Activism defined 2019. From the pro-democracy protests on the streets of Hong Kong, to the Extinction Rebellion movement bringing cities to a standstill while raising awareness of the climate crisis, and the pro-life campaigners who successfully helped decriminalise abortion in NSW, the global mobilisation of voices has touched every generation, regardless of gender or ethnicity, in the past 12 months. In a divided world, activism has brought people together under a united aim.
As we live in these uncertain times, we wanted to bring you an uplifting photographic series about social change made on an individual level. While many of us feel helpless right now, it’s a nice reminder that our individual actions always have the power to make a difference.
British woman Gina Martin was one of the first ‘internet activists’ – her campaign was instrumental in making upskirting (the act of taking photos up a woman’s skirt without their consent) illegal in the UK last year.
In her book, Be the Change: A Toolkit for the Activist in You, Martin explained she was just a “regular working-class person” with no experience in politics and “no idea where to start” when she began her crusade to change the law. What she did have was frustration, anger and a drive to make sure the man who had inadvertently snapped photos of her crotch at a festival faced justice. This, and the power of social media.
“Activism is so empowering. It’s the kind of balm our society needs right now.”
Martin utilised growing online support to collect more than 110,000 petition signatures. The media were interested, so she leveraged their coverage to land a meeting with the British justice minister. From there, her bill was debated in parliament and eventually became law.
The 26-year-old says all of us have the power to be activists in the internet age, and we should. “My campaign may not have done half as well had it started in 2006,” she told The Times in a recent interview. “Activism is so empowering. It’s the kind of balm our society needs right now.”
What’s clear, Martin says, is that standing up for what you believe in doesn’t have to mean taking on the legal system.
“Activism can be the smallest thing, like, ‘I want my local shop to stop selling battery eggs'”, she explains. Starting small is the answer, she says, so find an organisation who aligns with what you’re trying to achieve, or seek out fellow activists on social media.
Self-doubt is often the biggest barrier to kickstarting a campaign, she believes. “Separate it from yourself” and make one small step towards achieving your aim every day are Martin’s biggest takeaways.
Inspired? In this special photographic series by acclaimed photographer Jez Smith, we are highlighting six female activists who sat down with us in London to have their portrait taken and discuss being the change they want to see in the world. They spoke about doing it on their own terms, whether that’s at the easel, on Instagram, or in parliament, along with the highs and lows of making their voices heard.
Jez Smith is a former judge on Next Top Model and a leading fashion photographer, who recently walked away from the industry after becoming increasingly uncomfortable with taking certain images that undermine women’s self-confidence. He now dedicates his time and work to shooting a different sort of beauty: one that builds women up and showcases women’s personalities and individuality. This project is just some of the incredible work he is doing in his own personal activism to better represent the women of today.
Food And Lycra Co-Founders On Inclusive Fitness
Workout buddies Rachel, Kim and Laura started Food and Lycra seven years ago. The platform tackles negative body image and diet culture among young women. Here, they discuss helping young women realise their potential through movement and sport – regardless of shape, size and colour. Read their story here.
Ruth Fox On Making Body Positive Art
Ruth Fox is a contemporary British artist who is challenging our long-held perceptions of beauty one colourful, pastel sketch at a time. Read her story here.
Fern Champion On Fighting For Sexual Violence Survivors
Fern Champion was raped while travelling, and later denied access to trauma therapy back in the UK due to government cuts to women’s services. Fern started a hugely successful online petition to raise awareness – and found herself meeting ministers at 10 Downing Street two months later. Read her story here.
Emma-Louise Pritchard On Environmental Activism
The environmental activist and journalist uses Instagram to share the everyday changes she’s making to do her bit for the planet. Along the way, she’s inspiring others to do the same. Read her story here.
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