- Kristen Balisi
Today’s Teen Girl Activists
Following the outbreak of the coronavirus, countries worldwide put lockdown restrictions into place with the hopes of limiting the spread of COVID-19. Although these measures helped prevent disease transmission, unfortunately, they also led to the worsening of several issues, including skyrocketing rates of domestic violence, mental illness, and substance abuse, to name a few.
Women, however, have been hit the hardest in the wake of this crisis.
Even before the pandemic locked them down and unleased devastating economic and health impacts, matters such as gender discrimination, harmful stereotypes, and inequalities worked just as forcefully in oppressing and confining women. But in a world where most girls grow up with their power, freedom, happiness, and futures stolen away from them, one thing for sure is that girls are rising and fighting back harder than ever before.
With that said, below are the inspiring stories of 4 young women who have decided to take action and enact change right now.
Oumou Kalsoum Diop - Senegal
In the country of Senegal, 18-year-old Oumou Kalsoum Diop is bringing awareness to stories in need of hearing with the power of creativity and a camera by her side. In her community, Oumou trains her lens on pertinent and pressing issues, transforming her passion for filmmaking into impactful and meaningful stories. One of her projects, for example, centred on a prevalent subject in present society: body image. Her film follows a woman grappling with the unrealistic beauty standards placed upon her, and it portrays how these ideals can lead to harmful and destructive behaviours. Although this was by no means an easy topic to broach, with her film Oumou presents an honest look at the consequences of unhealthy beauty standards and how they affect self-esteem.
In addition to her creative work, Oumou leads group discussions with the youth in her community on a variety of matters, but most notably, issues that girls face. All in all, Oumou sets an exceptional example, and her actions remind us that change begins with being bold enough to use your voice, brave enough to start conversations that matter, and courageous enough to take action. “We have to liberate what's in our hearts," Oumou tells the young women she meets at the community center. “Don’t keep it inside.”
Somaya Faruqi - Afghanistan
In Afghanistan, the first case of COVID-19 was reported in Herat, the home province of 17-year-old Somay Faruqi. When Somay heard the news, she acted immediately and designed a low-cost ventilator that could help treat coronavirus patients with the help of her all-female robotics team. Despite challenges along the way, after three months, the team successfully constructed a light-weight, easy-to-transport ventilator at a fraction of the cost of typical units. Their impressive achievement did not go unnoticed because soon, Somaya and her team will travel to the capital of Afghanistan, Kabul, to present their device to the Ministry of Public Health. If approved by officials, healthcare workers could use the ventilators in emergency settings where traditional ventilators are unavailable.
In addition to constructing spectacular creations, Somaya is fighting for female education rights too. “There are thousands of girls in Afghanistan who have the same courage and determination to bring positive change,” says Somaya. “But not all of them have the opportunity like me.” What Somaya is referring to are the barriers to education that girls in Afghanistan face. In the country alone, nearly 3.7 million children are out of school — and more than half are girls. In some provinces, up to 85% of girls do not attend class. Worldwide, more than 130 million girls are currently out of school.
Threats such as poverty, war, gender discrimination, and early marriage play a significant role in limiting girl's access to education. "I had classmates who dropped out of school due to early marriage," Somaya recalls. Nevertheless, Somaya’s accomplishments and story demonstrate that girls can achieve anything they set their minds to if given a chance. Somaya is an example of the possibilities we could reach in a world where every single girl gets the opportunity to lead and learn. After all, a girl who gets an education not only learns about reading and arithmetic, but she discovers why she is important. She realizes how to stand up for her rights. She finds out why she should chase after her dreams. When we invest in the education of girls, we simultaneously invest in economic growth, a healthier workforce, lasting peace, and most importantly, we invest in the future of our planet.
Hasmik Baghdasaryan - Armenia
When Hasmik Baghdasaryan, a girl living in Armenia, moved to a new high school, her eyes instantaneously shifted towards the chemistry lab. “My previous school didn’t have anything like it,” the 16-year-old explains. “Many don’t have the space for a lab, let alone the funds." It is important to note that before Hasmik started conducting experiments of her own, chemistry admittedly was not her best subject. "When I was struggling,” she says, “I began to wonder if boys really are just naturally better at science." When that thought entered her mind, Hasmik realized she wanted to make science more accessible and understandable to students of all genders and ethnicities so that they would not grapple with the same doubts and difficulties she did. As a result, she, alongside fellow co-founders, created VR Labs, a fascinating virtual lab that brings science experiments to life with the use of virtual reality headsets. “It’s one thing to watch an experiment being done by your teacher,” Hasmik remarks. “It’s another thing to do it yourself.”
With her innovative idea, Hasmik introduces chemistry to a wide array of students using a unique approach, and she raises awareness towards an underlying issue in our society today. That issue is the STEM gap. In our continuously evolving world, learning about STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) has become more crucial than ever. The American Association of University Women states, “Girls and women are systematically tracked away from science and math throughout their education, limiting their training and options to go into these fields as adults”. In total, women make up only 28% of the workforce in STEM, while men vastly outnumber females majoring in most STEM fields. Solving this problem, however, begins with giving girls and women the skills and confidence needed to succeed in math and science. One way we can accomplish this is through education, and Hasmik has accomplished just that with her idea.
With the creation of VR Labs, Hasmik hopes to break gender biases, expose young girls to STEM, and overall, motivate more students to take up studies and careers in science. “Chemistry, biology, physics, they surround us," Hasmik declares. "There are so many opportunities to make a positive impact on our community if we are armed with the right scientific knowledge”.
Sebabatso Ncephe - South Africa
When 19-year-old Sebabatso Ncephe visited her local clinic in Ivory Park, South Africa, the first thing that caught her attention was a pregnant woman waiting alone in the brutal heat. It turns out the woman had arrived for a prenatal visit but was turned away after finding out her appointment had been postponed. Upset on the woman's behalf, Sebabasto commented, “Imagine the time she wasted. What if she lives far and has no money for taxi fare?”
For Sebabatso, this experience came as an eyeopener, especially since it sparked the idea for her new app: Afya Yangu, Swahili for “My Health.” Afya Yangu allows hospitals to communicate directly with their patients, updating them with essential information regarding their health care in a matter of seconds. Amazingly, it prevents patients from waiting hours or, at worst, many days in line. Sebabasto points out that for those living with HIV and AIDS, the app is also ideal because it helps patients who wish to maintain their privacy. She states, "There has been too much stigmatization in hospitals for people with HIV. Now, when you're trying to keep your status confidential, you won't have to stand in line with everyone who knows you.”
With her app, Sebabasto proves that anyone, regardless of age, gender, or race, is capable of making their ideas a reality when given the space and support to explore their passions. “If more girls could be exposed to what I was exposed to, they would dream big," Sebabatso says while reflecting on her opportunities to learn to create digital technologies. "I want to tell them that your story must be told, your dreams are valid.”
To all the girls who have ever felt unwelcomed, believed their opinion was unworthy or doubted if there was space for them in this world.
This article is for you.