TRANSFORMATION: Young Feminists Creating the Future

October 6, 2021

On September 23, our community and a global audience of invited guests gathered for an urgent conversation about the power of young feminists to lead our way forward. Our speakers—Pratima Gurung, Raven Lacerte, and Malala Yousafzai—awed and inspired all of us, dropping wisdom and sharing insights that left us feeling energized and inspired for the fight ahead. Their powerful visions—and fierce commitment to feminist values—offer a moral and practical roadmap for the fight ahead, especially amid growing crises for girls, women, and non-binary people around the world. We are thrilled to share some of the highlights from the session.

 

Feminist futures are free from violence, fear, and oppression—for all girls, women, and non-binary people

Each of our speakers opened with a vision of a feminist future—painting a powerful collective picture of a world that is within our radical reach. Raven dreams of a future where all women and children can live their lives free of violence. She vividly described a future without fear, one where everyone is able to live to their fullest potential. Malala works for a future where every girl has access to safe and quality education. She cannot wait to see “that last girl picking up her books, entering the classroom, and learning safely.” Pratima challenged us to picture a future built for everyone: a time when the most marginalized groups who exist at the intersections of gender, age, ability, ethnicity, class, and other overlapping identities can live in a safe, enabling environment where they are free to share their learning and challenges and to achieve their highest aspirations.

 

Trust girls—and fully integrate their leadership

Girls, young women, and gender-expansive youth are often welcomed on stage for global events and dialogues. But the real test is whether they are listened to off the stage. Centring girls means truly incorporating their leadership and perspectives throughout programs and initiatives that are meant to serve them. Whether in a boardroom, strategy session, or out in the field, it means genuinely listening to them, trusting in their vision, and backing up that trust with resources, authority, and respect. And simply inviting one young person into a space is not a fair or effective answer, either. The multiplicity of perspectives and identities among girls, young women, and gender-expansive youth must be integrated into all aspects of philanthropy and social change.

 

Centre those who have been pushed to the margins

Funders—and decision makers of all kinds—must be guided by a commitment to centre the lived experiences, perspectives, and power of those who live at the intersections of multiple and overlapping identities and oppressions. As an “Indigenous woman with disabilities living in a very rural part of Nepal,” Pratima lives these intersections every day. And as she wisely reminded us, we must be committed to “leaving no one behind.” Of the 28 million Indigenous women with disabilities, 80 percent are in the global South, and they are almost never invited to global conversations that shape their lives. As funders and people with privilege, we must always ask: Who is not in the room? In Pratima’s words: “Funders really need to work with the most marginalized groups, looking at those who live at the intersections of these multiple and overlapping identities. Putting them in the centre and listening to them is the most crucial first step.”

 

We are role models—today and to future generations 

As activists, we have a responsibility to ensure that the values we fight for in the world are also put into practice in our own spaces. We must acknowledge and celebrate the differences and diversity among us. We need to address the reality that not everyone is treated equally, and that many among us are harmed and discriminated against based on our identities. As Malala says: “We must ensure that when we are working collectively, we are willing to learn and educate ourselves. And to be a bit more sympathetic towards each other and to help each other. A world of peace and inclusivity is only possible when we show that in the communities we have formed ourselves.”

 

Remove the barriers that stand in the way of young feminist leadership

Spaces of power—“the room where it happens”—have been custom designed for old, white males for centuries. In these rooms, hurdles take many forms—language, accessibility, customs, access, agendas—but they have a common effect: silencing the voices of young feminist activists often before they can even enter. Unleashing the power of young feminist leaders means revolutionizing the spaces and practices of power. And it can begin in relatively small but meaningful ways. As Raven described, her Moose Hide campaign meetings “…all start with me speaking first…meaning that it might be the first time others hear a young Indigenous person speaking. Changing that narrative…and how much love, hope…grace they can bring, is so important.”  Creating spaces for young feminists—and their solutions—to be heard is essential to our future.

 

Philanthropy is about much more than money

Solidarity and lasting change are rooted in relationships. When asked what she needs from funders, Raven made the powerful point that she doesn’t just ask for money, she asks that people “join our movement in a meaningful way. We want to build relationships and go from there.” That might start, for example, with ordering a Moose Hide campaign pin and joining a fasting ceremony.  “We believe that we have medicine to offer to people who might need it,” Raven says, explaining that the moose hide pin is a living commitment to “never do violence in their lives and to speak out against it.” This reciprocal approach to change, anchored in meaningful relationships, mutuality, and true connection, is central to feminist, transformative philanthropy.

 

Time is running out. We need action now.

Over and over again, the research shows us: Gender equality is essential to our shared future. Educating girls, for example, brings $30 trillion to the world economy. It reduces the likelihood of wars, conflict, and poverty. It helps us tackle climate change and build a safer, greener, better world for all. The advantages are countless, but the world needs to learn these lessons and put them into practice before time runs out. It is time to make girls’ education the concrete priority it needs to be. And just to be crystal clear, it is not girls themselves who need this message—they know the transformative power of education better than anyone. Together we must reach the decision makers—at home, in communities, and across governments—whose power and resources determine whether girls’ access to education is prioritized or prevented.

 

Find the hope—and centre the joy

This is tough work and these are tough times. But there is hope and joy in the middle of it all. Each speaker described what gives her focus and power when things get challenging. “I think about the intergenerational pain and trauma that is transforming into intergenerational strength and love and healing. I think about all those cycles we are breaking so we can have a bright future full of joy and safety,” shared Raven. Pratima said: “When I go into the field with my communities…listening to those unheard voices…that motivates me, centres me, and focuses me. It reminds me who I am and what I need to do for my people.” As Malala concluded: “What we’ve seen become possible is because of the activism of women. What we are doing is having an impact. We must continue to believe in our voices and in our work.”

 

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