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 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, 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.
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.
Girl Activists: Sarah Parker Remond
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Marching for Climate: Xiye Bastida
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Risking Life for Education: Nibras Khudaida
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The Nashville Six: #BlackLivesMatter Sparks Nashville Protest
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Refugee to UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador: Muzoon Almellehan
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Girls Support Girls: Maryam & Nivaal Rehman
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Lilly Platt and the Plastic Pickup
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Fashion+Empowerment: Kheris Rogers
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Climate Change is a Pandemic: Jamie Margolin
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Helena Gualinga Fights Corruption
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Kid Governor Ella Briggs
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Petitioning for Climate: Catarina Lorenzo
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Bana al-Abed: The Voice of Aleppo
Screenshot of Fatemah and Bana Alabed talking with reporters during their evacuation on December 19, 2016. Image courtesy Qasioun News Agency on YouTube. Born in 2009, Bana al-Abed is a Syrian refugee whose experiences of the Syrian Civil War in Aleppo drew...
Climate Justice for All: Ayakha Melithafa
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Artemisa Xakriaba Fights for Brazil’s Indigenous Peoples
Artemisa Xakriaba is a teenage indigenous climate activist who is fighting to protect the Amazon and indigenous land. She belongs to the Xakriaba tribe in Brazil who have faced the deforestation of their territories by the government and have suffered from the huge...
Freeing Periods with Amika George
Picture via Free Periods Amika George is the founder of the the #FreePeriods campaign. The campaign fights for the UK Government to supply low-income children with menstrual products. A graduate of Cambridge University originally from north London, Amika George...
National Youth Poet Laureate: Amanda Gorman
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Amal Azzudin and the Glasgow Girls
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Q&A with Girl Activist, Merrill Keating
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Rigoberta Menchú Tum, Guatemalan activist
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Wangari Maathai: Kenyan Environmentalist
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Miriam Miranda: a Native woman fighting for her people’s voice to be heard
Human rights activist Miriam Miranda Miriam was born into a small community in Santa Fe, Colón, a small Garifuna village located on the north coast of Honduras. Like many others in Garifuna, Miriam and her family moved around the country to find work and education....
Edith Asamani: advocate and educator for women’s health and rights
Edith Esinam Asamani, women’s rights activist Born and raised in the slums of Ghana, Edith saw firsthand how a lack of access to education can affect girls’ opportunities. She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication from the Ghana Institute of Journalism and...
Fighting the system: Zulaikha Patel and her fight against systemic racism
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Sonita Alizadeh: Anti-forced marriage campaigner and rapper
Sonita is a Afghan activist and rapper campaigning to end child marriage.
Thandiwe Charma Campaigns for Education
Born in 1991, Thandiwe grew up in Zambia, in the midst of the AIDS/HIV epidemic. She saw first hand how it devastated the lives of the people she knew who both did and did not have the disease. When some of her teachers died from the disease, there became a shortage...
Moni Begum: Campaigning to end child marriage
When Moni was 9 years old her elder sister got married. Her older sister was 12 at the time. Just over 2 weeks after the wedding, her sister returned home unrecognizable. She had become thin and her body was covered in bruises. She subsequently found out that the man...
Activist and Author: Ainagul Amatbekova
Born on 11th January 1996, Ainagul Amatbekova was a small girl with big dreams. She would spend her time thinking about the professions she would like to pursue as an adult, including teacher, stewardess and lawyer. It's clear from the kind of professions that she...
Berta Caceres, Advocate for Indigenous Lenca Rights
Born in La Esperanza, Honduras in 1971, from a young age Berta was aware of the inequalities many of her people faced and helped to combat them. She was a Lenca woman, the Lenca people are the largest indigenous group in Honduras and rely on their environment for...
Trisha Prabhu faces off against cyberbullying with ReThink
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Reyhan Camalova: Lighting the World with Rainergy
Reyahn was born in Guba, Azerbaijan on November 17, 2002, into an intellectual family. She excelled at school, far surpassing all of her classmates. Her greatest passions are math, physics and chemistry. Building on these, Reyhan became inspired to set up a company to...
Sandra Aguebor-Ekperuoh: Blazing Trails and Fixing Things
From a young age, Sandra dreamed of becoming a mechanic to help fix things, inspired by stories her father told of the women he had seen repairing cars during his travels to the United States. When she told people of her aspirations, nobody took her seriously. They...
Empowering others and protecting girls: Angeline Makore
Whilst studying Psychology at university, Angeline founded her own charitable organisation Spark READ (Speak Resilience Empowerment Activism Development).
Fahma Mohamed: The young Bristolian fighting to end FGM
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Incredible Girls: Autumn Peltier
Associate Editor Sage Daugherty continues her Incredible Girls column with a look at the life and activism of water advocate, Autumn Peltier.
Incredible Girls: Nadya Okamoto
Associate Editor Sage Daugherty continues her Incredible Girls column with a look at the life of period activist, Nadya Okamoto.
Incredible Girls: Amika George
Associate Editor Sage Daugherty continues her Incredible Girls column with a look at the life of period poverty activist Amika George.
Incredible Girls: Naomi Wadler
Associate Editor Sage Daugherty continues her Incredible Girls column with a look at the life of 12-year-old activist Naomi Wadler.
Incredible Girls: Mari Copeny
“Mari Copeny is on the front lines helping kids to embrace their power through equal opportunity. When the Flint Water Crisis began in Flint instead of feeling helpless Mari decided to use her voice to help out her community and to fight for the kids in Flint and she has not stopped since.”
Incredible Girls: Isra Hirsi
Associate Editor Sage Daugherty continues her Incredible Girls column with a look at the climate activism of Isra Hirsi.
Incredible Girls: Maddy Fernands
Associate Editor Sage Daugherty continues her Incredible Girls column with a look at the work of climate change activist Maddy Fernands.
Incredible Girls: Haven Coleman
Associate Editor Sage Daugherty continues her Incredible Girls column with a look at the climate change activism of 12-year-old Haven Coleman.
Incredible Girls: Greta Thunberg
Associate Editor Sage Daugherty continues her Incredible Girls column with a look at the life of teenage climate change activist Greta Thunberg.
Incredible Girls: Alexandria Villaseñor
Associate Editor Sage Daugherty writes about 13-year-old climate change activist, Alexandria Villaseñor, and her experiences with activism.
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!
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 app, Apple 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
(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.
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.
Our educational guide is designed to help students of all ages explore this exhibit, aligned with U.S. and U.K. curricular standards.