Young Women Lead the Way for Change
On February 5th, one of the most iconic figures of the feminist movement, Gloria Steinem, insinuated that the young women who supported U.S. presidential candidate Bernie Sanders did so because they were ‘following the boys.’ This statement sparked a backlash and outraged many, especially young feminists. For many of them, Steinem is an inspiration; but this statement undermined their agency and their ability to think critically – no matter which candidate they prefer.
What this comment highlights is that contemporary feminisms value the intersectional analysis of oppressions. Young feminists will not vote for a woman just for the sake of her being a woman. They care about much more than gender and it is time for us to listen to them. They see feminist issues as inseparable from, and deeply intertwined with, racism, colonialism, classism, LGBTQ issues, poverty, ableism and all forms of oppression.
In fact, young women are at the frontlines of some of the most significant social movements of our time. From Idle No More, to Black Lives Matter, to the movements for reproductive justice and refugee rights, they are speaking out against all forms of social injustice and are taking centre stage. One can only recall the iconic image of Amanda Polchies in Elsipogtog holding a feather in the face of a line of riot police, in defence of her land. Or Widia Larivière and Melissa Mollen-Dupuis spearheading Idle No More Quebec.
Here at Girls Action Foundation, we just celebrated our 20th anniversary. For the last two decades we have worked nationally towards girls’ and young women’s empowerment. As an organization that keeps its ‘ear to the ground’ and is responsive to the needs of a network of over 300 grassroots organizations across the country, we can say with confidence that girls and young women still care to identify as feminists. More importantly, we have learned in our work that we cannot empower young women without speaking of the multiple and interconnected realities they face.
As we commemorate the 100th anniversary of the women’s right to vote this year, and celebrate the women advocates who have come before us, let’s also celebrate the future of feminism today, led by young women. Let’s not assume young people know less, have experienced less, struggled less – instead let’s listen to them and find a way to leverage the strengths of all experiences and perspectives.
Let’s also use this milestone, as well as the broadening of feminism as understood and led by young women, to encourage the creation of more intergenerational spaces, where women of all generations can all learn from one another and work together.
Finally, let’s remember that this year the Canadian International Women’s Day theme is about women and girls’ empowerment. What better way to mark this day than celebrating young women’s power as change-makers!
Myriam Zaidi is the Girls Action Foundation Communications and National Network Coordinator. She is responsible for liaising with a network of more than 300 organizations that work with girls and young women across the country.