Leading up to Day of the Girl 2019, I was thinking a lot about climate change warrior Greta Thunberg’s cautionary advice to members of Congress. “Please save your praise,” she said, speaking for herself and young people everywhere. “We don’t want it … because it doesn’t lead to anything.” I take Greta’s point to heart, as should all of us who stand by, for, and with young people: there is no acceptable substitute for real engagement and action.
Think about gun-control champion Emma Gonzalez in the United States, women’s rights defender Gulalai Ismail of Pakistan, Canadian Indigenous water rights activist Autumn Peltier, and countless others. Whether we hear about them in the news or not, young women are standing up for what they believe, speaking truth to power, and going toe-to-toe with world leaders to ensure a future that is safe, sustainable, and equitable for everyone. Avoiding tokenism and ensuring young people play a meaningful role, we need to follow their lead:
- Work with young people, and young women, as individuals: Action can—and should—start with the acknowledgement by youth-serving organizations that “young people” is not a homogenous category. Rather, it’s richly diverse and intersectional. Young women, for example, experience the world differently than young men: they face different challenges, have different needs, etc. So, girls and young women must be invited to contribute their ideas and feedback in the creation of programs designed to serve young women. This seems like common sense, and it should be, but you’d be surprised how often it’s not.
- Give young women a platform and let them speak: I’m reminded of something Christen Brandt, the founder of She’s the First, said in a recent IYF interview: “There are many ways to create change in the world, and I want each girl to find her own piece of the puzzle, her own journey to create the future we're building together.” Organizations should strive to amplify the views and voices of girls and young women who often don’t have access to a platform from which to elevate their concerns. This could take the form of blog and social media posts featuring stories and opinions of young women. Moreover, instead of writing about what young women—and young people in general—say, do the work to create the opportunity for them to say it using their own words and voices.
- Support collective action: Moving beyond institutional channels—like blogs and social media accounts—organizations can spearhead and support larger efforts to amplify the viewpoints and work of young women everywhere. With that in mind, IYF was proud to contribute to the Global Girls’ Bill of Rights, an effort lead by She’s the First to ask girls and young women around the world which rights are most important to them. From thousands of responses, a list of the top 10 rights was compiled—by a panel of young women—and the results were unveiled on October 11, as part of Day of the Girl.
Like many of you, I often meet young women—and young people in general—who inspire me. Working in the positive youth development space, it’s common and probably inevitable. The point is, it can’t stop there. Without real engagement and action, words of praise, however heartfelt, don’t do much good. So, I hope you’ll join me in hearing, and heeding, Greta Thunberg’s admonition. Let’s not only be inspired by young people, but also informed by their experiences and insights—and guided to action!