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Pro-democracy, period poverty, transgender representation and child marriage: four huge issues being taken on by Joshua Wong, Amika George, Elle van der Burg, Hadiqa Bashir
No more apathetic youth, Generation Z are woke and making their voices heard. Born between the mid-1990s and 2010, these political activists are prepared to tell inconvenient truths, leaving education to protest in some cases, and successfully gaining traction on the global stage. A recent study from Gen Z think-tank Irregular Labs reported that 75 per cent of respondents said being politically or socially engaged was “very important to their identity”.
While Greta Thunberg is leading global climate change activism, others are impacting the political sphere, taking on topics from period poverty to transgender equality, child marriage and the need for democracy.
Here, Vogue meets four Gen Z political activists from around the world.
Nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 2018, 22-year-old Hong Kong native Joshua Wong is well seasoned in pro-democracy activism—and a vocal figure in the anti-extradition protests currently taking place.
Pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong speaks to the media outside the Legislative Council
“I am a pro-democracy activist asking for free elections in Hong Kong,” Wong tells Vogue. “We want to be the masters of our own house. I was released from prison in June  after serving a two-month sentence for my involvement in leading the 2014 ‘Umbrella Movement’ sit-in protests—and the same year TIMEmagazine listed me as one of the Most Influential Teens of 2014. I have no regrets.
“Since I was released, there have been more than 10 anti-extradition rallies and tomorrow we will be back on a mass protest. We are never afraid. I have been fighting for democracy since I was 15 when I organised a strike to oppose the Hong Kong government’s plan to introduce the Chinese patriotic school education; 100,000 people surrounded a government building with students asking for democracy for every citizen.
“When I was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2018, I felt that this should go to all of the Hong Kong people who fight for democracy. Hong Kong people do not keep silent and I urge people around the world to keep their eyes on Hong Kong and the passion with which people are fighting for basic rights. We never give up and we will not be silenced.”
Fighting the stigma surrounding periods, the 19-year-old Londoner launched the #FreePeriods movement in 2017, lobbying for free menstrual products for English school pupils from low-income families. The Cambridge University student has also won a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Goalkeepers Campaign Award.
Amika George speaks at a period poverty protest in Whitehall
“In 2017 I started the campaign #FreePeriods—a movement to end period poverty in the UK. I was 17 and had read an article reporting that children in the UK were missing school for days every month because they couldn’t afford the cost of menstrual products,” says George, now 19.
“After two years campaigning against the government’s inaction, protesting outside Downing Street, where over 2,000 young people stood together wearing red to sing and shout about our periods, after meeting MPs in Parliament, absolutely nothing sustainable was being pledged from within the walls of Westminster. We launched a legal challenge, working with human rights lawyers to persuade the government to take action. Finally in March 2019, the British Government announced that from early 2020, free period products will be provided in all schools and colleges.
“I didn’t think that a teenage girl like me could influence government policy, but we did it, and I’m excited to see how we much further we can grow #FreePeriodsand ask world leaders to take action against period poverty so all children can go to school, unhindered by their period.”
Elle van der Burg
The 20-year-old Johannesburg native—who has modelled since the age of 15—wants to raise awareness on understanding the difference between sexuality and gender-based identity in South Africa
Elle Van Der Burg
© Fela Gucci
“I want honest representation for transgender people that isn’t directly tied to stigma or how easily fetishised we are in the media. Call it idealistic, but I really just want a world where queer people are allowed to exist without the need to defend or explain ourselves,” says van der Burg.
“I grew up constantly having to explain that my gender identity didn’t really have a direct correlation to my sexuality. I think that, especially for transgender people, there’s this dangerous misconception that our gender identity is just the extreme presentation of homosexuality. I don’t think there is enough conversation about the spectrums of identity and sexualities that people experience.
“A lot of discussions in South Africa tend to be rigid and assumptive. Naturally, I find thinking like that to be very dangerous especially when you consider that transgender people in South Africa are extremely under-represented and don’t have many opportunities to correct misconceptions. That’s really the main reason why I make distinctions like that in my activism. I want people to be able to have open, meaningful conversations about both gender and sexuality; I just don’t think they should be used to validate and verify each other.
“Recently as a model I’ve been a part of Dove’s #ShowUs campaign [lit up on two billboards in Times Square, New York], which was amazing because it got to highlight women and non-binary people in ways we wish to be seen. I’ve also been a part of MTV Africa’s The People vs. The Patriarchy programme among others and will soon work with MAC in Africa.”
The 17-year-old Pakistani activist goes door to door in her community in Swat Valley, also Malala Yousafzai’s hometown, calling for an end to child marriage so that girls are able and encouraged to complete their education.
“I fight against child marriage. When I turned 11, a [marriage] proposal came for me,” explains Bashir. “The man was a taxi driver. My grandmother told my father to say yes because it was a really good proposal and my father seemed satisfied. That’s when my uncle told me about child marriage laws. I told my father and grandmother that I would file a suit against them if they married me to that man. My uncle, a long-time rights activist, supported me and told my family that child marriage is a crime.
“Now I go door to door, speaking to mothers, fathers, uncles, aunts and grandparents about the negative impacts of early and forced marriage on a child’s health and wellbeing. I’ve met with legislators and persuaded them to speak on the assembly floor about girl-friendly laws, and about [Pakistan’s] Child Marriage Restraint Bill, so that the legal age to marry be increased to 18, and the fine and punishment for early marriage be increased. The current fine for early marriage crime is only $10.
“I started a campaign called Girls United for Human Rights when I was 14, aimed at saving the lives of hundreds of girls and helping them get enrolled in schools. I have received many awards for this work—and threats from extremists—but I believe that the biggest award will be when a real change takes place and that every girl of my age is in school instead of getting married and being forced to become a wife. The young women and girls cannot be silenced for long. The momentum is stirring within our bright-eyed and hopeful youth.”
Article Source: Vogue
Image credit: Google Images