The Future is Ms. is an ongoing series of news reports by young feminists. This series is made possible by a grant from SayItForward.org in support of teen journalists and the series editor, Katina Paron.
From leading local #MeToo movements to redefining the possibilities for Indian girls, young women across the country are fighting to change the world. Some of them were sparked to action by Girls Learn International (GLI)—a program of the Feminist Majority Foundation, which also publishes Ms. Young activists in GLI’s 230 chapters in 30 states and 11 countries are empowered by a core curriculum to become advocates, tackling issues ranging from girls’ education to human trafficking.
Each year, GLI leaders from the U.S. attend the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women as delegates. This year, three young women at that convening offered Ms. a glimpse into their journeys as activists.
Divya Ganesan: Palo Alto Bay, California
16-year-old Divya Ganesan was born to be a leader, and she will tell you so herself. Her name in Sanskrit means “heavenly queen,” and she’s taken up the role dutifully.
Ganesan has grown up empowered by strong women—most of all, her mother. She now uses her own empowerment to fight inequalities, some of which she has experienced first-hand. “Being Indian, the culture I’ve grown up in has been a culture of women should be in the house,” she explained to Ms. “It’s the man’s job to be the breadwinner.”
Ganesan is not content with this expectation, and hopes to elevate the status of women and girls. Ganesan started her own GLI chapter and shared her perspective at CSW by helping write the Girls Statement, an annual statement on the status of girls delivered to the Commission. She encourages others to embrace their perspectives as women of color and to draw on it in their activism.
“Learning to use my specific culture and background to motivate my feminism has really increased my passion,” she shared. “I think the best way that I can work towards changing the culture that my parents have grown up in is by breaking the culture myself.”
Ganesan’s activism hinges on being bold—something she sees as revolutionary. “Once we abandon the idea of girls having to be nice, but instead understand the need for girls to be assertive, determined and perseverant,” she declared, “that’s when girls can really achieve what they can achieve.”
Danielle Samake: Maplewood, New Jersey
Danielle Samake’s upbringing has instilled in her the value of empathy, which the 18-year-old says is at the core of her activism. “My activism and my feminism and everything that I hold near and dear as values,” she told Ms., “stem from the fundamental belief that other people have value and that other people deserve rights.”
Samake holds those values close, something she attributes to the strength she gained growing up in a tight-knit immigrant community and being a woman of color. “If you are a member of any marginalized group, you feel a greater sense of urgency about the issues that are happening,” she explained, “because you can see the real-life effect in your everyday life.”
Samake is taking a gap year before she heads to Princeton University in 2021 to dive deeper into her activism; starting in September, she’ll spend nine months in India working with different nonprofits to ensure women and girls’ autonomy in the region, particularly among migrant women and girls.
It’s a fitting start to Samake’s higher education that she is happy to embrace. “Trying to exist in a way that is kind to other people and to the world has been empowering to me,” she said, “and made me feel that maybe, in a small way, I am making some changes.”
Zoey Brewer: Memphis, Tennessee
Zoey Brewer is no stranger to activism—she has been a fiery, outspoken voice in her community since her first march, at age five. But when the 17-year-old recently came out with her own story of sexual assault, the very community that shaped her activism tried to tear it down.
“So many people told me: ‘Why are you doing this?'” Brewer recalled. “‘You couldn’t stop your own sexual assault, so how can you hope to stop others?’”
This public criticism initially made Brewer feel defeated, but then it became fuel for her fire. She draws on her experiences to motivate her, and has only become more passionate. She advocates through social media, leads marches, organized a town hall on gun violence and developed a curriculum with GLI to educate local students on sexual assault and consent.
“I want to make sure that everyone in my community is empowered enough to find their platform,” she said, “so that they can share their story and go on to empower others.”
Brewer’s own platform has grown since that first march—and she has no intention of letting criticism slow her down. “By not listening to those people,” she reasoned, “I managed to get to the United Nations.”