For International Youth Day, Amnesty International asked eight young women how they’re taking action in their communities.
From gun violence and police brutality to sexual violence and harassment, girls and young women around the world are living violent realities. Yet, in a new wave of human rights activism, these young trailblazers are rising up, taking action and calling for change, while juggling school, university and jobs.
I never imagined it would happen to me. Parkland was labeled the safest community in Florida, but when tragedy hit and a mass shooting took place at school, I knew the only way to heal was to take action.
When my friends and I came together, we didn’t have a plan. We literally started work on a living room floor. Being young worked in our favour. We weren’t adults trying to guess what worked for young people and we weren’t asking for permission. Other kids from across the nation saw what we were doing and felt they could do it too.
Being survivors of a school shooting meant people listened to us. We were angry and loud. The reaction to what happened to us helped build our movement faster than we could have imagined.
We created March For Our Lives because our friends who lost their lives would have wanted us to take action. We’re doing it for them.
I am inspired by... the kids who are doing something to make a difference – the girl who is running for school board, or the others running March For Our Lives. It’s the people and the present that inspires me.
Period poverty exists, especially at university. You can’t even talk about menstruation, let alone whether you can afford sanitary products, so girls suffer in silence. It’s dehumanizing.
My friends and I are trying to change this, through our #WorthBleedingFor campaign. Most people think university is a luxury for the rich, but it’s not. Poor people go to university too. Some students sleep in the library, others line up to receive grocery packs, while lack of access to sanitary pads is a real problem. We’re pushing for universities to install sanitary pad dispensers in bathrooms, we’ve contacted the local government to provide free pads for girls in schools and we’re encouraging girls to speak about their experiences.
Seeing people take action feels good. The change is gradual, but it’s exciting. Just recently, a group of girls made a video about #WorthBleedingFor showing our campaigning work. Knowing we’d reached out and had an impact was amazing.
I am inspired by… Winnie Mandela. She was fiery, driven and never stopped campaigning.
At least half a million people were massacred during the 1965 tragedy in Indonesia, and it’s my job to document stories of the survivors. I organize community survivor groups and bridge the gap between generations. It’s important young people understand our country’s past. As a human rights activist, I don’t want to see injustice. I want to work with others, share knowledge and take action, but being a human rights activist isn’t easy in Indonesia.
Last April, I was part of a cultural event alongside numerous other human rights defenders. I was Master of Ceremony. A violent group came and barricaded us into the building for eight hours. It was terrifying. More than 200 people were trapped, including children. They used rocks to smash the glass, we were fired at and were at risk of being beaten. After we were released, my face was splashed all over the media.
The whole incident was very traumatizing. I work so hard to make change possible, but that’s not how it’s perceived. I’ve learned to deal with what happened and I want to educate people about my work. If people have an issue with it, I want them to talk to me and have an open discussion.
Through Amnesty International, I’ve met and worked with other human rights defenders from across Asia and it’s good to feel part of a global network. It’s an opportunity to share the work we’re doing, as well as our problems and the lessons we’ve learned. By standing together, we can inspire each other.
I am inspired by… an Indonesian activist called Munir. He was so inspiring, brave and always told the truth. He stood with the people.
Women’s rights are violated every day in Morocco. I know people who have been harassed and assaulted, whose right to freedom of expression has been violated, and those who have faced unfair trials. That’s what makes me want to fight for human rights.
After I graduated, I started working with Amnesty International at a local level on its Brave and I Welcome campaigns.
My aim is to create an environment where people are tolerant, open-minded and there’s an understanding of human rights. Through I Welcome, I encourage people to see beyond the refugee label and listen to the stories behind it.
I mostly work with other young people on these campaigns. It’s an opportunity to meet people who have had similar experiences. By taking part, young people tell me they feel a lot less lonely and part of something important. Many of us have also used the skills we’ve gained to educate people at home, about issues such as women’s rights.
For me, it’s a hobby. Even when my parents tell me to rest, I tell them that promoting the importance of human rights makes me feel good!
I am inspired by… Nelson Mandela. He inspires us all. I also seek inspiration from people from my hometown. They motivate me to make a difference.
Behind our smiles, there is fear. A fear of living a life filled with violence.
In Peru, girls and young women are unprotected. We’re not allowed to have an abortion, apart from in exceptional circumstances. Just recently, a man burned a young girl alive in a bus. This happened near to my house.
I have been a victim of harassment. My ex-boyfriend used to stalk me. He threw rocks at my house, followed me everywhere and started rumors. I was forced to change my mobile number and the way I live. I even considered dropping out of university.
I found strength through my friends as well as my work with Amnesty International. When people found out about my situation a lot of girls and women started coming to me for advice, saying they’d experienced similar situations. Sexual violence happens so often in my country, people think it’s normal.
I am now training be a lawyer and I am a human rights activist, campaigning on issues such as women’s rights, LGBTI rights and indigenous people’s rights. There are many of us who want to see a change in our community. We deserve to have our voices heard and respected.
I am inspired by… women such as human rights defenders Maxima Acuna, from Peru, and Mariella Franco, from Brazil, who was shot dead earlier this year. They both fought for our rights.
Becoming a human rights activist was a natural process. I’ve been interested in social justice issues since I was 12. From 1973 to 1990, Chile was under the Pinochet dictatorship and there were a lot of human rights violations. Learning about the history of my country inspired me to become a human rights activist. Now I work on issues such as youth, migration and sexual and reproductive rights.
In Chile, girls and women are not allowed to have an abortion and many have died because of it. Last year, the National Parliament passed a ruling, stating abortion would be allowed in some circumstances. It was a great victory, but right after the bill was passed, a new government came into power and limited its impact. Amnesty International is educating young people on this issue through its My Body, My Rights campaign and it’s having a huge impact. It’s beautiful to see how it’s developed.
Nowadays, I work on human rights education, teaching children about their rights. It fills my heart and gives me motivation. Everyone deserves this opportunity. As part of Amnesty International’s Youth Collective, I am working on youth issues at a global level.
It’s inspiring, as I’ve met so many people and made so many new friends, which means our work reaches new places.
I am inspired by… my friends, those who I met through this work and along the way. My friends who work on My Body, My Rights, are younger than me, but they’re so strong and passionate. They traveled to remote areas of Chile to educate people. It’s very inspiring.
I used to think human rights advocacy was just for professionals with a strong legal background. It’s not.
At university, students aren’t listened to. When I was a student, I advocated for students to have an active, powerful voice on issues that mattered to them. Campaigning for youth rights was fun and inspiring.
We go to university to carve successful career paths. However, students are confronted with harsh realities of joblessness, corruption, discrimination and a host of other injustices. I experienced this first hand when I left university. Instead of giving in to hopelessness, I volunteered with social justice initiatives.
I am 28 now and a year into my first stable job. Now I have a job, I feel as though I need to hold on to it and I’m grateful my current role complements my volunteering work. In a way, human rights activism saved me.
Seeing the impact my work is having makes me feel good and it encourages me to keep going. If people try to bring me down, I smile and ignore them. I know my story and I know where I want to go.
I am inspired by... Amnesty International Kenya’s Country Director – Irũngũ Houghton. Since he joined the team this year, my work ethic has shifted. He constantly coaches me to challenge myself as a human rights defender and young leader.
My dad is a bit of a revolutionary. He taught me to think outside the box, so when I see something I want to change, I do something about it. All my activism is based around this.
When I went to university, I was approached by an Amnesty International fundraiser. The organisation’s work was so inspiring, I decided to become a face to face fundraiser after I graduated.
Fundraising provides an opportunity to change the way people think and to educate people about what’s going on in the world. I talked to a lot of people who had different ideas about refugees. After we spoke, they realized the importance of welcoming people into Portugal. It proved that most of world’s problems stem from a lack information. It is possible to overcome hate.
It’s possible to change the way someone looks at the world and Amnesty, as well as my sustainable clothing project, provides a way of doing this. It’s incredible to be part of a youth network that provides an opportunity to meet activists from all over the world.
I am inspired by… people who continue to speak out in places where it’s hard to do so.