Calgary, Canada, December 17, 2014 (GMN) - There’s a new face to feminism these days. It’s a youthful face, made up of girls fighting for women’s rights before they’ve become women themselves. Consider Malala Yousafzai, who has just become the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. She was only 11 years old when she became a vocal activist for the universal right to education.
Her rallying cry for children’s and girls’ equality is aimed at policy-makers. But, by virtue of her age, she’s inspiring fellow children.
It was girls who clutched photos of Malala at a school assembly in Pakistan to celebrate her Nobel Prize. Her autobiography is available in a young reader’s edition to make her story more accessible to a younger audience.
Everywhere you look these days, girls’ rights campaigns are aimed at, well, girls. There’s Plan Canada’s Because I Am A Girl movement. There’s theFbomb.org, which connects teens concerned with gender equality. There’s TeenFeministBlog, run by high-schooler Jules Spector, a teen advisor for the UN’s Girl Up campaign.
And there are high-profile feminists such as Demi Lovato, Lorde and Emma Watson, the latter of whom recently gave an eloquent and rousing speech to the UN on the topic of gender equality.
Megan Boler, a professor of media and education at OISE-University of Toronto, notes there has been a profound shift in the perception and popularity of gender issues and that young people are, in large part, a driving force.
She attributes this shift to several factors, including Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential run, which ignited discussions about women in politics; young women’s involvement in the Occupy movement; the Slut Walk protests; and increased discussions about cyberbullying in light of the suicides of several teen girls who were bullied by classmates.
“There’s something about feminism that’s being rekindled and reclaimed,” says Boler. “Generational divides will not discourage young women from getting involved. I’m seeing it with my own nieces. They bring up issues about sexism in the media and gender roles.
“If we see role models of all different ages, then the hopeful implication is that ‘feminist’ stops becoming this bad word and … that it’s cool at all ages to engage in working for gender equality.”
This is the feminism girls are growing up with: A confident and empowering movement where people such as Malala are telling girls they have a voice and that even children can ignite change.
This new era is teaching our girls they don’t need to look solely to adults to fight for them; they are empowered to fight for their own rights to education, safety and sexual freedom.
Whether these girls grow up to be the next Gloria Steinem or Germaine Greer remains to be seen. But whether they create change through politics and activism or simply through the way they treat each other, they will have made a difference.
This didn’t start with Malala. But she’s been a huge catalyst. The impact of that brave, inspiring girl will have a ripple effect that will be felt by girls as they grow into women. This is Malala’s legacy.
By Kristen Thompson