The UN marked the eighth International Day of the Girl Child, over the weekend.
First launched in 2012, the annual day aims to increase awareness of gender inequality faced by girls around the world, and is particularly important in 2020, given how progress for girls is going backwards due to COVID-19/
Today, we wanted to mark the occasion by highlighing the work of five young activists who are fighting child marriage, climate change and racial injustice. They are just a tiny sample of the activist girls that are pushing for change internationally.
Howey Ou, 17
Climate Change Activist
Less than two years ago at the age of 15, Howey Ou started hanging out outside the local government office in her hometown of Guilin in southern China, holding signs demanding tougher policies on climate change from the Chinese government. It became a thing she did every Friday, which lead to calls from her school for her to either cease the protesting or drop out of school entirely. She chose to drop out of school.
In an interview with the National Catholic Report’s Covering Climate Now feature in August this year, the now 17-year old teenager said her school “decided to stop me from striking after I began gaining international coverage and garnered support for my actions.”
“The public security bureau would call my school and my parents, and ask them to urge me to go back to school. So they felt a lot of pressure and told me if I didn’t end my climate activism, I wouldn’t be allowed back.”
Ou also stages documentary screenings of films about climate change each weekend, building a community of activists who are urging their government to take climate action and lower emissions to avoid environmental catastrophes.
Ou has openly criticised the Chinese government for its lack of climate change awareness. “They want to control people,” she said. “They don’t like things that they can’t fully control and this kind of civil disobedience makes people aware about the government’s climate inaction. They don’t want more people putting pressure on them to take climate action because their current priority is only on economic growth and development.”
Ou is determined to fight the long battle. “ I will strike every single Friday and host climate documentary screenings until China aligns with the Paris Agreement,” she said. “I think that’s probably going to be a long time. Maybe one day, I want to make a trip around China and meet everyone who is fighting for the planet.”
Daisy Jeffrey, 17
As one of the organisers of School Strike4Climate Australia, last year’s becoming one of the largest in Australia’s protest history with over 300,000 people attending, Daisy Jeffrey is no newbie to social awareness campaigning. She started her activism at the age of 7 when she watched the news and learned about the global waste crisis.
“I was so concerned that my friends and I decided that the only solution to that problem was to eat chocolate,” she told her publishers, Hachette. “We’d eat the chocolate and save the plastic and create these sculptures and we set up a blog called The Environmentals.”
Later, Jeffery sent a letter to then-shadow communications minister Malcolm Turnbull. Ten years later, Daisy found herself standing in front of a crowd of tens of thousands in Sydney’s Domain, roaring into a sea of supporters, demanding the Australian government stop coal, oil or gas projects, 100 percent renewable energy generation by 2030, and fund a smooth transition and job creation for fossil fuel workers and communities.
“We are in the midst of a massive global crisis and you are leaving it up to children to clean up your mess!” Jeffery cried.
She learned from powerful parents, evidently — her father is James Jeffrey, one of Anthony Albanese’s speechwriters. So politics is in her blood. Earlier this year, she published her mini-manifesto “On Hope”, where she mediates on the power of optimism and activism to fight for a better world. Organiser, published author, and, she’s also an extremely accomplished cellist. We’re looking forward to seeing what this young talent will be doing in the future.
Naomi Wadler, 13
Anti-Gun Violence Activist
Two years ago, Naomi Wadler, who was just 11, made an extraordinary speech in Washington DC at the March For Our Lives Rally, to “acknowledge and remember the African American girls whose stories don’t make the front page of every national newspaper.”
Her speech was shared by prominent figures including Kamala Harris and actress Tessa Thompson. It was only weeks prior to the rally when Wadler and her friend Carter had organised a walkout at their elementary school in Virginia to honour the lives of African American people who’d been killed by gun violence.
Later, the young teenager would be invited to speak at the Women in the World Annual Summit, the Teen Vogue summit and the Tribeca Film Festival, where she received the Disruptive Innovation Award.
She was also invited to speak at the 2020 Davos Economic Forum highlighting racial disparities in addressing gun violence against black females in America, saying: “White girls’ lives matter so much more than any black girl who dies in the inner city, or on the way to school. We don’t hear about them, they’re statistics.”
Wadler is now also the host of NowThis Kids, a weekly YouTube series that aims to highlight stories about young people making a difference in their communities. This month, Wadler will feature as part of the Girlhood exhibit at the National Museum of American History, showcasing woman suffrage and exploring the concept of girlhood in America.
Dola Akter Reba, 16
Anti Child marriage Activist
Earlier this month, the UN released a report “Child Marriage in Humanitarian Settings in South Asia: Study Results from Bangladesh and Nepal”.
“About 59 percent of women aged 20-24 in Bangladesh were married under the age of 18,” wrote Jean Gough, regional director, UNICEF South Asia, in a written foreword. According to UNICEF data from 2017, almost a quarter of girls in Bangladesh were married before the age of 15.
At the age of 12, Dola Akter Reba faced the possibility of being married off. She quickly opposed the transaction and become one of several young activists working with child rights advocates to educate parents about the harm that can be done to girls when they are married off at a young age. Reba joined World Vision and soon received training in advocating for an end to violence against children, using donations to sponsor girls at risk. So far, they have worked with communities in Bangladesh, directly engaging with families through groups and forums, and managed to prevent more than 600 child marriages since 2018.
Earlier this year, Reba spoke to SBS, where she said she is passionate about her activism in the area “because we know other children’s pain and how much they suffer. When a child gets married under the age of 18, they face many challenges including increased risk of child and mother mortality, school dropout, domestic violence and abuse.”
As a member of the World Vision Child Forums since she was 10, Reba was last year invited to speak on behalf of girls in her home country and share the success of her work at the UN in Geneva.
Mya-Rose Craig, 18
Last month, 18 year old Mya-Rose Craig staged a protest against climate change as she stood for five hours on an ice floe in the Arctic, north of Norway. The Bristol-based teenager held up a placard that read “Youth Strike for Climate.” Craig, who has just finished high school, is a dedicated ornithologist and nature, climate and equal rights campaigner, who hopes to study politics and international relations at university in 2021.
In her latest protest, she arrived on the Article Circle ice on board the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise as part of an expedition charting the impact of the climate crisis and examining marine life in the region. She timed her expedition protest with the United Nations Summit on Biodiversity, where “marine protection should be front and centre to any discussions about protecting biodiversity,” Greenpeace said in a statement.
“I’m here because I want to see for myself what’s at stake as this crucial protector of the planet, the Arctic Ocean, melts away at a terrifying rate,” Craig said in a statement. “Today, myself and Fridays For Future activists from all over the world are standing up to call for urgent action against climate breakdown. I’m here to demand that our leaders come together and create ocean sanctuaries to protect this essential but fragile place and at least 30 per cent of our oceans. There is still time to turn things around towards more sustainable energies and lifestyles, and that moment must be now.”
Craig has spent several years campaigning to improve diversity in conservation work and also runs nature camps for teenagers to introduce them to the natural world, called Black2Nature.