Young women around the world are at the forefront of change, fighting inequality in their communities and amplifying girls’ voices for a more inclusive future. Anika, a Plan USA Youth Leadership Academy alum, is the founder of Project Hearth, a digital media platform that shares girls’ stories from around the world to strengthen solidarity in the fight for equality. Here, Anika shares her perspective on centering girls’ voices and how women in her own life inspired her to become an activist and lead by example.
This story is part of a blog series called “In her own words,” where you’ll read incredibly powerful stories directly from the experts with whom we work: the girls and women themselves.
News headlines around the world constantly flash with rollbacks of girls’ reproductive rights, access to education, and freedom of expression. Young women are portrayed as victims of society, as unsolvable problems. Yet, their stories — our voices — hold invaluable insight and agency for creating positive change.
When I was a little girl, I refused to go to bed without hearing a story. I yearned to learn about my past, to hear the stories of my family, my culture and my ancestors.
My journey as an advocate for gender equality is fundamentally intertwined with the stories of the women who raised me.
The hallways of my home are lined with my aunt’s paintings, a reminder of her story from years ago of a young woman who left all that she knew to pursue higher education in a turbulent Russia.
My Dadi (my paternal grandmother), the mother of four boys, lived apart from her family for years in a remote mountain town in India to teach underserved youth. Five decades ago, against gender norms that instructed women to tend to the home, she stood in proud, bold defiance, uplifting young people through education to do the opposite.
Stories shape how we see each other and understand the world, contextualizing the need for change and holding potential for solutions, while statistics and data underscore our observations, needs and desires, acting as a common thread that connects our individual experiences with our communities.
Humanizing change-making and centering girls’ voices in decision-making processes is key to initiatives like International Day of the Girl. Campaigns often put girls on pedestals, using just our names or faces to satisfy marketing and diversity needs.
However, when organizations like Plan International, which directly impacts the lives of 26 million girls around the world, tap into our insights and center our ideas and perspectives, they harness real solution-making capabilities.
They tap into the ingenuity, creativity and passion that girls can offer when our voices are actively acknowledged and meaningfully integrated into policies, decision-making and programming.
When I immersed myself in fighting for girls’ rights, I was confused about my story. My entry into advocacy was more nebulous — not defined by a single moment or revelation but rather the product of a life shaped by strong women, a love for learning, and a commitment to creating the spaces my younger self deserved.
My time in Plan International USA’s Youth Leadership Academy was crucial to embracing this journey, which is now uniquely my own. The Youth Leadership Academy showed me what it means to belong to a community enriched by its diversity and united by the desire to make a difference. It empowered me to build connections and act on the power I drew from the stories of my culture.
Now, my activist journey is rooted in reconstruction, redefining what it means to be an advocate for gender equality. As I curate digital media platforms, I create spaces for young women to share their experiences in their own words. I work with Indigenous girls in rural Guatemala and leverage technology to uplift the potential of ancient knowledge and native agency in fighting for social justice.
In my role as a Plan USA Youth Ambassador, my voice calls for the engagement and representation of girls in all spaces of decision-making. Every position I hold circles back to the value of storytelling and creating change through human connection. I am driven by the goal of having narratives once written for girls to be written by girls.
In turn, as a girl leader, I feel a responsibility — like my aunt, Dadi and all the women who have shaped me — to lead by example, lifting up others and cultivating relationships and community.
My story is a work in progress, but it is a path that I’m forging with purpose by amplifying the power of stories and affecting positive change with girls and women who are harnessing the potential within their voices.
As girls, we are not voiceless. Today, we have an opportunity to share our own stories. And we have a right for our stories to be heard.