While the International Youth Foundation is committed to advancing equal opportunities and outcomes for women every day, today—International Women's Day—marks a unique chance for the world to celebrate growth and focus on necessary progress. Knowing that young people already are playing a critical role in shaping how we move forward, what messages do they want to share with the global community on this occasion?
- Sisterhood: "I cherish sisterhood and girl power!" says Sylwia Wodzinska, who, with five friends, co-founded MamyGlos. The organization, whose name translates as "we have a voice," empowers teenage girls in Poland to stand up to sexism. "I strongly believe that there needs to be a shift in how we speak about amazing femmes," Sylwia says. "Instead of promoting one person (which is hierarchical and, in this way, patriarchal), we should rather promote the wonderful teamwork and cooperation. Many girls and women are socialized not to be 'bossy,' and taking up leadership roles comes with lots of apprehensions. One way to change that is to show 'This woman did that, so can you.' Another—and, from our experience, more effective—way is demonstrating 'If you have your girl gang, you can move mountains.' At MamyGlos, each of us has done things they'd have never thought they'd do only because no one doubted us. So, please, believe a girl when she says she'll change the world."
- Optimism: "We will have more women leaders in the future, and things will change for the best," says Lina Khalifeh, Founder of SheFighter, the first self-defense studio for women in Jordan and the Middle East.
- Stereotypes and engagement: "Stop being afraid of strong women. Stop trying to judge or portray women who manage to do it all as selfish or bossy or as other stereotypes. You may never know of the hard work, the sacrifices, or the hardships faced by them through their journeys in making this world better for all," says Anoka Abeyrathne, Co-Founder and Director of Sustain Solutions in Sri Lanka, which uses community-based solutions to address social and environmental issues. "Also, try to do something. The smallest action from a donation to grass-root organization to engaging in political dialogue, makes a huge difference when done collectively. Go beyond the social media bubble!"
- Change and confidence: "Women have never received the respect, remuneration, acknowledgment and recognition they deserve for the work they do," says Binayak Acharya, who founded ThinkZone, which trains women in rural India to deliver education programs. "While working towards increasing access to quality education for kids in rural India, I had never realized that our enterprise was simultaneously creating women change-makers in the society who happen to implement our programs! Now more confident, they're speaking out on other larger issues beyond education."
- Valuable perspectives: "Everyone has ideas worth sharing and listening to. Gender shouldn't affect the way you're treated or the way your ideas are viewed," says Mikayla Sullivan, Co-Founder of U.S.-based Kinosol, a specific benefit corporation supporting food security while boosting entrepreneurship worldwide. "Women bring a unique perspective to business and problem-solving compared to men. Neither is right or wrong, just different—but if we value everyone's opinion equally, we may find a more valuable solution to the problem."
These passionate, articulate young leaders are just a few of the 1,700 innovators who make up the YouthActionNet global network. To learn more, including watching videos on women's leadership, visit youthactionnet.org.