“Don’t speak unless spoken to.” “You’re so aggressive.” “Why are you being so angry? How about you smile instead?”
Strong women are often seen by society as an oxymoron. When acting outside of the subservient roles that have been prescribed to them, these women are portrayed as overly assertive and—a “man-favorite”—bitchy. However, if a man strongly asserts his wants and beliefs, he is seen as a “boss” or a “go-getter.” Women’s voices and experiences are often belittled and disparaged, and the problems that they draw attention to are minimized under the pretenses that women are “too emotional” or “weak,” so the problems must not be as bad as they say.
With that said, history demonstrates that there are always strong women who refuse to be ignored. This is true maybe now more than ever, as we see more and more women gaining visibility in the media as advocates for people and causes that deserve justice and attention. Here are some badass young women today that are fighting for and drawing attention to issues that plague our world:
Bana al-Abed, 9
Bana al-Abed is a 9-year-old girl who became a refugee after escaping the civil war in Syria with her family. During the Battle of Aleppo, she shared images and updates of the conflict and how it was affecting her and other Syrian children on her Twitter (trigger warning for graphic images). She was 3 years old when the war started and escaped to Turkey when she was about 7. During that time, she lost her friend and their family to bombings, ran out of food and water, and endured many other hardships. Now, she is living a better life in Turkey and advocates for refugees with the aid of the Turkish government.
Bana wrote a book called Dear World: A Syrian Girl’s Story of War and Plea for Peace, which paints a picture of all the horrible things she had to experience during her early childhood. Even today, she and her mother still post personal updates, reminders of the horrors of Syria, and commentary on current events.
Sonita Alizadeh, 23
Sonita Alizadeh was originally from Afghanistan, but she moved to Iran in order to escape the Taliban. In Iran, her parents attempted to sell her into a child marriage twice. Sonita is not your typical activist—she is a “raptivist”, using her music and lyrical prowess to bring awareness to the widespread practice of child marriage almost everywhere in the world, but more specifically in her home countries.
Her single, “Daughters for Sale”/”Brides for Sale” (it has been written both ways), is a protest against the theft of a girl’s right to her freedom, her education, and her body. At the time of the song’s release in 2016, Alizadeh revealed that it was illegal in Iran for women to sing or rap, so she was taking a great risk in releasing the song. Her mission is echoed by the first visible element on her website—a statement that reads: “Every year, 12 million girls are married before the age of 18,” which is a sobering reminder of the work that still needs to be done. Thanks to the efforts of the Strongheart Group, Sonita was able to come to the United States for an education in 2015. She continues her advocacy by speaking at various activism events and creating music.
Kinsale Hueston, 19
Like Sonita Alizadeh, Kinsale Hueston uses her art to make her cause known. She is a poet of Native American heritage, as both her father and mother lived on a Navajo reservation in Utah. Before going to Yale(educational queen!), Kinsale was chosen as one of the National Student Poets for 2017, which is one of the highest honors for young poets. In her works, she tackles issues that face the Navajo community and Navajo women specifically, like violence targeting women and the attrition of native languages. Additionally, she has written many poems about her personal experiences and relationships.
One of the strongest figures in Kinsale’s life was her grandmother, and she has written profusely about their relationship, peppered with beautiful language and elements of the Navajo culture. You can find her poetry here, which she uses to spread awareness to her classmates, her community in California, or anyone else who reads her work. She is also fairly active on Instagram and Twitter, where she encourages her followers to buy indigenous-made products (like the makeup she’s wearing in this photo!).
Jazz Jennings, 18
Jazz Jennings is a well-known figure in the transgender community, as she was put into the spotlight at just 11 years old when an interview about her gender identity with Barbara Walters went viral. As a teenager, TLC debuted a show called I Am Jazz that follows her life as a transgender girl. She bared a lot of personal details as the series progressed, showing that while she was just like other girls, but she also had many struggles that were uniquely trans. She opened up about comparing herself to other girls (which, let’s face it, is unfortunately normal for everyone), self-image, and trans issues like dating and gender reassignment surgery. The show is now entering its sixth season, which follows Jazz- also the valedictorian of her school- as she heads to Harvard. She continues activism on her Twitter and Instagram, where she has amassed a large following. Jennings has already done amazing things, and I’m sure she’ll make an even bigger impact in the future.
Kenidra Woods, 18
Kenidra Woods has thrown herself into the front lines of many different movements since the age of 13. At 15 years old, she attempted suicide after years of sexual abuse, and the experience catalyzed her to create the CHEETAH Movement. Woods uses the CHEETAH Movement to spread awareness about mental health stigmas and to give others a healing space to open up about their struggles. On the CHEETAH blog, she provides a forum for other young people to express themselves through the arts, and her outreach is impassioned and inspiring. But she doesn’t stop at just mental health- she also launched the first “Hope for Humanity Project: National Rally for Peace” in her hometown of St. Louis, MO, in response to gun violence. The event and her activism, in general, is conducted with an intersectional perspective, as she hopes to show individuals their shared struggles. Additionally, she called out white complacency in Black gun violence, saying that the front lines of this field are primarily white but gun violence surrounding Black individuals specifically is overlooked, despite its frequency. Now, she’s been making major waves, and was on the cover of Teen Vogue for her work! From self-harm and mental health to racism and gun violence, Kenidra Woods is an activism powerhouse.
Follow their lead, or get out there yourself!
Without the strong figures that fight loudly and proudly for the causes that call to them, the world would be a much different, much more backward place. These young women show that an individual voice can make a huge impact, and they continue to employ the strength and gumption that makes them so incredible. Whether you want to support their efforts or make your own organization, your voice and support matter! There are plenty of ways to support the causes that capture your heart- even a simple follow and share on social media can make a huge difference. Even if your voice may seem small, the saying goes that one must “be the change you want to see in the world.” So, no matter what format you choose, or who you choose to support, your support can make an idea into a movement.