#YoungWomenSay is a partnership with Say It Forward in support of International Youth Day 2018 and culminating on International Day of the Girl. The campaign features blogs from incredible young women from around the world, and is designed to harness the power of storytelling and social media to drive attention to their lived experiences, dreams, and aspirations.
the #youngwomensay collection
I’m the middle child and only daughter. I was confused throughout most my childhood about what it meant to be the only girl in my family, alongside my three brothers. But my confusion was almost always sedated by my persistence, or what my mother calls stubbornness. Whenever I reflect on my aspirations and what I value in my work and personal life, I cannot help but think of my mother as the person who has had the greatest influence on my perception and ambitions.
I do all of the things other young people my age do, like hang out with my friends, watch Youtube and Netflix, and listen to music. There are days when I don’t feel pretty and days when I feel great about myself. But there is one thing about me that you couldn’t guess just by looking at me. I’m HIV-positive.
I grew up in what was referred to as a squatters community or captured land. Families living there were below the poverty line. It meant that most were living in poor conditions and seeking a way out. Some women sought refuge in sexual relationships which, more often than not, resulted in early motherhood. I too wanted a better life. Through the help of mentors and teachers who could see my potential, I started to perceive good in myself as well.
Being born into a Pakistani family, it’s not easy to stop listening to what people are saying about you: about the way you dress, you walk, you talk, or you smile. I had to choose between walking away or giving in to people’s expectations. I chose to walk away from the negative aspects of my life and find myself. I believe that taking a stand and leaving behind everything that’s hurting you is the only way to grow, so that’s what I did.
Very few people recognize the role that women play in environment conservation. Research shows that women are more heavily impacted by climate change and natural disasters. Yet, the media seems more keen to portray women as vulnerable victims of environmental disasters and rarely highlights the many innovative solutions that women - especially young women - are using to combat climate change.
I was born and raised in a very small town in Georgia, a country located in the Caucasus region. Living in Georgia in the 1990s was challenging as the country was suffering from socio-economic difficulties after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. I remember the times when we had to prepare our homework in the light of a candle or lamp, with no heating in the winter. But what didn’t need electricity were the ideas in our minds.
Growing up, people most often identified me as the “dark-skinned girl” or the “charcoal seller’s daughter.” I come from a community where most daughters end up taking over their mother’s work, and I didn’t want to sell charcoal as a profession. I woke up each day and said to myself that I needed to change.
I remember when I was around eight or nine years old, I used to doodle encouraging messages to myself on my school notebooks. “You are really cool!” or “Kinga is amazing!” were my favorites. While I really believed in my superpowers -- which I thought were both being an optimist and knowing how to communicate with animals -- that didn’t mean that I thought I was better than anyone. My notes were just reminders that I was a strong girl who had hobbies and was surrounded by friends.
I believe in introspection, where one digs deep in their heart to search for who they really are and what their purpose is. This introspection isn’t just for personal gain, but to meaningfully improve the lives of those around them. This process led me to realize that girls and young women often suffer in silence. This has motivated me to speak louder and begin my journey of elevating the voices of the voiceless. I am eager to affect change that will make my community a better place for girls and women.
The first time I was embarrassed of my period was the first moment I got it. There was no pretext to that feeling of shame. It was as innate as my breath. There isn’t anything specific from my childhood that led me to this feeling of dirtiness and humiliation. It was just there. I can remember wiping and wiping, urging the blood to go away. I was disgusted by myself.
My journey as a young leader and advocate began when I was about 10 years old. Even as a child, I had so much passion for activism. Together with my fellow young activists, I led many initiatives geared towards advancing the rights of children. However, at the age of 14, my dream was cut short.
We live at a time where there is more opportunity than ever before. For some young women, the principles of feminism are encouraged. They are supported in their endeavors to get an education, be professional, and be independent. They are given equal opportunities with men in terms of education, employment, and inheritance. But, unfortunately, this is not the case for most. Despite our privileges, my generation must continue the fight for equality.
I am asked more often than I thought I would be how I got to where I am today.
It’s a position I wouldn’t have believed I’d be in ten years ago. When I was nineteen, I was close to exhausting the articles, listicles, and books on the ‘Right Way To Live Your Life,’ and walking away with my head swimming with conflicting, and often irrelevant, standards against which to measure myself.
For me, growing up was a series of realizations about the things that I ‘could not’ do, merely because I am a girl. And while my relative privilege allowed me to get an education, start working, and travel independently, the ‘do nots’ list still hasn’t fully disappeared. The need to challenge this reality is what led me to my work as a campaigner.
I am 28 years old and I grew up in Bucharest, the capital city of Romania, an Eastern European country that got rid of communism the year before I was born. My parents’ life was fundamentally different than mine. They lived their younger years in a closed society based on fear, and considered family and hard work to be their core values.
Being a lesbian is the best thing that has ever happened to me. I wish I could have imagined this possibility when I was younger, because when I was 11 or 12 years old, all I knew about lesbians were discriminatory things. But when I was teenager, I discovered myself.
As you read this blog, let my journey inspire you but remember that yours won’t be the same as mine because our dreams are different.
I grew up in a small city called Guwahati, tucked in the far northeast of India. My region is full of abundant resources but also had its own share of issues, like insurgency and violence, that I witnessed from a very young age. I think this is what led me to choose a career in the development space.
Though my journey has just begun, I hope part one of my life’s story inspires many others, especially girls and young women, to join me on this journey. Do not ever feel greatness does not come from slums.
As a girl growing up in a rural community, I never had resources or power to help out my peers. This meant I witnessed a lot of suffering. All the same, I realized eventually that my voice is a very powerful tool that I can use to help girls my community, and that drove me to action.
There were days I walked miles to and from high school, which was miles away in the neighboring community. There were days when I sold coconuts in the village and snacks on the school bus in order to make money for school fees. Despite this hardship, I was determined to complete high school.
Being a volunteer was something rather new for our generation, and so were civic education, youth rights and the concept of participation. For that reason most of our parents had little knowledge and understanding of why this was important to me and my peers, as participation had political and negative connotations and sex and sexuality were generally a taboo.
I made friends and enemies alike but the message was clear. I was a force to reckon with, a girl who had grown into a young woman in a not so supportive society who wanted the world to be different for other girls.
It seemed like the inequalities for girls were abundant no matter where I looked. I started to realize that something was wrong, that there was a power trying to keep me down and that didn’t want me to be confident and strong.