Estimated read time: 15 minutes
Since Girl Up’s founding in 2010, cohorts of Girl Up leaders in every corner of the world have been using their voices and skills to tirelessly advocate for the equal rights of girls and women.
In honor of Women’s History Month this March, we’re celebrating #GENERATIONGIRLUP, a group of inspiring young leaders who are making history EVERY day through their commitment to change and passion for action in their communities (and beyond!)
Read on to meet eight gender equality champions who, through their ongoing journeys with Girl Up, are taking a stand and refusing to settle for less until girls and women are #EQUALEVERYWHERE.
2017-2018 Teen Advisor, Former Canada Regional Leader, Girl Up McMaster Co-Founder, Alumni Steering Committee Member
Activism isn’t one size fits all—everyone can get engaged in gender equality & activism in different ways.Amanda, canada
One thing I would tell my past Girl Up self? Get in touch with my values to have a road map of what projects I want to look into more. At first, it was overwhelming—there was so much to do & so many options! Also, after any experience, consolidate what I learned into action items. I’m inspired by so many things and, as an Aries, I feel like I get into a lot of stuff & then abandon it. [laughs] So, I would say to have a little bit more of a plan going into [Girl Up] and have some kind of system for organizing and putting action to what I want to do.
One thing I would tell my future Girl Up self? Go for it! There have been so many times in my Girl Up experience where I did things I had no idea I could do. So just try & shoot for the moon.
An issue I’ll never stop advocating for is…women’s health & sexual education.
Who is #GenerationGirlUp? A huge team of girls—think Avengers vibes—where we all have our own strength and superpowers! It’s a group of young leaders who are accepting of one another and embrace the differences they bring to the table—no matter what their backgrounds may be. #GenerationGirlUp shows us that activism and feminism don’t have to look one way. There are so many different ways that you can use your strengths to help other people.
Before I joined Girl Up, I was…frustrated & felt a bit helpless. I knew about a lot of issues but I wasn’t really thinking, “how could I take action on this?” because it felt like such a big issue.
Now…not only did I learn so much more about the topics that I thought I knew about, but also I feel a bit more positive about where the world is headed because I’ve seen how one person can make such a difference.
In 2017, I loved… Hamilton! It’s so funny because as a Canadian girl coming to Washington, I remember walking down the street with some Teen Advisors and fully rapping Hamilton, just having a blast.
In 2022, I love…meditation & yoga. I’m at a place in my life where I’m trying to step back and say that my mental health matters, so I’m getting into a good routine of focusing on myself and recharging.
2019-2020 New jersey Coalition Event Coordinator, 2020-2021 New jersey Coalition Leader, 2021-2022 New England Regional Leader
It just put into perspective that my words & my actions can actually have an impact…No matter how old or how young you are, you can make a change.Aracely, usa
One thing I would tell my past Girl Up self? Don’t be afraid to speak up. I always used to worry about what other people would think. But if I see something wrong, if I’m passionate about it, then I have a voice and I need to use it—no matter how big or small the issue is.
One thing I would tell my future Girl Up self? Keep on going. We’ve had so many obstacles these past few years and sometimes gender equality seems like something in the far distant future. It’s easy to get burned out or be overwhelmed and frustrated that you’re doing so much work, but not much has changed and there’s still so much to be done. But you just have to realize, there’s no benefit if you stop now. Your work can help future generations be one inch closer to gender equality than you were before.
An issue I’ll never stop advocating for is…girls’ education.
Who is #GenerationGirlUp? Movers, shakers and changemakers! We’re shaking up things more than any generation has before. The possibilities of what we can do are endless and there’s no stopping us now. If we see something we are passionate about and we want to make a change, we will do it. What’s amazing about the Girl Up Community is that we’re coming from all these different cultures and countries, but we’re all united in one thing: Trying to achieve gender equality. So, watch out for #GenerationGirl Up because they will be coming your way and they will be making change.
Before I joined Girl Up…activism seemed unattainable to me, something unapproachable I wouldn’t be able to do. I thought, “I’m so young, how much impact can I make.” Also, with gender equality, I knew a surface-based level of it but I didn’t really know all the intricate details and how multi-faceted the issue was.
Now…I know there are so many problems out there that gender equality is the basis & foundation of. Being able to learn from other leaders about how they make change, I now feel like I have a tool kit that will allow me to participate in activism and that I’m able to make an impact with my voice & my actions. Also, now that I have my eyes open to so many issues, it makes me more motivated to tackle those issues and be more hands-on. We have such a big global community and having that support behind me feels like we can do it; we can achieve gender equality.
In 2017, I loved… John Green books. I would read them within one or two nights, which is insane!
In 2022, I love…Reading nonfiction. As I’ve gotten older, my reading habits have changed. I read to be more informed, more empowered, more motivated. I read to help me add to my tool kit of activism.
Founder of the first Girl Up Club in South Australia, First Girl Up Regional Leader for Australia, 2021-2022 Oceania Regional Leader
My area of passion is to arm our future leaders with the voices to be leaders of not only tomorrow, but the leaders of today.Ashleigh, australia
One thing I would tell my past Girl Up self? Being a leader isn’t just about leading, it’s also about being led. There is so much you can learn from other people’s leadership styles and stories, so sometimes it’s about taking a step back and letting other people who might not have the same platform as you speak up.
One thing I would tell my future Girl Up self? The power of education. There is a lot of power in advocating for causes you’re passionate about & educating people about them. It might just take one person to strike a nerve, become passionate about that cause, and then create a chain reaction. That’s how you spark a movement.
An issue I’ll never stop advocating for is…helping young people harness their power & their voice to affect change.
What is #GenerationGirlUp? A sisterhood. It’s corny but it’s true. We’re such a strong community of like-minded individuals that all want to affect change in the world and it’s so empowering.
Before I joined Girl Up…often I would say I’m so passionate about gender equality and female rights, but it’s so much more than that.
Now…My thinking has changed from more of a one-sided approach to all of these issues. It doesn’t just take women to create change. It requires everybody to put their hand in the arena and say, “I’m going to change the conversation.” It’s not just a women’s issue, it’s a human issue and it affects everyone. So, it’s really important to not exclude anybody from the conversation and not exclude anybody from taking accountability for their actions.
In 2018, I loved… Singing lessons, which I have since quit because I’ve realized no amount of singing lessons would change a tone-deaf person! [laughs] I was also teaching myself how to play the guitar back then because I thought I’d be the next Taylor Swift.
In 2022, I love…Yoga, pilates, reading, and trying to stay off social media as much as possible, which is as hard as it sounds!
Founder of Girl Up NJIT Campus Club, Girl Up Alumni Steering Committee Co-chair
Knowing when to say ‘no’ to things is something you really do have to learn as a young activist. How are you going to be able to help others if you’re not helping yourself?Jenan, usa
One thing I would tell my past Girl Up self? Keep your eyes open. The purpose of Girl Up is to expand your worldview. You’re always going to meet someone new or push a new boundary at Girl Up, so expect to be blown away all the time. I grew up in a small town and my parents were immigrants, so as much as I knew that the world was big and I was a small part of it, Girl Up really just showed me how impactful girls can be.
One thing I would tell my future Girl Up self? How powerful girls can be and how much power Girl Up gives girls. And I hope the Alumni Network turns out as awesome as we all hope!
An issue I’ll never stop advocating for is…elevating & respecting the voices of Indigenous women throughout history.
Who is #GenerationGirlUp? A generation of people who believe that girls have the power to empower their communities. I think that really clicked for me when I saw Michelle Obama speak at the 2015 Leadership Summit and she said it takes a whole village to raise one girl. I realize how true that is even in my own family experience. Coming from a small village, I realized that it really did take my grandparents, my aunts, my uncle, my parents, and really just a whole village of support to mold me into the person I am. That’s what #GenerationGirlUp means to me.
Before I joined Girl Up, I…always thought that kids have valuable voices and that their voices could impact their community; I think that’s why Girl Up reeled me in!
Now…Girl Up showed me that kids can actually impact the entire world. I had just become 18, but there were actual girls with me lobbying in Congress, getting a Senator and Congressman to sign legislation—I think it was the Girls Count Act—that ended up getting passed later that summer. Seeing that youth activism not only works to empower and improve communities but the entire world, that’s definitely something Girl Up blew my mind with.
In 2015, I loved…rowing. All I did was go to rowing practice and then go to the gym!
Now, I love…going for a simple run or a walk. My workout routine is less intense now, but that’s something I still love to do.
Former Girl Up Club Leader, 2021-2022 Brasil Regional Leader
Every single problem already has a solution in the world; we just don’t know it yet.Luana, brasil
One thing I would tell my past Girl Up self? Trust the process. When I was a Club leader, I used to not believe that we would achieve what we eventually did or impact as many girls as we did because sometimes it got tough. Like when the President [of Brasil] went against the law that would give pads to all the girls here in Brasil. We spent four months trying to convince Parliamentarians to make sure all girls and women had access to pads and it was very hard. We didn’t think we could do it, especially since it was an election year and it’s complicated to know how politics are going to go. So, we didn’t have any hope, but then [this month] it suddenly happened!
One thing I would tell my future Girl Up self? Believe in ourselves. We are doing amazing work and we are making changes that some people didn’t believe we could do and don’t want us to do, but we have this power and we have the most important thing: support. [At Girl Up] we support each other and we have this whole community that can help us. So, stick to the community and trust the process because everything is going to be alright, maybe not at the moment or the way that we think or want it, but eventually it will all be fixed.
An issue I’ll never stop advocating for is…making sure every girl, every woman has a community and that they’re not afraid of giving voice to their thoughts, giving voice to their dreams.
Who is #GenerationGirlUp? We are the youngest to make change, the youngest to really understand the problems of the world, and the youngest to step forward. We are the generation that’s coming to really change the world and that really makes me have hope for our future. When I see Girl Up girls talking, I know our granddaughters will have an amazing world because we are fighting for their rights and we will create that world.
Before I joined Girl Up, I…was a complete newbie at advocacy. I didn’t know that [youth] would be able to make change in the country, to make a law that would impact all the women in Brasil. I used to think leadership here in Brasil is only for men in big companies. It’s complicated to see yourself on that path because if you’re not a man, you’re not middle-aged and you’re not white, it’s hard to understand that you will and can reach your goals if you only have the courage to do so.
Now…I have the knowledge of what we can do if we have the courage and we have the trust of people that will support us. And because I brought my friends into this world, now my friends know this too!
In 2019, I loved… BTS. The funny thing is the first time I showed up on TV is actually because I was in line for a BTS show!
Now, I love…documentaries about women making a difference. I used to hate documentaries but nowadays when I see these women doing amazing things, it’s a way for me to look at the future and think we definitely have a chance.
Founder of the first Girl Up Club in Scotland, 2018-2020 Regional Leader for United Kingdom, 2020-2021 Regional Leader for Europe, Alumni Steering Committee Member
When we launched our campus Club, we went from five to 50 members in one semester. There was so much interest. It was absolutely nuts. And I remember thinking why was there nothing like this before?Phoebe, United kingdom
One thing I would tell my past Girl Up self? To always be a “yes” person. Obviously taking into account your mental health and what you’re actually able to do physically, but always just say “yes” to opportunities where you can. Especially as a woman, you might be hesitant to try something if there’s a lot of competition or if you don’t feel like you’re good enough and you have impostor syndrome—which I have all the time. But just say “yes” and take the leap, because often you were meant to be there anyway.
One thing I would tell my future Girl Up self? Try not to let people psych you out or phase you, especially men in corporate or normal positions. I think it’s really about focusing on yourself and your own journey and not letting other people distract you.
An issue I’ll never stop advocating for is…equal representation of women in leadership roles.
Who is #GenerationGirlUp? A person who is confident in their abilities and is willing to take on any obstacles and surmount them. Someone who knows the true value of community and coming together. The Girl Up Community really is a community of people who honestly and truly believe in each other and want to work together to achieve a common goal and that’s the only way change can really happen. It can’t be one person.
Before I joined Girl Up, I…saw activism as quite inaccessible. I saw it as something that was beyond my own means because I thought that it meant—honestly this sounds really basic [laughs]—but that youth activism is protesting and being on the streets. There is that as well but I think I saw that as out of my reach because it was something that I didn’t really understand. But, I think activism is very translatable into any means of communication or any form of activity that you want it to be. So it can be something that anyone can get involved with and it actually is a very accessible means of creating change.
Now…I’ve definitely become more self-aware in general of gender inequality. Before, I only noticed what I thought was gender inequality and what needed to change. Now, because I’ve had the learnings from Girl Up,—I’ve attended the workshops, hosted or attended the events, spoken with some amazing people in the Community—I’ve realized it’s much more far-reaching than I’d even imagined and it is everywhere. You tackle subconscious bias every day and because I’m more aware of that, it’s made me more willing to create change and to work with people to make sure that doesn’t happen for others.
In 2016, I loved…Friends. The number of times I’ve watched that back to back, I’m not even kidding! I used to do reruns of Laguna Beach, The Hills, just all the trashy TV.
Now, I love…trashy TV still; trashy TV is the best. [laughs]
Founder of first Girl Up Club in Alabama, 2012-2015 Alabama Coalition Leader, 2012-2013 Teen Advisor, 2016-2020 New England Regional Leader, Program Coordinator at Girl Up HQ
I’m so grateful to have found a community of global changemakers who are just as passionate and just as curious and just as attentive to girls’ rights issues as I am.tanya, usa
One thing I would tell my past Girl Up self? Relax a bit! I remember sometimes feeling like I had to do all the things all the time. Now in hindsight, I feel like sometimes those smaller moments where you’re just learning about things, you’re taking the time to do research, and really figuring out what you’re most passionate about as opposed to trying to do a bunch of different things is just as important.
One thing I would tell my future Girl Up self? Don’t be afraid to stand up for what you believe in. Sometimes it’s easy to feel like yours is the only voice in the room that cares about a particular issue. But you’ll be surprised when you actually say what you’ve been wanting to say, that there are other people in the room who will agree with you. There are other people in the room who will encourage you and there are probably other people in the room who are relying on you to say those things because they may not have that voice or they may not have that confidence that they need to be able to speak up. So just realize that you’re responsible not for yourself, but for a lot of other girls out there. And on behalf of all those other people, that’s when you really need to speak up and stay confident and not lose sight of what you’re passionate about.
An issue I’ll never stop advocating for is…mental health & wellness.
Who is #GenerationGirlUp? Girl Up has become more diverse, inclusive, and equitable for all of our leaders and in all of our programming across the board. We want everyone to be a part of the change that we’re trying to create in the world. So #GenerationGirlUp is anyone who wants to create change and isn’t afraid to take that first step in doing so. They’re confident, they’re proactive, they’re passionate about getting things done, and are not afraid to do so—no matter what anyone else says.
Before I joined Girl Up…feminism, gender equality, and even the UN were sort of taboo words, especially [as someone] coming from a conservative state. For a lot of girls in my high school, to be a feminist meant that you automatically were a man-hater and that you were not really about equality; you were about giving girls the upper hand and almost exacting revenge on guys for having held the reins of power for so long. So, when I first joined Girl Up, I was just looking for a way to get more educated about these issues, find those talking points I needed to share with people in my school, and really just figure out what it means to be a true feminist.
Now…I know even more so than before what gender equality is all about. Back then, I thought a lot of the burden was just on me. But having gone through this whole cycle of being a part of Girl Up, I know there’s a whole community out there. There are so many other people who are passionate about these issues and I’m certainly not alone, not in my state, not in my country, not in the world in advocating for girls’ rights and gender equality. I came in looking for opportunities to learn and now I’ve found myself with this whole community of people who are wanting to learn and grow alongside me. And that’s been the best part of it all.
In 2012, I loved… reading. I always used to have my nose in a book! Even at lunchtime at school, my friends would have to take a book away from me and say, “Can you talk to the people around you?” [laughs]
Now, I love…meditation and journaling, trying to find that zen. I’m not good at cooking, but I’m also trying to learn how to cook. I feel like it’s a good form of therapy in a sense because you don’t have to think about anything else and just focus on what’s in front of you. Then when you’re done, you get a delicious meal. Hopefully. Although with my cooking, not really!
Founder of Girl Up Zimbabwe Official, Alumni Steering Committee Member
For me, it’s all about serving people. It’s about being there for people and creating a better life for somebody in all the ways that I can.tatenda, zimbabwe
One thing I would tell my past Girl Up self? You are your own light. You actually control how bright or how dull you shine because there are certain situations that will happen in your life and it’s up to you to make a decision on whether you’re either going to go on with it or you’re going to quit. So everything that is going to happen in life, you have control over it. And you can do anything just as long as you put your mind to it, so push yourself to do the best that you can at that very moment.
One thing I would tell my future Girl Up self? Know what you’re about. Everything emanates from knowing who you are, what you’re about, your values, everything that defines you. You’re not limited to what people say you are.
An issue I’ll never stop advocating for is…helping people reach their full potential.
Who is #GenerationGirlUp? Leaders who are enthusiastic to see change in their communities. Growing up, there were certain things you would see that you couldn’t talk about because they were traditionally okay, inequalities you wouldn’t be able to address because you were a woman. But now, we’re seeing generations of leaders affecting change, breaking barriers and biases, just being open and being themselves. We’re a generation that is making our own decisions.
Before I joined Girl Up…in places where the patriarchal system was more dominant, youth advocacy was something that was still growing. We grew up in a system where if you were a man, you had authority, you had power.
Now…we have so much knowledge. We have the will to make our own decisions, not based on what somebody thinks we can or cannot do. Youth participation has really grown and we’re having these conversations where certain perspectives are coming to light that people are saying, “Oh, I hadn’t thought of that.” In Zimbabwe, the growth has been remarkable. There has been an emergence of youth-led organizations.
In 2017, I loved… researching for fun. I loved reading, volunteering, and just spending quality time with family and friends.
Now, I love…pretty much the same! I look at myself and I’m like, “Tatenda, you haven’t even changed! This was you five years ago! You’ve probably grown your understanding of what you’re really about and where you’re going, but when it comes to your social life…girl, really?” [laughs]
To meet more members of #GenerationGirlUp, follow Girl Up on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook and watch this space for more conversations with our inspiring community of global changemakers.
These conversations have been edited for clarity and length.