Since its inception in 1911, International Women’s Day has been celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women.
This year is no different. And while Gen Z females came of age in less than idyllic times, (political unrest, gun violence, environmental concerns, the realities of an always-connected world), this has not embittered them.
In fact, quite the opposite. 85% of this generation, born in the mid-1990s to 2012, feel empowered to shape what the future will be. Gen Z women are working to define and shape the world as they wish to experience it.
Here are two Gen Z women from opposite sides of the globe who are doing their part to make International Women’s Day their day—everyday.
Sonita Alizadeh, Afghan rapper and activist
It’s not uncommon for little girls around the globe to dream of their wedding day. However, some little girls' experiences with marriage are something altogether different. Every year, 12 million girls are married before the age of 18, child brides dealing with a harsh reality.
Such was the case for Sonita Alizadeh when at 10 years old, her family first considered selling her off as child bride in her native Afghanistan. Alizadeh avoided being sold, and instead fled with family members to Iran where she supported her family by cleaning offices and bathrooms. With access to no formal education in Iran, Alizadeh taught herself to read and write and along the way, discovered a passion for music. Inspired by the Iranian rap artists she heard on the radio, she started writing her own songs.
Photo credit: Women in the World, courtesy of Strongheart Group
When Alizadeh was 16, she was again told she would be sold into marriage; this time because her family needed money to pay for her brother’s wife. She responded by writing the song, “Daughters for Sale,” posting a video on YouTube. The song went viral. A nonprofit organisation in the U.S. saw it and reached out to Alizadeh, ultimately helping her escape to the States. Now, as a 22-year old student at an American University, Alizadeh is the leading youth advocate for child marriage in the world.
Using her voice as a ‘rap-tivist,’ Alizadeh is inspiring young women around the world to stand against child marriage and stand up for their dreams. As she states on the advocacy site, Sonita.org, Alizadeh says, “My story is just one story. My voice is just one voice. I want to extend the mic to the many young people in the world working to end child marriage.”
Lily Levin, social justice advocate
Speaking before the North Carolina General Assembly in late spring 2018, 17-year-old American social justice advocate Lily Levin spoke about the country’s gun problem. Addressing the crowd, she said, “When you prioritise a piece of paper and a weapon over human rights, we have a gun problem.”
She went on, “Before we go to school, to our sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers, loved one and friends we say ‘goodbye,’ knowing that this could be our last goodbye. I stand here in front of you because America has a gun problem.”
Student Lily Levin speaking at the 2018 Poor People’s Campaign
Levin has done more than just speak. She’s taken action, written op-eds, attended the Student Gun Violence Summit in the nation’s capital and formed Triangle People Power, a youth activist group pursuing multi-issue advocacy based on the ACLU’s grassroots agenda.
Inspired by her work at the ACLU Summer Advocacy Group, Levin, along with a fellow high school classmate, formed Triangle People Power to focus on civil liberties—especially those targeted in North Carolina.
When asked what the group’s main area of focus is, Levin is expansive. “Our work does not pertain to one issue specifically; we advocate for any and all civil liberties targeted by those in power and impacting under-represented and marginalised groups of people. Those of us with privilege recognise that—and know that we must be activists and expand our worldview simultaneously.”
Gen Z is stepping up to shape the future
Just as International Women’s Day belongs to ‘all groups collectively everywhere,’ it seems that these young Gen Z women also speak for and inspire others beyond their hometowns, be it the Middle East or North America.