Girl activists use laughter, art, collaboration, poetry, experimentation, dance, breath, drama, movement as a way to subvert, co-opt and reclaim dominant culture. Joy is a form and function of girls’ resistance, and a counter to the pathologisation of social change so often dominant in development spaces. As Emma Goldman said all those years ago – “If I can’t dance, it ain’t my revolution”.
Girls and young people are constantly learning and pushing to better understand themselves, each other and the world. They often embrace change and evolve their thinking and practice as they learn, pushing back against traditional ways of doing things. A combination of curiosity and a belief in what’s possible can create openings for young people as they connect with each other, blogs, books, elders and beyond. This requires flexibility and can be seen in how girls and young people embrace and create space for constant, and often seamless, adaptations. The sense that things don’t need to stay the same is a super power young people bring to their resistance, and something that all of us benefit from.
A common feature of girls’ activism is their quest to make the world better, not just their own lives or that of their immediate communities. The quest for gender justice therefore lives both comfortably and logically alongside many other social justice struggles, both as a result of, but also despite, a proliferation of online spaces for organising and solidarity-building. In short, girls’ struggles are rarely single issue struggles.
Within the context of the NGO-isation of social change, girls’ marginalisation and isolation has been framed primarily as a problem of social capital deficit. In contrast, some of the most powerful girl-centered work supports the building of bonds of sisterhood rooted deeply in communal ways of living and being, feminist ideals of mutuality and reciprocity, and which views solidarity as the fundamental basis of healthy and thriving movements.
For girls, self and collective care are political strategies critically linked to how they are in the work and central to their resistance. Practices often emerge from and are nourished within the autonomous and self defined spaces girls themselves co-create. This could be as simple as taking time and space to share what they are experiencing and feeling, seeking solidarity from their peers, and a place to process the harshness of what they experience daily. Care manifests in many ways, through the arts, through sport, through movement, in reclaiming the right to play, and drawing from and reinterpreting ancestral practices passed down across generations, as a birth right and expression of their existence and identity.
Creativity is central to how girls organise. For many, it is the direct use of art in their activism – using poetry, graphics, illustration, murals, graffiti, music, spoken word and other artistic forms of expression to agitate, protest, reimagine and show the world what is possible. For others it is using creative strategies to address deeply embedded systems of oppression: establishing a running club in a context where that is revolutionary, and using that physical space to politicise; or creatively designing a campaign to become a young female mayor in a deeply conservative context. Girls are not only reimagining the world and showing us what it can be, they are doing it with creativity and for many, art is the form of their resistance.
While girls are not the only people resisting systems of oppression and organising towards a more just world, there is something absolutely distinct about their belief in freedom and a different world, and their courage to fight against all odds that is unique to this moment in their lives.
Despite – or perhaps because of – the immense challenges girls face, a common feature of their activism is the way they engage in the radical practice of imagining the world not how it is, but how it might be. And they bring this imagination back to bear on the present, in the ways they learn, play, organise, invent and care for themselves and each other. Indeed, it is likely her imagination that will lead us all to liberation.
There is not a singular way girls organise and girls are constantly reimagining new ways of being and working collectively – from the informal to formal and everything in between. Some collective resistance is sparked in response to a particular social or geographic context or catalytic event, lending toward an informal structure.
Girls bring incredible bravery and determination to their resistance – levels that seem to be unique to age, life-stage and circumstance. Whether it’s facing an elder in her family or community, speaking out against a repressive regime knowing it will result in backlash, or putting her body on the line, girls are willing to take incredible risks to fight for freedom.