter to then-president Barack Obama in 2016, which prompted him to visit Flint himself. “Letters from kids like you are what make me so optimistic for the future,” he wrote back.
Copeny also met President Trump, who had a part in facilitating the $100 million EPA grant to fix Flint’s infrastructure. Her reaction to meeting him was noticeably different. She later criticized Trump in a video because “He didn’t even let me ask one question.”
Copeny also raised $16,000 through GoFundMe to help underprivileged children in Flint see Black Panther. The campaign raised enough to buy 750 tickets and Black Panther merchandise, according to the Washington Post.
Although Flint’s lead levels are low enough for federal standards, residents say they’re still experiencing negative effects. Copeny has been running a campaign called “Don’t Forget Flint,” selling shirts to remind people that the water crisis isn’t over. Proceeds will go to the anti-bullying program TSP.
How to follow Copeny:
You can follow Copeny on Twitter, where she frequently posts with her mother’s supervision.
The young advocates fighting for equality on all fronts show just what modern feminism should look like. There’s no such thing as “too young” to be an activist.