Stories of Girls’ Resistance

All history is girls history:

Girls shaping and remaking the world

All history is girls history:

Girls shaping and remaking the world

One of the most powerful insights from this collection of stories – as well as the stories of girls across activist spaces – is just how present girls have been in almost every movement for liberation in the last millenia.

Yet, their contributions are deliberately obscured or hidden from view. As we look across these stories in their totality, we begin to see the critical contributions of girls who resist sometimes in beautiful and technicolour clarity. Like the phrase coined by Foucault, that there is resistance wherever there is power, so too do these stories show us that wherever there is resistance there are girls.

…to resist is synonymous with power, that is, to be able to believe that literally things can be changed, to be able to believe that despair does not exist, to be able to believe that there are conditions for things to improve.

Belin, Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo
United States of America

In the face of incredible risks and personal costs, girls are finding ways to forge and express their resistance in contexts of violence, fear, repression and backlash. In small and large ways they are coming together to create reverberations, patterns and chain reactions in their families, communities, and societies at large. In the most private and intimate of ways they are reforming relationships of power; they are claiming or reclaiming their sexuality and they are taking back the streets and the night.

Girls participation and liberation is weaponised and seen as a threat. The very act of being present, the very fact of their bodies, exists as a challenge to the status quo. They are labelled extremists, terrorists, good girls and bad girls, spoiled girls, bossy girls and boss girls, witches, whores and so much more. Their resistance is criminalised, ridiculed, laughed at and ignored.

With little recognition, many of the women and girls in these stories played a direct role in overturning repressive governments, toppling dictators and leading revolutions. As freedom fighters, militants, protestors, paramedics, students, artists, poets, strategists, theorists, caregivers, cooks and so much more. Some have to flee, finding freedom outside their countries. Some find joy and liberation in studying abroad and in claiming their autonomy, while others are forever trying to find a way back. Many join or lead efforts to rebuild what comes after change and revolution. And almost all experience lasting individual and intergenerational trauma, a weight on their shoulders, deep pain and loss, and the burden of displacement. Yet throughout it all, despite it all, because of it all, girls are somehow, gloriously, powerfully, always there. Indeed, all history is girls’ history.

Yet throughout it all, despite it all, because of it all, girls are somehow, gloriously, powerfully, always there. Indeed, all history is girls’ history.

Girls are fighting for the right to land, liberty and sovereignty

Ahed became a human rights defender as a very young girl, and an icon of the Palestinian liberation movement at 17, when video footage of her confronting the violence of Israeli occupying forces went viral. With other girls and young women, she led political education initiatives in Israeli prisons during her 8 month detention.

Asria is a refugee speaker and activist fiercely defending the sovereignty of Sahrawi peoples of Western Sahara living under Moroccan Occupation, part of one of the longest running and most forgotten conflicts on the continent.

Girls are ushering in revolutions and toppling dictators

Ahed began organising with other girls and boys on the eve of the Syrian revolution. In the face of extraordinary personal risk she protested the dual oppressions of the Assad and ISIS regime’s, as a political organiser, paramedic and humanitarian worker inside Aleppo, and as an activist and spokesperson in exile.

Anna began organising at 14 as a queer feminist activist. As part of the 2018 Armenian “Velvet Revolution”, she helped organise the mass protests that led to Sargsyan’s resignation. She is the co-founder of Armenia’s first feminist library.

Maria José has resisted and transformed her environment throughout her life, a fierce advocate for the rights of children and a contributor to the Childhood and Adolescence Code, the legal framework for children’s rights in Nicaragua. She experienced firsthand the contradictions and violence within social justice and revolutionary movements and is always ready to hold them to account. A survivor of Ortega’s dictatorship and currently in political exile in Mexico.

Girls are shaking the table

Married at 17 during the second Intifada, and divorced with two young boys at 23, Amani is a voice for her generation. Today she represents Occupied Palestine as a youth advocate and advisor at a number of United Nations processes, working to hold Governments and other formal institutions to account.
A refugee advocate and political feminist from Burandi, Judicella uses her experiences of a life in exile to advocate for refugee girls and young women transnationally, from the USA to East Africa. She is a renowned speaker and youth advocate, shaking the table at the United Nations, the African Union, and other corridors of power.

Starting her activism at 12, Germana has occupied decision making tables for the creation of laws on youth and sexual reproductive rights in Bolivia and engaged in the revision of the Cairo Agenda in Latin America. Her advocacy is deeply rooted in work at community level, accompanying girls to access safe abortion and to denounce sexual violence, embedded within the feminist movement.

Girls are reporting from the frontlines

At 13 Jana Jihad became the worlds youngest journalist. She is using her voice to bring to the world the reality of life for girls living under Israeli occupation. Her journalism is a profound act of resistance in the face of a regime that works hard to silence the Palestinian people.

Born on the eve of the Civil War, Gwendolyn became a news anchor and a voice for her generation during the Liberian peace process at 13 years old. Today she is an advocate for global youth, peace and security, and executive director of the Liberian NGO she founded at 17.

Girls are fighting for new laws and transforming practices

Naomi’s impact on the landscape of human rights in Kenya is undeniable. She began organising as a teenager at Freedom Square, drawing on her experiences growing up in Korogocho. She was instrumental in the enactment of the Sexual Offences Act in 2006, adoption of the Housing Bill 2011, the Evictions and Resettlement Bill and the Slum Upgrading and Prevention Policy. At great personal cost including multiple arrests and imprisonments as a pregnant and then breastfeeding mother, she played a critical role in the push for the Kenyan Constitution.

Josephine began organising as a child against the backdrop of Sierra Leone’s decade long civil war. She is a human rights defender, mentor and spokesperson for Sierra Leone’s Black Tuesday Movement to end sexual violence. As a political organiser, she played a critical role in the landmark case to have a draconian ban on pregnant girls attending school overturned. Through her music and radio commentary, Josephine has become a hero to girls in towns and villages across Sierra Leone.

Luz is working to ensure all survivors of sexual violence have access to services and healing opportunities. She leads a survivor-led network of Afrolatinx who are mobilising to end child sexual abuse and sexual violence across the Black Diaspora. She co-led efforts to ensure the Violence Agianst Women Act in the US includes a Culturally Specific Grant Program to ensure that all national violence against women policy encompasses the needs of Survivors of Color throughout the United States, Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, Northern Mariana Islands, and the US Virgin Islands.

As the daughter of an undocumented immigrant who served 33 years in prison in the US, Wakumi started organising at a young age. She has dedicated her life to building leadership among youth most impacted by mass incarceration and other oppressive systems. Wakumi is working towards zero incarceration of girls in her community.

Starting her activism at the age of nine, as part of the youth movement Joseline contributed to the consultation process that led to the Guatemalan Youth Law, and pushed for comprehensive sexuality education at the national level. She has highlighted the injustices and rights abuses that girls and youth face in Guatemala at the United Nations General Assembly and is currently studying to be a lawyer, and as she says, is always wearing her feminist glasses wherever she goes.

Girls are challenging norms and pushing back against harmful or traditional practices

Kadiatou started organising as a young girl to prevent her peers being forced into marriage as children, a widespread practice in Guinea. Despite significant opposition from those around her and armed only with her conviction, she started a safe space for survivors of violence, sheltering many girls at risk of early marriage.

N’Delamiko was one of the first people in the Carribean on record to write publicly about their rape story. It was about activism, about being a survivor but also deeply political, deeply feminist, well before she had the language for it. And well before people in the Carribean were talking about feminism. In writing about her own story, she wanted every girl to understand if she is raped, it is not her fault.

After Tanjina experienced harassment on the street and girls in her community felt unsafe, with incidents of rape and acid attacks common, Tanjina trained to become a self defence teacher for girls in Bangladesh. She trained girls to feel safe, confident and to be able to defend themselves. She has since used her skills to prevent an attack herself, and won boxing competitions, smashing stereotypes for girls in Bangladesh.

After being sold into domestic slavery in Nepal, Dipa successfully escaped and was able to start her life in another village before returning home 2 years later. After returning to her village she became part of the Free Kamlari movement. When a 12 year old Kamlari girl was killed in Kathmandu by the family keeping her as a domestic slave, Dipa took part in large scale protest that led to the abolishment of the Kamlari system in June 2013. She is now a leader of her cooperative.

Remaining anonymous for her own safety, a young woman in Afghanistan shares her story of challenging stereotypes by competing in sports while living under the Taliban Regime. She wears a leather mask while competing to protect her identity – for exposing her identity poses great personal risk for her safety.

Girls are demanding their rights to reproductive justice

Through her work at Young Women United, Denicia has pushed for policies to improve access to reproductive rights in the US. In 2017, she helped push for new legislation that allows pharmacists to prescribe hormonal contraceptives in New Mexico, increasing access to contraception across the state, especially in rural areas.

When her friend died after an attempted abortion during their high-school years, Adam began organising sexual health education sessions with her peers in school and on the streets of Bamako. After being elected as the head of a district health association when she was 16/17, – the first Malian woman to hold the position – she has gone on to lead a network of youth activists fighting for sexual health and rights across 44 countries.

Girls are changing the script and making private matters public

Akola is broadcasting across Guyana every week, lifting up conversations about sexual violence in a context where the political classes refuse to acknowledge it. As a queer, Black, Indigenous woman she recognises her resistance has always been tethered to her identity, in her just trying to exist.

With roots in Trinidad and Tobago, Indrani is a global activist working to end domestic violence against women and domestic violence against children. She travels the world with the message: If we don’t end violence at home, we cannot dare to envision a world without violence.

Becoming a mother at 15, Gloria experienced first hand the discrimination young mothers face – at school, on the streets and in public policies in the US. She set out to challenge the harmful narratives about young mothers and instead created spaces for the voices of young mothers and a resource hub for young parents. This online platform created a space to build community among young mothers from across the country and resulted in a national narrative campaign to flip the script about young mothers.

They are holding decision makers to account and transforming systems and institutions as girls and for girls

A survivor of multiple forms of violence herself, Marsha advocates for institutions and communities where all girls can live a life of safety and dignity. She is leading campaigns to end sexual abuse by male gynecologists and at the hands of police in Barbados.

Veronica’s earliest memories of resistance were in the 6th grade, when she studied at a convent and a student who was pregnant was discriminated against and not allowed to take her exams or graduate. Veronica questioned this as against the law, and eventually the school admitted fault, had to pay a large fine and changed the policy, allowing her to graduate. Veronica was a key part of forming ‘Los Comadres – a feminist network that provides accompaniment to safe abortion to girls and young people, including access to abortion pills in Ecuador.

In a rubbish dump near where Saleha lives in India, there was a large fire in 2016 that burned for days and authorities did not take action. The surrounding community experienced sickness, vomiting and other health impacts, in addition to losing their homes. Saleha collected signatures and lobbied for the government to build new Chawls (residential buildings). As a result of her activism, they built 15 new Chawls, providing new homes for families in the community.

After the approval of a municipal youth policy with an investment plan in her community, Shari and other activists questioned the expenditure of the budget on things unrelated to youth, pushing them to do a social audit and holding government officials’ feet to the fire. Shari was part of creating and setting up an autonomous youth-led training centre, and setting up a national network focused on youth participation and involvement in democracy.

Girls are decolonising ways of life and bringing back critical practices to their communities

Belin was born and raised in Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo, New Mexico in the US. Learning from a young age about the erasure of Indigenous practice in women and girls health and wholeness, and specifically that of midwifery and home births, she became the first Pueblo licensed midwife in New Mexico and has spent her life delivering babies in her community, ensuring their traditional practices will live on for generations to come.

Karina is part of the a K’iche’ Indigenous community and grew up in Uspantán, in Guatemala, a region heavily impacted by armed conflict. Karina has worked to organise and create space for Indigenous youth to define their own destiny in the Council of Indigenous Youth of Guatemala; across issues of food sovereignty and is producing knowledge to document the impacts of colonialism on the bodies, minds and lives of Indigenous youth.

They are building new visions and images of girlhood

Brayden realised how many harmful ingredients were in beauty products, especially those advertised to girls and women of colour. She wanted to make everyone feel included and like they don’t have to look a certain way to want safe skincare or beauty products – so she started her own natural skin care line. Being tired of having to beg for a space at the beauty industry table, she created her own but ‘without the oppression’. Today at 16, Brayden is the CEO of B Graham Beauty, a thriving beauty company in the US.

They are creating autonomous spaces led by and with girls

Starting her activism at 13, an activist started a girl-led space in Poland. This was a place for girls to build political consciousness, accompanying them in protest on the streets. With increasing backlash on girls’ and women’s rights, in particular attacks on sexual and reproductive rights, her organisation is contributing to supporting the next generation of activists to organise themselves in the feminist movement.

Through finding her own voice and supporting others to find theirs, Valerie founded I have a Right Foundation, an organisation that gives young people a voice by educating them about their rights and enabling them to become changemakers through leadership and arts programs. She is working to create generational shifts in her community, not only for girls but for everyone, working with governments to shift policies and for policymakers to see girls as advocates for change.