8 Leaders of Tomorrow – Is the Future Female?

Amika George, Amy and Ella Meek, Ella and Caitlin McEwan, Muzoon Al-Mellehan, Holly Gillibrand, Sophie Healy-Thow. Unlike Greta Thunberg and Malala Yousafzai, these British Isles-based teenagers are not household names yet, but they deserve global admiration now.

At Young Citizens, we encourage young people to be active, engaged and motivated citizens with a desire to enact change. Our advocacy work and educational programmes provide a platform for our youngest citizens to advocate for change, from the local to the global stage.

Today’s political climate is rife with instability and unrest, therefore, it has created an opportunity and a necessity for youth activism to thrive. As a result of the incomparable world of social media, young people can no longer plead ignorance to global injustices that are splattered across their smartphones. Instead these young female activists have begun a social revolution.

“There are Greta’s in every community who need our support.– Amika George

At the age of 17, Amika George founded the free period’s campaign. The campaign strives to alter the stigma surrounding women’s periods and ensure that every woman has access to free sanitary products. Amika was horrified by the amount of young girls who would reluctantly miss consecutive days at school because they couldn’t afford sanitary products. Therefore, she tenaciously started a petition that called for free sanitary items to be made available to girls on free school meals. The petition currently has 270,000 signatures. Amika’s petition has led to the Scottish government announcing a £5.2m scheme to provide free sanitary products in schools, colleges and universities. In 2019, the Department for Education announced that free sanitary products will be made available to girls in English schools by early 2020. In Wales, a £2.3m scheme will be implemented in the new school year, allowing 141,000 school girls to benefit from free sanitary items. Amika continues to campaign for the destigmatisation of women’s periods around the world.

“We’re not waiting for the adults to take the initiative.” – Amy and Ella Meek

At the ages of 13 and 11, Amy and Ella Meek founded the Kids Against Plastic organisation. Whilst being homeschooled by their parents, they were shocked by the “disastrous impacts that plastic pollution was having on our environment”. Determined not to sit on the sidelines, Amy and Ella began to advocate for the reduction of plastic waste. Within a year, the sister duo had founded Kids against Plastic, picked up 100,000 pieces of plastic across the UK and surrounding waters, created the Plastic Clever initiative for schools and partook in an enlightening TED Talk. Now, at the ages of 16 and 14, Amy and Ella Meek continue their commitment to reduce single-use plastic waste and contribute to a more sustainable planet for future generations.  

After we learned about the environment and pollution at school we wanted to do everything we could to help.” – Ella and Caitlin McEwan

Following in Amy and Ella’s footsteps, sister duo Ella and Caitlin McEwan (10 and 8 years old respectively) petitioned for plastic toys to be banned from kid’s meals at Burger King and McDonalds. They wanted the fast food chains to “think of the environment” and cease providing kids with single-use plastic toys. The sisters from Southampton said that they wanted “everything they give us to be sustainable so we can protect the planet for us and for future generations”. In response to their petition, Burger King announced that they were scrapping plastic toys from their kids menu. This will result in Burger King saving 320 tonnes of plastic a year! McDonalds is yet to make any tangible changes other than allowing kids to choose between a piece of fruit and a toy. Their petition currently has over 560,000 signatures and is a true testament to the power of a few small voices.

“Due to tribal customs, some parents think that marrying off their daughters is the way to secure their futures. Yet I tried to make them understand that the opposite is true; that education was the best way to secure girls futures.” – Muzoon Al-Mellehan

17-year-old Muzoon Al-Mellehan was nicknamed the “Syrian Malala” by CNN in response to her commendable work in refugee education. After fleeing the violent conflicts in Syria with a suitcase full of books, Muzoon lived alongside her family in refugee camps for three years. Whilst in the desolate Za’atari camp in Jordan, Muzoon began working with Unicef, campaigning for the rights of young refugees to have an education. Muzoon specifically targeted her help at young girls who had been deprived of an education due to tribal customs or immovable government regulations. In July 2017, Muzoon attended the G20 Summit in Hamburg as a representative for Unicef and to call on world leaders to prioritise education for the millions of children caught up in conflict or disasters. Muzoon now lives with her family in Newcastle. She continues to be an advocate for refugee education and works closely with Malala Yousafzai, striving to give 350 million girls around the world the meaningful education they are concurrently deprived of.

“Greta Thunberg, thank you for leading the way….you are right, with action does come hope.” – Holly Gillibrand

Thirteen year old, Scottish teenager Holly Gillibrand decided that instead of going to class with her friends on Fridays, she would perch outside her school, equipped with placards, protesting the government’s inaction towards climate change. Inspired by the images of Greta Thunberg strike outside the Swedish parliament, Holly has stood outside Lochaber High School in Fort William every Friday. Not only has she protested, but Holly has made several steps to reduce her carbon footprint and has successfully encouraged her family and friends to follow her example. Holly stated that she was “very angry, very scared” by the Scottish Government’s inability to take climate change seriously. She insists that “it is an urgent crisis that needs to be addressed” and continues to go on school strike every Friday.

“Give us a seat at the table, and we’ll show you what we’re made of.” – Sophie Healy–Thow

15-year-old Irish teenager Sophie Healy-Thow was researching a unique way to battle food scarcity in Africa with two of her classmates. It involved adapting the natural microbiological process by which pea plants take in nitrogen from the air and enhance growth. Curious about the validity and practicality of her research, Sophie contacted a renowned scientist for his opinion. He bluntly dismissed her in his email, replying with “Well it hasn’t been done before. So obviously it won’t work”. Unsatisfied with this response and completely unfazed by the scientist’s blunt discouragement, Sophie and her classmates continue to pursue their research. They went onto win the Google Science Fair, Sophie was listed as one of Time’s most influential teens, is an ActionAid trustee, ONE Campaign Youth Ambassador and a Youth AG Summit delegate. Sophie is a fierce advocate for valuing young voices, particularly in relation to policy development. She believes that young people are “raring for the chance to see [their] ideas translated into real, tangible policies”. To this day, Sophie continues to strive to improve global food scarcity, most recently in Kenya where she has co-founded Agrikua; a platform which is aimed at solving problems for local farmers.

These young, female activists are the future leaders of tomorrow. Despite their different ethnic, religious and social backgrounds, they all have one thing in common; a desire to make the world a better place.

At Young Citizens, we offer a platform for young people to become community change-makers. The Make a Difference Challenge is a child-led social action programme that mobilises our youngest citizens in primary schools to identify an issue they feel passionately about. It then supports them to make a difference through awareness-raising, fundraising or taking direct action – like all of these inspirational young women.

Over the past decade Young Citizens has empowered more than 350,000 young people to conceive and develop projects that tackle social and environmental causes. Maybe your classroom has the next Greta, Muzoon, Amika, Amy, Ella (Meek), Ella, Caitlin, Holly or Sophie?

Get involved and inspire your young people to join a growing movement.

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Tilly Finn is a Communications Intern from Melbourne, Australia. She is a third-year student, studying a Bachelor of Law and Global Studies, at the Australian Catholic University. She joined the communications team at Young Citizens during a 3-month placement because of her passion to seek truth and represent a clear version of reality. Tilly believes that by communicating authentically, progress can be made in humanity.