By Sarah Soysa
I started my work as a volunteer and I still volunteer. Late at night, in the weekends, travelling in and out of my city alone for 10 hours for both work and volunteer work, sometimes I get to travel in groups and that is much more fun and safe. As a feminist activist, I work hard to break barriers and voice my frustration over rights violations, inequality, injustice and challenge the sexist system. BUT this story is not about that. This is a story about all my feminist friends, mostly young women.
Many of my friends studied the same degree with me, and we started volunteering with a lot of motivation and passion. We were determined to make a difference, but lost the opportunity as a result of a range of discriminatory cultural norms and values. They were not allowed to travel freely, associate with boys, work too late, talk about sexuality, talk about equality, and challenge the norms.
They were challenged, demotivated, and stopped by their parents, boyfriends, brothers, neighbors, relations and some even by social media trolls. I succeeded mainly because I received support throughout from my parents and my mentors. They believed in me even when others didn’t.They strengthened me to fight trolls.They guided me well and stood up for me. I am truly grateful to have met the right mentors who shared their expertise, experience and stories with me to make me strong.
I would suggest and request kindly from all feminists and veterans in the field to help younger feminists! Support them. Lift them up and share your experience with them. It is critical for younger feminists to respect and acknowledge the older generations and vice versa for their contribution, creativity and capacities. Intergenerational work is truly important to build a movement and strengthen existing movements.
Now I see a greater sense of acceptance and admiration for my work in the country than when I started. People have seen the transformation our work can create and have started believing in them. I now easily talk about very taboo topics like sexual violence, abortion or sexuality education on national TV and in policy-making fora where I am accepted as a value addition to their conversations.
Sharing from my experience I would like to say that young women should be able to challenge the society, social norms, and the status quo. Challenge the structures. Challenge people who challenge you! Keep doing what you do and one day people will see what you mean and realize the impact you are making. We can’t make everyone happy, nor should we be required to try! Don’t let anyone keep you down. Not even your parents. I wish I tried less to make everyone happy…
#YoungWomenSay is a collaboration between Say It Forward and The Torchlight Collective in support of International Youth Day (#IYD2016). This campaign features blogs from incredible young women from around the world about their experiences overcoming adversity. Each story shared will spark a $5.00 donation to the Midwives Forward campaign of the Family Care International program of Management Sciences for Health. We invite you to follow Say It Forward on Twitter and follow The Torchlight Collective on Facebook, Twitter and #TheTorchlightCollective.
Sarah Soysa is a feminist and a global advocate on Gender and development with a social focus on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights. She has completed her bachelors in Social Work in Sri Lanka and her Masters in Gender and Development Studies in the University of Melbourne as the youngest recipient of Australia Awards Scholarship in 2014 from Sri Lanka. She has been volunteering and working with National, Regional and faith based organizations such as IPPF, Family Planning Association of Sri Lanka, University of Melbourne youth research division, Cousera- University of Melbourne, South Asia Regional Youth Network, YPEER Sri Lanka, Young Women’s Christian Association Sri Lanka and Australia, Asia Safe Abortion Partnership to name some. She is a current advisor for FRIDA Feminist Fund and the coordinator of the Commonwealth Youth Gender and Equality Network. Sarah is the sexual and reproductive health coordinator for Sri Lanka working with Medicines du Monde (Doctors of the World) and she is the founder and Director of her own organization; Youth Advocacy Network Sri Lanka. She hopes to continue her challenging work as a global, regional, and national level advocate building capacities of young women and other marginalized groups.