Key Resources: Young Feminisms

Young feminisms
Postfeminism and fourth-wave feminism
Development perspectives on young women
Young feminist activism

Young feminisms

Brave, Creative, Resilient: The Global State of Young Feminist Organizing (2016) FRIDA: The Young Feminist Fund and AWID, Association for Women’s Rights in Development’s Young Feminist Activism Program, 90 pp.

This report documents the findings of the first global survey into young feminist organising. Undertaken by FRIDA: The Young Feminist Fund – which exists to support young feminist activism around the world – the research was undertaken in order to determine the key characteristics of young feminist organisations (YFOs) globally, with a key rationale being the vital role played by young women, girls, and trans youth activists in ‘the strengthening, rejuvenation and sustainability of feminist activism’ (p. 13). Findings were based on analysis of applications to the FRIDA: Young Feminist Fund (the bulk coming from Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, and the Asia-Pacific region) and a questionnaire. Some of the main findings include: the diverse and intersectional nature of YFOs, which work in areas including youth, climate justice, sex workers rights, health and disability, and indigenous rights; that a significant proportion of YFOs are unregistered, either through choice or necessity; that more than half of survey respondents regularly feel unsafe or threatened because of their work; and that, despite working innovatively, as the authors point out, to address some of the most pressing issues of our time, with some of the most vulnerable people, the lack of financial resources and sustainability is by far the most widely shared challenge faced by YFOs.

Brave: Young Women’s Global Revolution (2017) Gayle Kimball, Volume 1, Global Themes, ISBN: 9780938795582, 566 pp., Volume 2: Regional Activism, ISBN: 9780938795605, 660 pp., Chico, CA: Equality Press

This thoughtful and informative two-volume work, based on interviews and surveys undertaken across 88 countries, examines young women’s activism across the globe. For the author, much of the political activism of the 21st century is notable for being youth-led and electronically connected. The author characterises those in their teens and twenties (at 1.5 billion individuals, the largest youth generation in history) as the ‘Relationship Generation’, which tends to ‘defy or ignore large bureaucratic institutions including government and religion’, and ‘focus[es] instead on direct democracy on the local level and loving their family and friends’ (Volume 1, p. 1). In Volume 1, Global Themes, the author considers the following topics: ‘The Future is Female’, ‘Global Desire for Equality’, ‘Global Status of Young Women’, ‘Consumerism Targets “Girl Power”’, and ‘Global Media Both Helps and Inhibits Girls’. Each of these chapters ends with discussion questions and activities, making the volume useful as a teaching aid. Volume 2, Regional Activism, includes discussion on feminist waves in the global North and in the field of development, as well as young women’s activism in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and North Africa, Russia, China, and India, plus Egyptian women’s experiences of the 2011 Revolution.

Rebel Girls: Youth Activism and Social Change Across the Americas (2011) Jessica K. Taft, New York and London: NYU Press, ISBN: 9780814783252, 256 pp.

In this important book, the author addresses what she identifies as the underexplored topic of teenage girls’ activism within the growing academic field of girls’ studies, and in the literature on social movements in the Americas, seeking to challenge the ‘highly prevalent images of girls as either passive victims or empowered consumer citizens’ (p. 18). Through research undertaken in the USA, Canada, Mexico, Venezuela, and Argentina, the author explores, in the first section of the book – Building the Activist Identity – the formation of girls’ activist identities, including girl activists’ complicated relationship to girlhood itself, and in the second section – Making Change Happen – girl activists’ social movement strategies and collective political practices. The author argues that some of the shared characteristics of girls’ activism – a commitment to learning, building horizontal, participatory activist communities, and a spirit of optimism – mirror elements deemed to be some of the most effective in the literature on adult social movements and social change. Girls’ activism, the author suggests, can therefore provide older scholars and activists with valuable insights into working successfully for social change.

Teenage girls’ narratives of becoming activists (2017) Jessica K. Taft, Contemporary Social Science 12(1–2): 27–39

In this article, the author of Rebel Girls (see above) draws further on her research with teenage girl activists in the Americas to explore girls’ experiences of becoming engaged in movements for social justice. Common threads in these narratives include outsider status, influential peer relationships, and a growing social awareness, together with age-based ideas around teenage years as a time of self-discovery and of the self-in-formation. For the author, girls’ notions of themselves ‘becoming’ activists rather than ‘being’ activists is of crucial importance. While this emphasis demonstrates humility, and facilitates openness and flexibility, she argues, it also plays into developmentalist discourses that see young people themselves as ‘becoming’ rather than ‘being’, something which serves to define them as ‘incapable, partial, and deficient in contrast to an imagined vision of the capable, complete and rational adult’ (p. 29). This, inevitably, has implications for political activism undertaken by girls, contributing to its invisibility or dismissal.

How to become a feminist activist after the institutionalization of the women’s movements: the generational development of feminist identity and politics in Mexico City (2014) Yin-Zu Chen, Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies 35(3): 183–206

This is a fascinating investigation into the attitudes of a group of young women in Mexico City with regard to their feminist identity and activism. The author argues that in contrast to feminists of the 1970s, who had to create women’s movements collectively without the support of pre-existing institutions or organisations, young feminists today have grown up with established state institutions and NGOs responsible for gender and women’s rights policy, along with gender and women’s studies programmes in universities, and a variety of feminist organisations pursuing advocacy and activism. The author found that the bureaucratic nature of these bodies does not offer sufficient opportunity for young feminists working within them to demonstrate their own leadership, or take their own action. While there was no difference in the political agenda of adult and young feminists, creating their own groups allowed young feminists to pursue the kind of spontaneous, imaginative, and potentially controversial collective activism that would not necessarily be endorsed by their institutions, and crucially, represents a demonstration of ‘the desire to be recognized as feminists considered equal to their foremothers’ (p. 195).

“I am not just a feminist eight hours a day”: youth gender justice activism in Ecuador and Peru (2015) Anna-Britt Coe, Gender & Society 29(6): 888–913

While the theoretical discussion in this scholarly article makes for somewhat difficult reading, the article is nonetheless of interest because of the insights it provides into the distinction youth gender justice activists (of both sexes) make between themselves and the ‘professionalized adult feminism’ (p. 889) that exists in bureaucratically-structured institutions in Ecuador and Peru. Indeed, the author states that she uses the term ‘gender justice’ because of the reluctance of some to describe their activism as ‘feminist’ because of feminism’s association with this professionalised sector.While the ultimate aims of the youth activists and professional feminists were the same – addressing violence against women and girls, and advancing reproductive and sexual rights – the youth activists saw their activism as distinct from that of adult feminists through its targeting of the family, household, and intimate relationships, and the fact that the youth activists see themselves operating in a contemporary context of ‘blurred gender equalities’. Here, notions of progress in terms of gender equality in education, employment, and politics exist alongside patriarchal attitudes regarding women’s traditional roles, and an often violent backlash directed towards women.

A network of one’s own: young women and the creation of youth-only transnational feminist spaces (2017) Theresa A. Hunt, YOUNG 25(2): 107–23

In this article, the author examines five young women’s transnational feminist networks (TFNs) to determine the reasons members have chosen to work in a youth-only setting. The author found that despite the wide variation both between and within the networks studied, the key motivation for operating within a youth-only space was the marginalisation young women felt in organisations or networks run by older generations of feminists. Such a ‘silencing’ has been responsible for young women activists setting up alternative spaces, where voices and ideas can be heard, and ‘the presumption of youthful inexperience’ (p. 121) is not a factor. Coalescing around youth has also allowed for other differences between young feminists – such as sexual orientation, or secular versus religious values – to be accommodated.

20 Years of Mobilization: The Role of Young Feminists (2015) Ruby Johnson, United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD)

Arguing that ‘[t]he mobilization, the courage and the experience of this generation have an important role to play in redefining a just development and human rights agenda ahead’, this think-piece from the co-director of FRIDA: The Young Feminist Fund, articulately outlines the kind of work young feminist activists are undertaking – for example, on violence against women and girls, LGBTQI rights, and sexual and reproductive health and rights – and the challenges they face. Written in 2015, the 20th anniversary of the Beijing Platform for Action, which embedded women’s rights within the development agenda, the author sees the work of young feminists as part of pushing forward gender-just development, having ‘the ability to catalyse change from the local to the global level’. The piece provides an excellent introduction to FRIDA’s 2016 report on young feminist organising (see below). (See also the author’s 2014 piece Claiming rights, facing fire: young feminist activists,  in which she discusses the work of a number of young feminist activist groups around the globe and the dangers they face as a result of their work.)

#NiUnaMenos: Policitising the Use of Technologies (2017) Maria Florencia Alcaraz, GenderIT.Org

This short online piece discusses the #NiUnaMenos movement which began in Argentina and has spread across Latin America and beyond. It highlights the importance of fourthwave, digital activism for forging alliances and networks and participating in the media without the intervention of gatekeepers, or the need for permission. Originally a reaction to the 2015 murder of a 14-year-old Argentinian girl by her boyfriend, the author states that #NiUnaMenos means ‘no more femicides’, but that it is also a demand for the endingof all forms of oppression, from extreme violence and unsafe abortions to unpaid care work and harassment in the street. For the author, this form of fourth-wave feminism is characterised by ‘an alliance between technology, social networks, and people on the streets’, with, in many instances, online organising leading to mass public demonstrations.

#MeToo is riding a new wave of feminism in India (2018) Alka Kurian, Mail & Guardian

This interesting newspaper article describes the emergence of what the author sees as a new type of feminism in India. Led by young women utilising social media to challenge patriarchal attitudes, and which has grown up since the beginning of the 21st century, the author cites the 2003 Blank Noise Project protesting against sexual harassment in the street, and the 2009 Pink Chaddi (underwear) campaign against moral policing as examples. The author argues that this new form of activism is in contrast to existing mainstream Indian feminism – which has tended to focus on issues such as child marriage, dowry deaths, and sexual violence against marginalised women. Identifying the fatal gang rape of a 23-year-old student in Delhi as a watershed moment, the author outlines the way young women have been pursuing online and offline activism in order to highlight violence against women, especially in public space, and to refute ideas that women invite sexual violence through their clothing and behaviour. This is also in reaction to state and society attempting to keep women safe through attempts to restrict their movement,instead of directly addressing misogyny and ensuring women’s safety in public places.

Movement-building challenges for young women in Southern Africa (2018) Shamillah Wilson,

In this essay, the author argues that in Southern Africa there is currently a ‘dwindling vibrancy’ in women’s movements, both nationally and regionally. One of the reasonsfor this, she argues, is the lack of connection between many initiatives and the participation of both poor, grassroots women, and young women. Focusing on the issue of engaging young women, specifically, the author outlines several key challenges; firstly, the heterogeneous nature of young women – e.g. urban and highly educated versus ruraland lacking tertiary education, and without access to ICTs. Secondly, with feminism still a contentious idea in many places, and in contexts of rising religious fundamentalisms, she identifies the need for awareness around the issue of framing – while some young women may happily call their activism feminist, it may be problematic, and indeed dangerous for others to do so. Thirdly, problems of multi-generational, power-sharing tensions within feminist movements remains an issue. Finally, the author calls for new forms of activism to be encouraged, especially around digital technology, but that these should not be labelled as ‘youth focused initatives’, but rather integrated into broader strategies.

How South Africa’s young women activists are rewriting the script (2016) Amanda Gouws, The Conversation

Comparing the current activism of young South African female students with that of their predecessors in the anti-apartheid student protests of the 1970s, the author of this newspaper article finds that while race, Eurocentrism, and colonialism are still of crucial importance, today’s female students are refusing to ignore the issues of gender oppression and violence. Highlighting the #EndRapeCulture campaigns on university campuses, and associated topless protests, which the author calls the ‘politics of the spectacle’, the author argues that through their campaigns, these students have generated solidarity with many women across the country, and done more to raise awareness of issues of sexual violence against women, along with LGBTQI rights, than many other, longer-term initiatives.

‘The Coming of (Digital) Age: How African Feminists Are Using the Internet to Change Women’s Lives’ (2014) Minna Salami, GenderIT.Org

This short piece draws attention to the digital activism carried out by feminists across Africa. Arguing that while most of the international focus on fourth-wave feminism has been on activism in the global North, and that any discussion of digital feminist activism in Africa tends to be seen through a ‘development’ lens, the article provides examples ofthe kind of online feminist connecting, organising, and campaigning that has been undertaken across the continent.

China’s feminist five (2016) Leta Hong Fincher, Dissent

In March 2015,Chinese police arrested a group of young feminists planning to hand out stickers about sexual harassment on public transport, to mark International Women’s Day.Mostwere soon released, but five young women were detained for 37 days, and after a national and international outcry they were eventually released on bail, under investigation for ‘gathering a crowd to disturb public order’. In this article, the author, through interviews with the women, recounts the experience of the ‘feminist five’, and discusses the context in which their protest arose. This is one in which, following the economic reforms of the 1990s, levels of gender inequality have increased, and many young and often highly educated women are rejecting the traditional gender roles of wife and mother being aggressively promoted by media and government. For the author, this younger generation of feminists represents a major threat to the Communist Party, which sees the patriarchal family as the foundation for state stability. (See also the author’s recently-published book, Betraying Big Brother: The Feminist Awakening in China, London and Brooklyn, NY: Verso, ISBN: 9781786633644.)

Youth feminist activism in China: an ethnographic analysis of an innovative action oriented feminism (2015) Danyang Wu, Master’s thesis, Social Studies of Gender, Department of Gender, Lund University, Sweden, 82 pp.

This Master’s thesis offers an informative consideration of young feminist activism in China through its discussion in relation to a set of research questions. These are: What is new about youth feminist activism in China? What kind of agency is embedded in this new form of activism, and what is the relationship between it and earlier incarnations of feminism in China? How does the new generation respond to the challenges they are facing? What potential lies in the more radical and visible resistance demonstrated by young activists in the context of power relations in contemporary China? The author frames her thesis – in the introduction and the conclusion – with the arrest and ultimate release of the ‘feminist five’ (discussed above). She expresses concern for the future of feminist activism in China in the light of this episode (p. 5), but sees as a positive signal for the future the successful mobilisation (which saw co-operation between young and older feminists, students and workers, as well as the national and international feminist community) that led to their release (p. 72).

Solidarity, Safety and Power: Young Women Organizing in Indonesia (2018) Jethro Pettit, Just Associates (JASS),  31 pp.

This report profiles Forum Aktivis Perempuan Muda Indonesia (Young Indonesian Women Activists’ Forum), or FAMM, which is a network of diverse, young women from across Indonesia. FAMM works on sensitive issues, such as environmentally damaging development projects, women’s and LGBTI rights, and ending gender-based and political violence. The report outlines the growth of the network, which evolved from the movement-building work of civil society organisation Just Associates (JASS), in South-East Asia, emphasising the key principles and methodologies central to the development of the network, including  intersectionality, feminist popular education, and power analysis. The report also makes clear the need for mutual support and solidarity when undertaking the often dangerous work of defending rights in the face of increasing religious fundamentalisms, and opposition from large corporations, criminal and armed groups, and politicians. (See also the 2017 report, Building safe spaces to support young women’s participation in local governance in Indonesia, published by FAMM and the Institute of Development Studies, 20 pp).

Postfeminism and fourth-wave feminism

The Aftermath of Feminism: Gender, Culture and Social Change (2009) Angela McRobbie, London: Sage, ISBN: 978-0761970620, 192 pp.

This influential book, published in 2009, argues that political, economic, cultural, and media influences in the UK have combined to bring about what the author calls the ‘undoing of feminism’, resulting in a postfeminist social and cultural landscape, part backlash against earlier feminism and older feminists, and part reformulation of feminism into neoliberal ideas of individual ‘empowerment’ and ‘choice’. The author offers a critique of what became known as ‘girlie feminism’, in which corporate consumer culture marketed femininity (with its necessary grooming and cosmetic products) as feminist, in order to exploit young women’s rising incomes. Young women are central to the author’s analysis, and in her chapter ‘Top Girls? Young Women and the New Sexual Contract’, she outlines the new focus on young women and their capacities – the educated ‘career girl in the West, and her counterpart in developing economies – the “global girl” factory worker’. In this new contract, the recognition of her ‘capacity’ and the gains she has made in terms of education and employment require that a young woman abandons any criticism of hegemonic masculinity associated with feminism and the women’s movement. Given that she may well be engaged in the endless (consumerist) pursuit of ‘self-perfectibility’ (p. 63), then her attention may well be elsewhere anyway.

For Western girls only? Post-feminism as transnational culture (2015) Simidele Dosekun, Feminist Media Studies 15(6): 960–75

The author of this article argues that characteristics of postfeminism, such as the belief that gender equality has been achieved, and an ethos of individualism and consumerism as empowerment, do not solely apply to the West. Interpreting postfeminism as a purely Western phenomenon means ignoring class differences in developing economies, in which wealthy, educated elites exist. The author contends that if the increasingly dominant neoliberal definition of women’s empowerment is understood as access to material resources and consumer goods, many women in the global South are already ‘empowered’ (p. 15). For the global South, this means that with the spread of postfeminism, via globalised media, while young women may talk about ‘choice’ and ‘empowerment’, they are unable to ‘articulate their national or local feminist histories or make sense of their personal experiences of pervasive sexism in critical feminist terms’ (p. 17). Thus, postfeminism’s ‘undoing of feminism’ (p. 17), as witnessed in the global North, can be seen to have been globalised, and in the words of the author, been ‘rendered transnational culture’ (p. 17).

Post-postfeminism? New feminist visibilities in postfeminist times (2016) Rosalind Gill, Feminist Media Studies, 16(4): 610–30

With a focus on the UK, but with wider relevance, this article considers the value of postfeminism as a concept given the evident rise in ‘fourth-wave’ feminist activism and in a context where feminism is increasingly depicted in the mainstream media as ‘cool’. Suggesting that there is currently a ‘feminist zeitgeist’ (p. 615) within the media, the author argues for the necessity of retaining the idea of postfeminism, not as part of a linear narrative in which one idea or wave of feminism displaces another, but to reveal the ‘postfeminist sensibilities’ (e.g. a focus on physical appearance, and viewing individual ‘choice’ and consumerism as ‘empowerment’) of some of the versions of feminism presented in the mass media. She demonstrates this through an examination of the uneven treatment of different kinds of feminist visibility within the mainstream media, with feminist issues and feminist activism often ignored, trivialised or provoking a backlash, while much attention is given to the entrepreneuralist, neoliberal feminism of the Cheryl Sandberg Lean In variety and the ‘resolutely not angry’ celebrity and style feminism (p. 618). For the author, ‘the tenacity of what we might characterize as pre-feminist or anti-feminist ideas remains striking, even in this new moment’ (p. 622).

Intersectional expectations: young feminists’ perceived failure at dealing with differences and their retreat to individualism (2016) Julie Schuster, Women’s Studies International Forum, 58: 1–8

This article argues that while the oft-made criticism of young women’s approach to feminism in the global North – that it has become individualised (as opposed collective) partly, at least because of neo-liberal co-optation – is not always justified, where it is true, this trend has been reinforced by the challenges faced by young feminists in, as the author puts it, ‘accommodat[ing] women’s diversity within their feminist practices’ (p. 1). Drawing on research undertaken with young feminists in New Zealand, the author argues that the importance of adopting an intersectional approach (as a response to the critiques of the dominance of white, heterosexual middle-class women within feminist discourse and practice which arose as part of third-wave feminism) has led to the concerns of many young feminists – particularly those who feel themselves to be in socially privileged positions – not to be seen as speaking on behalf of others. For the author, ‘issues of women’s differences and relative privilege continue to shape today’s feminist discourses and lead to conflicts within various branches of young feminist movements, as, for instance, controversies about allegedly ethnocentric and culturally insensitive approaches of FEMEN or SlutWalk, and online campaigns like #SolidarityisforWhiteWomen have shown’ (p. 1).

#Intersectionality: the fourth wave feminist Twitter community (2017) Tegan Zimmerman, Atlantis 38(1): 54–70

This article is an interesting discussion in which the author suggests that intersectionality (which includes race and ethnicity, class, religion, ability, sexuality and other aspects of identity, alongside that of biological sex as intersecting aspects of discrimination or privilege) is central to fourth-wave feminism, using an examination of the #SolidarityisforWhiteWomen hashtag on Twitter as an example of this. (#SolidarityisforWhiteWomen was a hashtag created in 2013 by the writer Mikki Kendall, challenging the downplaying or dismissing by white feminists of the racism experienced by women of colour.) With digital technology and online activism a defining feature of fourth-wave feminism, the author argues that Twitter plays a crucial role in enabling debate and critical discussion around issues of intersectionality. As part of the article, the author provides a useful ‘genealogy’ of fourth-wave feminism and makes clear that she sees fourth-wave feminism as not simply existing within the digital realm, ‘the fourth wave acknowledges that theory and a web presence alone is not enough to bring about political change’ (p. 56).

Invisible feminists? Social media and young women’s political participation (2013) Julie Schuster, Political Science 65(1): 8–24

In 2013, when this article was published, the term ‘fourth-wave feminism’ was not yet widely used. While the term does not appear in this article, the author can be seen as describing what has come to be called the fourth wave in her discussion of the generational divide in feminist activism in New Zealand. The author found that while younger feminists were highly engaged in online feminist activism – via online communities, blogs, and Facebook – it remained largely invisible to the wider public, and to politically active women of older generations, who worried that there was no younger generation of feminists to pick up their work on their retirement. However, the young women in the study used new media to connect with and support each other, to have political discussions and to organise events in the ‘real’ world (p. 8). It could be argued that the growth in the use of digital communications across all generations means that the differences identified by the author at the time are not as distinct today as they were. The article remains, nonetheless, a valuable piece of research.

Postfeminism(s) and the Arrival of the Fourth Wave: Turning Tides (2017) Nicola Rivers, Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, ISBN: 978-3-319-59812-3, 174 pp.

This book explores the current resurgence of interest in feminism in the global North, especially within popular culture and the media. Examining different understandings of postfeminism, the author discusses the way that fourth-wave feminism intersects with these, and its relationship to previous waves, with chapters on ‘celebrity feminism’ and feminist activist group FEMEN helping to illustrate these dynamics. Of particular interest to the author is the idea that there are antagonistic relationships between younger and older generations (and waves) of feminists, something that is promoted through simplistic renderings of each wave, often via the media. In the chapter ‘From Feminist Mothers to Feminist Monsters: Tensions Across the Waves’, the author questions the utility and indeed accuracy of understanding feminism in this way. She argues, ‘[s]uch rigid definitions of feminist waves serve to reinforce the pretense of a generational divide, contributing to the sense that feminist subjects hold a static position assigned to them by the arbitrary factor of their age, rather than allowing feminists to occupy multiple positions spanning various waves, or have conflicting opinions based on political differences’ (p. 29).

Development perspectives on young women

“The revolution will be led by a 12 year-old girl”: girl power, and global biopolitics (2013) Ofra Koffman and Rosalind Gill, Feminist Review 105(1): 83–102

In this article, the authors explore the current focus on girls within the field of international development. This is often called the ‘Girl Effect’, a term first coined by the Nike Foundation, which has at its heart the idea that targeting girls – through improved education and livelihood opportunities and integration into markets – is the best way to lift the developing world out of poverty. The authors argue that this recent and extremely prominent focus has been driven by the adoption of notions of ‘girl power’ current in the global North. Thus, ‘the particular fusion of agency, independence, consumerism and entrepreneurialism that has become the hallmark of Western discourses of girlhood’ (p. 89) is now applied to girls in the global South. For the authors, a central feature of the ‘Girl Effect’ discourse is its call to girls in the global North to engage in activism to support girls in the developing world. Portrayed as being educated, empowered, and socially connected themselves, any need for social change in gender relations is displaced on to their less fortunate ‘sisters’ in the South, playing into colonial, global North–South rescue narratives.

Galvanising girls for development? Critiquing the shift from “smart” to “smarter economics” (2016) Sylvia Chant, Progress in Development Studies 16(4): 314–28

The author of this article views the focus on girls and young women in international development as an extension of the ‘Smart Economics’ rationale, originally espoused by the World Bank, and rapidly adopted by corporations, multi-lateral development agencies, and INGOs. ‘Smart Economics’ sees reducing gender inequality as leading to improved economic outcomes, and is characterised by an increased influence of corporate stakeholders and public–private partnerships in development initiatives. The author identifies the Nike Foundation’s ‘Girl Effect’ programme as a key example of what is described as this ‘transnational business feminism’ (p. 2), in which girls’ ‘empowerment’ is promoted, but as it is instrumental to the alleviation of poverty – rather than as an issue of social and gender justice. A central problem for the author is the emphasis on girls’ and young women’s individual agency (see e.g. a ‘Girl Effect’ catchphrase: ‘Invest in a girl and she will do the rest’; p. 13). Such an emphasis ignores deep-seated gender and structural inequalities within societies, and the fact that many multi-national corporations are arguably responsible for helping to entrench poverty in the global South.

“Confidence you can carry!”: Girls in crisis and the market for girls’ empowerment organizations (2015) Sarah Banet-Weiser, Continuum: Journal of Media & Cultural Studies, 29(2): 182–93

The author of this article discusses the rise of national girls’ empowerment organisations (GEOs) in the USA that has taken place alongside the focus on the empowerment of girls within the field of international development. For the author, issues of low self-esteem and lack of confidence, which have been characterised as a ‘crisis in girls’, are indeed important for girls and young women, who have been traditionally socialised into being more self-effacing and submissive. However, she argues that the growth in GEOs is part of a widespread ‘marketisation of empowerment’, which operates with the same logic that can be seen in ‘Girl Effect’ international development discourses; essentially, a neo-liberal, market-based logic. This sees young women being encouraged to view themselves as individual, empowered entrepreneurs, and to ‘eschew collective feminist politics and coalition as a route to political change’ (p. 190).

Girl power and “selfie humanitarianism” (2015) Ofra Koffman, Shani Orgad and Rosalind Gill, Continuum: Journal of Media & Cultural Studies 29(2): 157–68

Building on ideas they first presented in “The revolution will be led by a 12 year-old girl”: girl power, and global biopolitics (see above) in which they identify the ‘girl-powering’ of development, the authors of this article examine what they term ‘selfie humanitarianism’. For the authors, this is the turning of the humanitarian focus away from those in need and on to the individual donor. Using the example of the UN’s Girl Up campaign as a case study, the authors argue that via a ‘cocktail of celebratory “girlafestoes” and “empowerment strategies”, often spread via social media, celebrity endorsements, and corporate branding’ (p. 2), the desire to help others has been reframed into ‘entrepreneurial and narcissistic self-work’ (p. 2). The authors are highly sceptical of such campaigns’ appeals to sisterhood across the global North–South divide. They argue that the celebration of consumption, branding, and focus on the self inherent in the global North’s idea of ‘girl power’ mean that issues of inequality, injustice, and global exploitation are ignored, and that the humanitarian impetus is dependent on seeing the other as ‘like me’, not on her own terms (p. 10).

Youth Leap into Gender Equality. UN Women’s Youth and Gender Equality Strategy: Empowered Young Women and Young Men as Partners in Achieving Gender Equality (2017) New York: UN Women, 28 pp.

The interest in girls in international development, as discussed above, has been paralleled by a growing focus within the sector on youth more widely. This is, in part, a recognition of the ‘youth bulge’ in the current global population, with the largest generation of young people ever making up nearly one-third of the world’s population. Almost 90 per cent of these live in developing countries. The participation of these young people is seen as being crucial to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. The UN has been holding Youth Forums since 2012, as have many other development agencies, most of whom have also been developing youth policies over recent years: see e.g. USAID’s 2012 policy document, Youth in Development: Realizing the Demographic Opportunity; DFID’s Putting Young People at theHeart of Development: The Department for International Development’s Youth Agenda; and Investing in Youth in International Development Policy: Making the Case, from UK think-tank the Overseas Development Institute. This strategy paper from UN Women is a reflection of this increasing focus on youth. It sets out the strategy’s rationale, and its framework for achieving gender equality in the key areas of leadership, economic empowerment, and ending violence against women and girls through promoting the agency and leadership of young women.

Young Women and the Demographic Dividend in Africa: Defining and Spelling Out the Gender Dynamics Within the Demographic Dividend Discourse (2017) Nairobi: The African Women’s Development and Communication Network (FEMNET), 25 pp.

This paper is a response to the African Union’s Roadmap on Harnessing the Demographic Dividend Through Investments in Youth. (The Roadmap is the continent-wide youth strategy for capitalising on what is termed as the ‘demographic dividend’ for achieving Africa’s development goals. The ‘democratic dividend’ referred to relates to the economic benefits that derive from having a large percentage of the population of working age. They are then able to support the smaller, non-working population. Sixty per cent of Africa’s population are currently below the age of 24.) Arguing that mainstream discourses on youth tend to focus on and be dominated by young men, this paper highlights issues of key importance for young women and girls – sexual and reproductive health and rights, gender-based violence, employment and mobility, and education – maintaining that a gendered understanding of these areas is vital, so that young women and girls are not excluded from youth-focused development. The paper also reproduces the four ‘Pillars’ of the Roadmap, providing key ‘accountability points’ for use in advocacy, so that the Roadmap delivers for young women and girls.

Young feminist activism

There are many young feminist groups and organisations around the globe, practising solidarity and undertaking activism across a wide range of issues. Given the limits of space, we offer a short list of groups that have an international scope.

The Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) Twitter: @AWID

AWID is an international feminist membership organisation made up of organisations and individuals working in the areas of gender equality, sustainable development, and women’s human rights. As well as bringing together feminists from around the globe at AWID Forums every four years (the major international event for feminist activists, gender and development practitioners, and many others), one of AWID’s key focuses is Young Feminist Activism. This programme seeks to address the particular constraints facing young feminists – such as lack of funding and opportunities, and violence and intimidation – and develop strategies to promote multigenerational organising, young women’s access to international forums and processes, and to influence decision-making that affects their rights.


Part of the US-based Women’s Media Center web platform, the FBomb is an online space run by and for young feminists. Offering the chance for teen- and university-age writers from around the world to have their work published, it features reactions to and reflections on current news stories, interviews, and personal essays, all from a young feminist perspective. The editorial team welcomes pitches for submissions or full-length submissions, which should be sent to

FRIDA | The Young Feminist Fund Twitter: @FRIDAfund

Launched in 2011, FRIDA exists to fund feminist organising by girls, young women, and trans youth who are leading social justice movements, particularly in the form of smallscale start-up groups that may otherwise struggle to gain financial support. FRIDA has produced a helpful guide to generating resources – both financial and beyond – for young feminist activists, the Resource Mobilization Toolkit for Girls, Young Women and Trans Youth. As well as providing information on how to apply for a grant (and to donate to the fund), the website, via its list of grantees and their work, provides a wonderful overview of the kind of young feminist activism – across a wide variety of issues – that is currently being undertaken across the globe.

Hollaback!  Twitter: @iHollaback

Founded by young feminists in New York in 2005, Hollaback! has grown into a worldwide network of activists who are challenging sexual and other forms of harassment in public space. This umbrella website provides links to all Hollaback! groups, or chapters, globally, and is a space where activists can share their experiences of harassment, and news and more from their local group. Activists pledge to educate themselves on the issue of harassment and how it affects people, to take action if they see someone being harassed in the street, and to share their personal experiences of harassment. The organisation provides training and support for young community activists who wish to set up a Hollaback! chapter in their part of the world, and a Hollaback! app is available to allow those who have experienced harassment to map and document the incident.

Take Back the Tech! Twitter: @takebackthetech

While not explicitly a youth-oriented project, it is possible to see Take Back the Tech! as an example of the kind of digital activism engaged in by young feminists that has come to characterise fourth-wave feminism. Take Back the Tech! is a global campaign network promoting the use of ICTs to challenge online violence against women and girls, and brings together activists working on women’s rights, the digital environment, freedom of expression and more, in many countries across the world. While much work – such as training, solidarity actions, media monitoring, etc. – is done by members at a local level, Take Back the Tech!’s biggest annual campaign happens globally, during the annual 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence.

World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS) Twitter: @wagggs_world

WAGGGS is the umbrella organisation for the international girl guiding and scouting movement, with member organisations in 150 countries. While the Girl Guides might not immediately spring to mind as a hotbed of young feminist activity, in recent years the movement has begun to address what might be thought of as ‘feminist’ issues. Alongside the pre-existing focus on outdoor activities, community service, and the development of leadership skills for girls, WAGGGS runs campaigns on, for example, ending violence  against girls and women, body confidence, the Sustainable Development Goals, and a nutrition programme in Bangladesh, Madagascar, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, and Tanzania, which seeks to educate girls about gender disparities in nutrition and tackle malnutrition, WAGGGs regularly sends delegates to the UN’s annual Commission on the Status of Women.