A look at girl-led activism all over the world
Childhood and adolescence are often seen as temporary stages on the path toward adulthood. We often think of girls at these ages as the “future,” but doing so, no matter how well intended, denies girls the opportunity to meaningfully discuss their current experiences. Girls are very much a part of the present; they are changing the world right now. Their participation in social movements for equality is as important as adults’.
Girls are constantly questioning their surroundings and devising original ways to fight the patriarchy. From protesting in schools by refusing to go their classes, to advocating for abortion rights in their communities, to fighting the violence so many of them already have and will experience, girls are organizing for autonomy and visibility.
Take the 10 girls who make up Colectivo Sulans — a girl-centered organization in Carabayllo, a rural district in Lima, Perú — for example. The girls in the group, whose ages range from 7 to 12 years old, gather at school after class to talk about the issues that concern and affect them, like the mistreatment of girls and women; they know that rape and femicide are very real risks to which they’re already exposed and which can even be initiated by friends and family. While it may be difficult to think about young girls talking with each other about the possibilities of being raped by family members or friends, this is the reality in which girl activists in Colectivo Sulans live. Being conscious about it brings them together and helps them strengthen their self-care systems. This year, they marched among thousands of women in Lima for women’s and girls’ rights. They also have fun together; they paint and celebrate each other’s birthdays, too. Ultimately, the members of Colectivo Sulans know it is important for girls to feel visible, and heard, and to march for the girls who cannot.
In Argentina, the recent fight for abortion legalization has brought together thousands and thousands of women. But this is not only a women’s issue; girls are also affected by it. According to a recent study from the Pan American Health Organization and the World Health Organization, around 2 million children are born every year as a result of childhood pregnancy. This June in Buenos Aires, therefore, hundreds of students from 12 high-schools protested for the legalization of abortion. During the student strike, girls scheduled sex education workshops and discussions around the topic. They were advocating for their right to get an abortion without having parental consent, and discussed how their families who come from religious and/or conservative backgrounds wouldn’t allow them to get abortions. Girls want to have the final say about what they do with their bodies. Many people aware of this student protest were shocked that girls were involved in the fight for the legalization of abortion. In response, girls marched with banners with quotes like: “My mom says that if you think I’m too young to be in a march, then picture me being pregnant!”
Artivism has also taken more artistics forms among girls — like, for example, Las Raperas de Kimbilá. This group of Mayan girls in southeast Mexico recently published their first rap music video. “We are the rappers of Kimbilá, we like to work, dance, rap, and paint. We are the daughters of the moon, we are free as butterflies!” they sing in Mayan language. In the video, girls fix a bike, paint graffiti on a wall at the main plaza of Kimbilá, and sing and dance in the streets of their town. Considering that Mayan culture has been plagued with discrimination and violence for years, by raising their voices, these Mayan girls are making a political statement: They are narrating their own stories, revitalizing Mayan language, claiming their history, redefining their identities, and fighting for visibility and recognition.
And now, there is more research than ever about girl-led organizing. FRIDA and Mama Cash, two global women’s funds that support girls and their initiatives, recently conducted the first participatory girl-led research on the topic. The report shows that even though girls are organizing all over the world, they lack visibility and decision-making power, which limits their participation and inclusion to victims that need saving. The study also showed that girls want to learn from older activists but expect older activists (in particular feminists) to want to learn from young girls, too.
As adults, therefore, we need to think of nonpaternalistic and nonpatriarchal ways to respect and recognize the importance of girls’ experience and work. It is crucial to offer initiatives for mutual learning and intergenerational dialogue.
Girls are organizing because they no longer believe in the systems that surround them. They battle sexism and ageism on top of their other intersecting identities, and they do this in diverse and inspiring ways. From Argentina to Mexico, from artivism to occupying schools, girls have been the protagonists of the recent waves of social change. It’s time we step back, take note, and let girls decide on their futures. Let girls question, disobey, defy, reinvent, and create so that soon, being a girl can be a wonderful and empowering experience for all the girls in the world.
More articles by Category: Feminism, Girls
More articles by Tag: Activism and advocacy, South & Central America, Gender Based Violence, Sexism