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Meet the Rights Defenders Fighting For Girls Everywhere

  • By Malika Saada Saar
  • Global Head of Human Rights Partnerships
  • Oct.11.2021
A team of remarkable girl rights defenders and medical experts are joining with YouTube to launch a new content series that gives young women the important health and well-being information they need.

YouTube is celebrating International Day of the Girl by honoring the young women and girls who strive for, dream about, and work towards a more just world for girls everywhere. And, on this International Day of the Girl, we also pause to recognize the girls’ rights defenders in Afghanistan–those we have lost and those still fighting for their rights and freedoms.

Today, with some remarkable girl rights defenders and medical experts, we are launching Body of Knowledge—a content series to provide clear, authoritative information to young women and girls about their health and well-being in partnership with the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), girls’ rights activists, Young Women’s Freedom Center, and Vital Voices Global Partnership. Girls’ rights defenders understand that young women and girls need accurate information about their bodies to exercise full agency over their bodies–because knowledge is power, always. We’ll feature their conversations with adolescent health specialists from the AAP who offer straightforward, medically accurate information, and with Creator and Activist Hailey Sani. Together, these diverse voices will discuss the crucial health issues of safety, consent, mental health and self-care, and sexual well-being on YouTube and through YouTube Shorts.

Each of them is remaking a world where all young women and girls–cis, trans, and gender-expansive–are healthy, safe, and free. We are honored that they, as well as girls’ rights defenders in different parts of the globe, are part of the Body of Knowledge.

We hope you’ll tune in and join the conversation at #BodyofKnowledge.

Get to know a few of the girls’ rights defenders below who are making it their mission to advocate and raise up girls everywhere! You can also support the efforts of Vital Voices Global Partnership’s Emergency Fund for Afghan Women and Young Women’s Freedom Center to help empower girls around the world.


Aarna

Aarna


Why are you an activist for young women and girls' rights and well-being?

As a young woman of color myself I have experienced first hand and had to be conscious of the various barriers and threats that women face. I am passionate about women's rights because I want to ensure that future generations of women don't have to live in fear or shame. I believe it is important that we empower and celebrate all women. 

What's the biggest threat to girls' rights today?

The biggest threat to women's rights is the constant policing and violation of our bodies. From abortion bans to sexual violence to sexual objectification in media, young women's bodies are exploited by the male gaze, making us feel as though our bodies are not our own but the property of others. 

What can people do to get involved to help support girls' rights and well-being everywhere?

To support women's rights, one can always support organizations like RAINN and National Organization of Women. But the most important thing allies can do is uplift and empower the women in their own lives. It's important to start conversations surrounding consent, bodily autonomy and reproductive justice. Make sure that you are treating the women in your life with respect and dignity and ensuring that others around you are doing the same. 


Brittany

Brittany


Why are you an activist for young women and girls' rights and well-being?

I have a deep-seated commitment to creating a world where all girls can live in peace and freedom from all forms of violence, access all that’s necessary to lead healthy lives, live in dignity, feel celebrated and fulfill all of their dreams. I have worked tirelessly for over a decade with organizations like Girls for Gender Equity, Sadie Nash Leadership Project, Vera Institute for Justice, and Advocates for Youth, to ensure that vision becomes fully realized. 

What's the biggest threat to girls' rights today?

Unfortunately, there are many threats to girls’ rights both domestically in the US and abroad. I’m particularly concerned with the ongoing threats to achieving reproductive justice and reproductive equity for cis and trans girls and non-binary youth, especially those of color. Young people deserve a world that offers them unfettered access to the power, resources, and support to make informed decisions about their bodies, identities, and sexual and reproductive health.

What can people do to get involved to help support girls' rights and well-being everywhere?

There are many ways folks can take action to support girls’ rights especially as they concern their rights to safety, autonomy, health and reproductive justice. I recommend that folks read and learn about the work to decriminalize school environments for girls, primarily Black girls and youth of color. Other actions include advocating on the local, state and national level for K-12 comprehensive education, and organizing to codify Title IX on the local levels in every state. Finally it is important to redistribute funds and donate to organizations working alongside girls to center their leadership, reshape power structures, and amplify the demands of all young people.


Candela

Candela

Why are you an activist for young women and girls' rights and well-being?

I am an activist for young women and girls because I live in a culture obsessed with the female body and everyday I see gender inequalities in education, work, and the well-being of girls and women.

What inspires me is the hope that the new generation grows up free of social mandates and can take care of their mental, physical and emotional health, to prevent body dissatisfaction, low self-esteem and eating disorders.

What's the biggest threat to girls' rights today?

The biggest threat to girls’ rights is seeing ourselves as an object, an ornament. Emphasis is placed on our physical appearance and we are valued more for our body than for our potential. This objectification generates symbolic and physical violence, low self-esteem and body dissatisfaction, harms personal well-being, and generates inhibitions in daily life, job performance and
interpersonal relationships. It's time we were valued for who we are, not how we look.

What can people do to get involved to help support girls' rights and well-being everywhere?

One way to get involved is by reviewing and identifying privileges, fostering critical thinking in favor of social acceptance of bodily, sexual, and gender diversity. Stop criticizing other people's bodies, and respect the choices that each person makes about their body. Question prejudices and social labels, value women for their abilities and not for how they look. Consume brands that promote diversity. And most importantly: support organizations that work day by day for gender equality.


Haleema

Haleema


Why are you an activist for young women and girls' rights and well-being?

I grew up seeing and being impacted by various forms of gender-based violence such as sexual harassment, state violence, and domestic violence. As a child, I did not understand why this was happening or how to stop it. My journey into young womanhood empowered me to take action, to speak up and to do something. It was because of women TGNC (Transgender and Gender Nonconforming) adults who modeled for me and mentored me that I was able to develop my own voice. I am an activist for young women and girls*, and gender-expansive youth because I can’t live knowing that half of our society is being held back, oppressed, and harmed. Fighting for the needs of girls and gender-expansive youth is fighting for fundamental human rights, rights that when granted, benefit us all. When girls thrive, we all do. 

What's the biggest threat to girls' rights today?

The biggest threat to girls*’ rights today are toxic cultural norms that permeate all levels of our society, influencing media, government policies, and behaviors. Examples of this culture include rape culture and the gender binary which result in the enactment of violence on girls* and gender-expansive youth. At Alliance for Girls, we believe that it is imperative that our advocacy includes intentional narrative and cultural strategy to combat these harmful norms and help create new ones. 

What can people do to get involved to help support girls' rights and well-being everywhere?

Girls and gender-expansive youth need caring adults who can support them, access to gender responsive programs, and resources that meet their expressed needs. To that end, girls organizations need to be well funded to provide this, and our government agencies are including girl leaders at the table to inform policy decisions that impact their lives. Every day, people have the power to make change. I think of leaders like Santana, a trans activist fighting for safer public transit in the Bay Area, or youth researcher Uche, as well as the the amazing individuals on Alliance for Girls’ Young Women’s Leadership Board, who have shone a bright light on the issues facing girls amid the COVID-19 pandemic. They inspire me every day with their advocacy and remind me of the power we each hold to speak up, act, and make change. 


*“Girls” refers to gender-expansive youth (cis girls, trans girls, non-binary youth, gender non-conforming youth, gender queer youth and any girl-identified youth).


Isla

Isla

Why are you an activist for young women and girls' rights and well-being?

I was born in a small town in the countryside of Brazil. There we were defined by social roles that reserved for girls a place of ascension solely related to motherhood and domestic tasks, which facilitated school dropouts, pregnancy and early marriage. My parents, on the other hand, have always encouraged me to pursue my full potential through education. I now recognize that this is what saved me to be just myself.So I fight every day for more girls to have the opportunity to fulfil their dreams and goals, no matter what the society imposes.

What's the biggest threat to girls' rights today?

The biggest threat to girls' rights today is the patriarchal ideology that limits our self-knowledge, our belief in our potential, and our ability to genuinely connect with other women with sorority. Because we grew up in a society structured from a male bias, we often learn to normalize situations of violence or restriction of our rights. And that is precisely why we need to work on a female network to reframe different beliefs and build a society that fully respects us.

What can people do to get involved to help support girls' rights and well-being everywhere?

To support girls everywhere, it is necessary to responsibly seek and disseminate knowledge, particularly about gender-based violence, financial emancipation and the autonomy of female bodies. Also whenever possible, we need to be promoting spaces of conscious dialogue—whether between only women or also with men. Additionally, it is important to support organizations that promote women's and human rights in general, such as 'O Berço,' adopting a position that questions social structures and promotes equity through gender, race and class biases.


Sage

Sage


Why are you an activist for young women and girls' rights and well-being?

I utilize my voice to effect change and push forward the fight for liberation of all girls for three simple reasons: privilege, necessity, and fear. I have the privilege of having a support system, a family, and being equipped with the knowledge needed in order to use my voice for good. The fear of existing in an uneducated society where ignorance often equals violence drives my necessity to transform the society and therefore the reality in which I exist. Ultimately, it is my fear of remaining a victim to this violence coupled with my necessity to change the world and my privilege to do so that has made me into the changemaker I am today. 

What's the biggest threat to girls' rights today?

Autonomy. There is a war waged on our bodies and identities as women and girls. This war has claimed many lives. Decisions are being made for us and without us, starting the harmful precedent that bodily autonomy is not a right. Girls across the world are being criminalized and harmed at the hands of not only world leaders and politicians but by every citizen that allows ourt bodies to be politicized and colonized.

What can people do to get involved to help support girls' rights and well-being everywhere?

You can and you must stand up and fight against these injustices by educating your community both online and in the streets. Shifts in culture begin with shifts in media and legislation. We cannot sit idly by and wait for change to happen, we must be actively changing our communities, classrooms, and workplaces. We need to sign petitions, call our representatives, and actively boycott and divest from corporate leaders and public figures that actively support these systems of oppression. 


Terriana

Terriana 


Why are you an activist for young women and girls' rights and well-being?

I decided to be an activist for young women and girls because we need people who know what it is like being a young woman and having to navigate the world. I wanted to show youth that even though you might have had a tough childhood, you can always create a brighter, self-determined future for yourself when you stand up and advocate for yourself and others.

What's the biggest threat to girls' rights today?

I believe the biggest threat to girls' rights today is criminalization. Being caught in the system because of poverty and racial bias. Criminalization means that you can end up in juvenile hall for trying to survive, for being poor, for being Black, for having mental illness, and even for experiencing trauma. It means that even in school, there is a pipeline to the juvenile legal system. If you make a mistake, teachers call the police. In foster care, parents and providers call the police. You’re not seen as a full person with the right to choose for yourself—to practice self-determination. Another threat to girls' rights is the lack of resources and safe housing. Young women need housing and safe spaces, and resources so they can take care of their needs and be able to show up confidently in the world because their basic needs are being met.

What can people do to get involved to help support girls' rights and well-being everywhere?

People can help support girls' rights by demanding that systems that are meant to protect and meet the needs of girls are doing their work, instead of creating more harm. Jail is no place for children, and girls should not be punished by the system for needing to survive. We need to make sure every girl has access to food, shelter, love, support, and community. We shouldn’t be removed from our communities, or be criminalized for where we come from. We need everyone to invest in the power and leadership of young women. Give us the space and resources to choose for ourselves; to practice self-determination.