NPR

They Fight — Politely — For What's Right For The World's Girls

We spoke to teen activists at the Girl Up event in Washington, D.C., this week. They had a lot to say about everything from buzzwords that make them mad to the best ways to de-stress.
Activists from Girl Up. Top row from left: Valeria Colunga, Eugenie Park, Angelica Almonte, Emily Lin. Bottom row from left: Lauren Woodhouse, Winter Ashley, Zulia Martinez, Paola Moreno-Roman. Source: Olivia Falcigno/NPR

For Ayesha, a gender equality activist from Sierra Leone, fighting sexism means defying tradition. In her home country, girls are often married young and may be discouraged from going to school. To challenge these practices, the 19-year-old may have to stand up to a respected community leader.

"You are constantly walking on eggshells," she says. (Plan International, which partners with Ayesha, asked that her last name not be used to protect her from backlash caused by the issues she addresses.)

She tries to find the balance between celebrating her African culture and helping other girls break away from harmful beliefs — messages that they're not cut out for school or must fit traditional cultural definitions of femininity. Sometimes, community members see that kind of activism as a threat their way of life. But as Ayesha says, "If that's making your girls bad, please, can I make your girls bad?"

Ayesha was one of ten young activists NPR interviewed at the Girl Up 2019 Leadership Summit in Washington, D.C., this week. is a campaign founded by the U.N. foundation that promotes activism for 13- to 22-year-olds to work

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