Girl activists have taken center stage in media and culture. From all corners of the world, girls are standing up for their rights, the rights of others, and the rights of planet Earth. These girls – all under the age of 21 – are leading the way in issues surrounding education, environmental and climate change, and social justice (excluding suffrage, which we covered in Young Suffrage).

Through their stories, and insights from two renowned researchers in young girls’ activism, we seek to spark discussion on girl power as a force for social good and spread awareness of the movements, and movers, leading the way to a better world.

Note: This exhibition includes content written by Girl Museum staffers before 2021. We love girl activists, and support their ongoing work from youth through adulthood. So, some biographies you see may have been written earlier than others. We continue to add new activists as they are covered on our blog.

Paola Gianturco

Paola Gianturco

Guest Curator

Paola Gianturco is an author/photographer who has documented women’s lives in 62 countries and had six books published.Paola Gianturco and her eleven-year-old granddaughter documented the work of fifteen girl-led nonprofit groups in thirteen countries in Asia and Central Asia, North and Latin America, the Middle East, Africa and Oceania. They interviewed and photographed 102 girls. 

Learn more about Paola’s work here or buy her book, Wonder Girls, here.

Gayle Kimball

Gayle Kimball

Guest Curator

Gayle Kimball, PhD, is the author of a dozen books, many of which explore groups under-represented in research, such as youth. Professor Emerita at California State University, she has traveled around the world to interview young people for her trilogy about global youth activism, young womenpermil;Ucirc;ordf;s issues, and how global youth viewpoints will change our future.

View her YouTube interviews here and buy her book, Brave: Young Women’s Global Revolutions here. You can also follow her on Twitter here.

Analyzing Girl Activism

In researching this exhibition, we asked our guest curators to reflect on girl activism in general. Their responses shed light on both their work and work by other girl studies scholars.

Why study girl activists?

Gianturco: Several reasons. Many people see girl activists as “the future” but right now, girl activists are enhancing education, health, equality, and the environment—and stopping child marriage, domestic violence, trafficking and war. Girls’ activism focusses on virtually all the world’s most intractable problems. Girls may have received the most publicity for working on issues like education, gun control and climate change, but those three are just the beginning. Girls’ eagerness to transform the world is fed by their unique, inherent, attributes: energy and intelligence, creativity and confidence, determination and dreams. 

With the exception of a few like Malala and Greta Thunberg, many girl activists have not been acknowledged or heard.  When girls ARE heard, they recognize their own strength. They understand each other more completely—and they collaborate to catalyze positive change that will affect them, their families, communities, countries and our world. 

 Most people don’t expect young girls to speak truth to power or to be strategic and effective. Girls are like Trojan Horses: they have the advantages of being a surprise!

 Girls’ youth works to their benefit: their creativity, stamina, and resilience win people over.

 Today’s girls are citizens of the world. They Skype, Snapchat, FaceTime, Instagram, and email across borders. Even in places where WiFi is iffy and phone service is unaffordable, girls text. Their world seems small and impact seems possible.

Dr. Kimball: Generation Z girl activists lead important social movements, including the all-important climate movement. In addition to Never Again’s Emma Gonzales and Jaclyn Corin leadership against gun violence, and Black Lives Matter activists, other female students are key players around the world like Agnes Chow in Hong Kong, Alaa Salah in Sudan, and Benjamaporn Nivas, 15. She is a leader of the Thai rebellion against military control of education. T-shirts proclaim, “Girl Power,” “Who runs the world? Girls.” A poster held by a girl in the “Women in White” Belarus demonstrations against President Alexander Lukashenko read “#Fight Like a Belarusian Girl.” Young Egyptian and Iranian women are using social media to protest violence against women, inspired by the global #MeToo movement. Previous girl and young women leaders of uprisings are described in Brave: Young Women’s Global Revolution.

What trends do you see in girl activism?

Gianturco: Girl activism is “catching.”  Greta Thunberg acknowledges that her activism was inspired by the youth activism against gun violence in Parkland, Florida. I documented “Greta’s” Fridays for Future large protests in four places,  New York City, Copenhagen, Mill Valley, California and Los Angeles…but millions of young people around the world have been inspired to school strike every Friday and to demand climate justice. 

Girls’ rebellion against what they perceive to be unjust and wrong is already reshaping the world. Example: Malala helped reduce the number of girls left out of elementary education. Memory Banda led girls in Malawi to get child marriage outlawed.  Melati and Isabel Wijsen led a children’s movement that got plastic bags banned in Bali.

Unlike the women’s NGOs (featured in my 5 books before Wonder Girls: Changing Our World), many girls groups included boys, who were welcomed as peers and collaborators. Since change often requires involving everyone, this is a positive shift.

Girl activism is happening worldwide. I documented 15 groups of girls age 10-18 in thirteen far-flung countries: India, Indonesia, Israel/Palestine, Kenya, Krgyzstan, Malawi, Mexico, Myanmar, New Zealand, Tanzania,  Tonga, Uganda, the United States.

Girls are unlikely to outgrow their passion for the issues that they champion now. One girl told me, “I will be wedded to this cause for the rest of my life.”

Dr. Kimball: Comparing Generation Y and Z activists in Climate Girls Saving Our World, Canadian Gen Y activist Slater Jewell-Kemker characterizes Gen Z as more confident changemakers, more concerned with social justice issues, and more inclusive–including indigenous groups. Gen Zers think of themselves as braver than Gen Y, perhaps because they were beaten down by economic recession, and because the climate crisis is more visible. Like Gen Y, youth today are comfortable with diversity. Another global trend is the recognition of the need for self-care for mental health to prevent burnout. Activists tend to advocate changing the global economic system to a circular economy.

What do these girls say about girls’ roles in human society?

Gianturco: In the past, Americans tended to infantalize young girls. Now, increasingly, girls are seen as having voices and views worth listening to and respecting. They are valued as important contributors to human society.

Dr. Kimball: Girls in the climate movement, like Greta Thunberg, say that girls have to act like adults because adults act like children in being irresponsible about our environment. Girls I interviewed for Climate Girls Saving Our World are angry that they don’t get to have fun like their parents did as teens, having to organize to save our planet. Girls interviewed for Brave: Young Women’s Global Revolution said they include fun, humor, art, and music in their political work.

Girl Activists

Use the arrows to scroll through short glimpses of the girl activists we profile, and click the “Read More” button to learn about each individual.

Priyanka Bairwa and Rajasthan Rising

Tiffany recaps the story of Priyanka Bairwa, who recently founded a nonprofit dedicated to ending child marriage in India.

Marching for Climate: Xiye Bastida

Born in 2002 in Atlacomulco, Mexico, Xiye Bastida experienced climate change early in life. From the ages of 10 to 13, Xiye lived through an extreme drought, followed by, in 2015, extreme flooding in her hometown of San Pedro Tultepec. Shortly after the floods, Xiye’s...

Education in Africa: Victoria Ibiwoye

Photo courtesy University of Wisconsin-Madison In 2013, then 19-year-old Victoria Ibiwoye founded the OneAfricanChild Foundation for Creative Learning.  OneAfricanChild is a youth-led NGO that addresses education inequality through experiential workshops focusing on...

Sophie Cruz and Migrants’ Rights

Sophie Cruz speaks onstage at the Women's March on Washington (Getty) Sophie Cruz is one of the youngest activists in the world. Her parents are undocumented migrants from Mexico, living in the USA, and at the age of five Sophie decided to do something about...

Rowan Blanchard: Actress and Advocate

Photo: Ben Rayner for The New York Times Born in 2001, Rowan Blanchard began acting at the age of five. She appeared in several television shows and movies, with her big break starring as Riley Matthews in Girl Meets World and a recurring role on The Goldbergs....

Child Bride to Activist: Payal Jangid

Payal speaks to a school group in an Indian village. Photo courtesy World Children’s Prize. In the village of Rajasthan, India, Payal Jangid has led a fight against child marriage. It began in 2014, when the then 11-year-old Payal stopped the marriages of her older...

Risking Life for Education: Nibras Khudaida

Photo Courtesy of Nibras Khudaida. One day, while walking home from school, a young girl was attacked. It sounds like Malala Yousafzai’s story...but it is not. It is the story of many girls, but today one in particular: Nibras Khudaida. Nibras was born in a small...

The Nashville Six: #BlackLivesMatter Sparks Nashville Protest

Organizers from Teens4Equality speak as protestors gather in Bicentennial Mall Park in Nashville, June 4, 2020. Image courtesy Good Morning America. In June 2020, a massive protest in Nashville in support of the Black Lives Matter movement gained international...

Refugee to UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador: Muzoon Almellehan

Photo courtesy Asia Society. Muzoon Almellehan is a 22-year-old Syrian activist and refugee, currently living in the U.K. She is sometimes referred to as the “Malala of Syria,” and is friends with Malala Yousafzai, having met at a refugee camp in 2014.  Muzoon is...

Girls Support Girls: Maryam & Nivaal Rehman

In 2012, twin girls of Pakistani descent - Maryam and Nivaal Rehman - were born in Canada. At the age of eight, the girls visited their ancestral homeland, Pakistan, and the school which had been built on land donated by their grandmother. Maryam and Nivaal met the...

Activist You

Welcome to Activist, You! where YOU can be an activist TOO! Activist, You! is a brand new Kids & Family podcast focusing on social justice. Every episode our host Lindz Amer interviews different kid and youth activists, learning about their dedicated social justice topic, and how and why they became activists! 

Fierce Girls

Join the amazing Amy Shark, Yael Stone, Dame Quentin Bryce, Claudia Karvan, Turia Pitt, Stephanie Gilmore, Leah Purcell and more as they tell the inspiring tales of some of Australia’s most extraordinary women.

Listen for free from your mobile device on the ABC listen appApple Podcasts or Google Podcasts.

 

Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls

You might have heard of the popular book series, Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls. Kids can now listen about extraordinary women through their podcast series. They cover a variety of real-life women from all over the world. Some of our recent favorite episodes feature Edmonia Lewis, Freida Pinto and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Hey Black Child

Sometimes kids enjoy listening to kids! Hey Black Child features hosts Avery and Jackson Ausmer, and with the little help from a few grown-ups, they’re able to learn about Black history and discuss topics going on in the world that might not be mentioned in school. Even parents can learn a lot from the sibling duo.

Teen. Girl. Activist. by UNESCO

Greta Thurnberg and the rise of young female activists” on Vox, published December 2019.

Engaging Youth as Active Citizens, a guide from Plan International

Jessica K. Taft (2017) Teenage girls’ narratives of becoming activists, Contemporary Social Science, 12:1-2, 27-39, DOI: 10.1080/21582041.2017.1324173

The Civil Rights Movement and the Power of Teen Girl Activists” interview with Heather E. Schwartz, The Lerner Blog.

View books on girl activists that we recommend at our Bookshop.org list! Buying from Bookshop.org supports Girl Museum and independent bookstores across the United States.

Credits

Special thanks to guest curators Paola Gianturco and Dr. Gayle Kimball, as well as our curatorial team, Sage Daugherty, Tia Shah, and Tiffany Rhoades.

Girl Activist button and banner designed by Sian Legaspi.

Educational Guide

Our educational guide is designed to help students of all ages explore this exhibit, aligned with U.S. and U.K. curricular standards.

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