Plaits swinging down her back, hands defiantly at her hips, the original Fearless Girl was unveiled in March of 2017. Her infamy stemmed, not from her appearance, but her location. The statue of a girl was placed on Wall Street, positioned to stare down the longstanding ‘raging bull’ of the New York Stock Exchange. Take that world.
It was a warm and pleasant symbol. The fact Fearless Girl was actually part of an advertising campaign did little to taint her shine. (Who was the advertising campaign for? Don’t remember. Well, there you go. It wasn’t very good.) Fearless Girl gave the globe a quiet moment of hope. Hope that somewhere, perhaps amongst the next generation, lay someone who could change this world for the better.
Build it and they will come, or so the saying goes.
And it appears that now, they are here.
Sixteen-year-old Swedish Greta Thunberg has been joined on her school strike by millions of young people, all seeking urgent action to prevent the impending climate disaster. Her powerful speech to the United Nations last month called the world to attention. This is our future, you’re gambling with, Thurnberg warned global leaders. And while she’s become the popular face of this movement amongst school children, Thunberg is far from alone.
Autumn Peltier is a 13-year-old Anishinaabe First Nations girl from Canada, who has been most vocal about protecting our water sources. Mari Copeny from Flint, Michigan in the United States – where water is contaminated and undrinkable – has been corresponding with Presidents since she was eight. Artemisa Xakriaba is from the Brazilian Amazon, and rather than watching her forest home burn she is fighting; she addressed hundreds of thousands of people in New York City on the issue last month.
“It’s easy to say that these girls give you hope… that is also not what they’re asking for. From adults and world leaders, girls want to inspire action, not hope.”
Look around and you’ll see girls and young women on the front lines of every major world issue. Malala Yousafzai published an anonymous diary about life under the Taliban for a young girl. Three years later she was shot in the head by a gunman on her school bus. She has since appeared on the cover of Time magazine and become the youngest person to win a Nobel Peace Prize, in recognition of her tireless work for girls’ education.
In 2018 a gunman stormed Emma Gonzalez’s high school in Florida, in the United States and killed seventeen people. Gonzalez survived and now leads a national campaign to end gun violence. She delivered a powerful speech at the March For Our Lives rally in the American capital Washington DC, where she read the names of her dead classmates, before standing in silence for four minutes. Four minutes was how long it took for the gunman to carry out his attack on her schoolmates.
Bana Al-Abed tweeted live from Aleppo, Syria, during terrifying air-strikes and her family’s experience of famine. Eleven years old at the time, she brought a human face to the reality of the war in Syria before her family fled to Turkey as refugees. In October 2017 Bana Al-Abed released a book that is part memoir and part a child’s desperate and articulate plea for peace.
It’s easy to say that these girls give you hope. While I know they do that for me, that is also not what they’re asking for. From adults and world leaders, girls want to inspire action, not hope. They want decisions taken to secure their safe, happy and prosperous futures. They want access to healthcare and to live free from violence. They want clean water to drink, nourishing food to eat and somewhere to learn. They want a safe home, with people they love and a thriving planet to live together on.
It’s a simple ask, with no easy solution.
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