Six young women leaders you need to know

The world might celebrate International Youth Day on 12 August, but these leading ladies are working towards a better future every day of the year. From promoting women’s rights during conflict to advocating for more women and girls working in ICT, these young women are changing the face of activism in their communities.

1) Abla Al Hajaia, Jordan

Photo: UN Women/Christopher Herwig

In 2016, Abla became the youngest ever City Council member in Jordan, after taking part in a leadership training. Now, she’s working to establish a national youth alliance in the country.

“In the beginning, none of the decision-makers involved in the election process liked the fact that a young woman was going to file as a candidate. They resisted me at every turn and said I couldn’t win because of my age and gender,” she says.

“For me, educating women on their basic legal rights is the need of the hour. Many have no information on how to protect themselves or exercise their rights. The entire future of a woman can change if that changes.”

2) Ileana Crudu, Moldova

Photo: Doina Stoicescu

Ileana started learning to code at a summer camp when she was in high school. Through the GirlsGoIT programme, Ileana has become an ambassador to help break down stereotypes in the ICT sector and encourage other girls to give coding a try.

“Studying coding has changed the perspective for hundreds of girls from my generation in Moldova. It is not only about IT, it is about believing in ourselves, beyond the traditional gender roles we were told to live with,” she says.

“The ICT sector combines creativity and logic. And with these tools, the world has no limits — you can do anything just with some lines of code.”

3) Sophia Pierre-Antoine, Haiti

Photo: UN Women

Sophia lived through many coups d’état in Haiti and watched the rising violence against women and girls all around her. Her feminism led her to work with young girls to break the cycle of violence. As the Programme Coordinator of the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) in Haiti, she works with young girls, coming from Haiti’s biggest slums and disadvantaged areas, to teach them about their rights and bodily autonomy.

“Haitian feminists are quite vocal about controversial issues, such as abortion, LGBTQI rights, and as a result, [we] are targeted [with violence] more. It’s a very patriarchal society, and just talking about the rights of women, or talking about something as simple as menstruation, is considered a taboo,” she says.

“I think that a big part of being a feminist is to make sure that young women know that they have rights and that they have bodily autonomy; that they can say no…And, there must be resources to help them heal.”

4) Saba Ismail, Pakistan

Photo: Angela Catlin

Saba started working on promoting peace in Pakistan when she was 15-years-old, and has continued to advocate for young women in peacebuilding processes ever since. Her Youth Peace Network reaches out to young people, including those who are at risk of being recruited by extremist groups, to promote peace, social cohesion and conflict resolution.

“The space for young women to work on peacebuilding is shrinking as we speak. They are not part of any peace negotiations,” Saba says.”Peace is not an overnight miracle. Everyone needs to contribute to build peace. For me, peace means people feel safe in their homes, on the streets, in the markets, in their mosques and their temples. It means celebration of all our diversities.”

Read more about young women peacebuilders

5) Micaele Fernandes, Brazil

Photo: UN Women/Gustavo Stephan

Micaele, a handball player from Rio de Janeiro, is a participant of the ‘One Win Leads to Another’ programme. Through the programme, and her participation in sports, she has learned the importance of confidence, leadership and teamwork, and now spreads those messages to others.

“I want all girls to believe in themselves, pursue their goals and not be deterred by what others think about them. Being a winner is fighting for what you believe in and never giving up. After all, trying to be better than you were yesterday already makes you a winner,” she says.

6) Elizabeth Chatuwa, Malawi

Photo: Malawi Girl Guides/Otchiwe Nkosi

As the District Youth Commissioner for the Malawi Girl Guides Association, Elizabeth mentors girls and assists youth leaders in delivering programmes to make girls and young women aware of their rights, to prevent child marriage and other forms of violence and to encourage girls to stay in school.

“I visited a rural community in the Mangochi district, where I met a 14-year-old girl, Chikondi, already married and with a baby in her arms. I asked her why she had gotten married. She said, her parents married her off to an older man so that he could support her and her family…our Girl Guide group went back to talk to her parents. It took some time, but eventually we were able to convince them to bring their daughter home and send her back to school,” she says.

“When you stop violence against girls, they can change this world for better.”

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