TEEN.
GIRL.
ACTIVIST.



A teen girl in South Africa stands atop the corrugated roof of her family's home in Ivory Park, an informal settlement.
A teen girl in Ecuador ties a sash around her traditional red skirt, just before heading outside to attend a traditional ceremony.
A young Nigerien woman in a bright blue hajib poses for a portrait against a tree outside.
A teen girl in Ecuador ties a sash around her traditional red skirt, just before heading outside to attend a traditional ceremony.
A young Nigerien woman in a bright blue hajib poses for a portrait against a tree outside.

As coronavirus lockdowns swept across the world, the fallout for girls came fast and hard.

Measures meant to stem the spread of COVID-19 by restricting movement can escalate gender-based violence and limit girls’ access to quality education.

Even before a pandemic locked them down, gender stereotypes locked many girls in, confining their future prospects.

Most girls don't grow up in a world of opportunity.

They build one.

Teen girls have long stood at the forefront of progress. From Pakistani education activist Malala Yousafzai, to Syrian refugee Muzoon Almellehan, to Swedish climate champion Greta Thunberg – and the countless others who paved their way or followed in their path. An entire generation of teens is speaking up and out for equality.

These are the stories of five young women done waiting for change to come their way.

A young woman in Senegal holds her video camera, posing for a portrait on the beach.
Two teen girls in Senegal walk the beach with video equipment, in preparation for interviews they will conduct for the documentary they are producing.
A young woman in Senegal holds her video camera, posing for a portrait on the beach.
Two teen girls in Senegal walk the beach with video equipment, in preparation for interviews they will conduct for the documentary they are producing.

THE GIRL BEHIND THE CAMERA.

Dakar, Senegal

Oumou Kalsoum Diop, 18, hears stories from the girls in her community. Stories that need to be shared, she says.

Sexual assaults have been on the rise during the COVID-19 pandemic. Young women are stuck at home, sometimes with their attacker.

Oumou picks up her camera and takes to the streets. “Since I was little, I watched films but didn’t know who was behind the camera."

Now, she trains her lens on issues she knows well. One of Oumou's projects tells the true story of a peer pressured to lose weight. The young woman takes a concoction of drugs she hopes will slim her. Instead, the drugs kill her.

Oumou films an interview in a market in the Yoff area of Dakar, Senegal.

Oumou films an interview in a market in the Yoff area of Dakar, Senegal.

Oumou reviews footage she and her collaborators gathered for a documentary.

Oumou reviews footage she and her collaborators gathered for a documentary.

Oumou films an interview with a young boy on Yoff Beach.

Oumou films an interview with a young boy on Yoff Beach.

Oumou spends time at the end of the day with friend Astou Diallo (left), 17, on the corniche next to the sea.

Oumou spends time at the end of the day with friend Astou Diallo (left), 17, on the corniche next to the sea.

Oumou embraces her younger sister and brother at home.

Oumou embraces her younger sister and brother at home.

Oumou films an interview in a market in the Yoff area of Dakar, Senegal.

Oumou films an interview in a market in the Yoff area of Dakar, Senegal.

Oumou reviews footage she and her collaborators gathered for a documentary.

Oumou reviews footage she and her collaborators gathered for a documentary.

Oumou films an interview with a young boy on Yoff Beach.

Oumou films an interview with a young boy on Yoff Beach.

Oumou spends time at the end of the day with friend Astou Diallo (left), 17, on the corniche next to the sea.

Oumou spends time at the end of the day with friend Astou Diallo (left), 17, on the corniche next to the sea.

Oumou embraces her younger sister and brother at home.

Oumou embraces her younger sister and brother at home.

A young woman in Senegal holds a microphone as she speaks in a community group.
A young woman in Senegal stands against a wall mural in Dakar as she poses, smiling, for a portrait.
A young woman in Senegal holds a microphone as she speaks in a community group.
A young woman in Senegal stands against a wall mural in Dakar as she poses, smiling, for a portrait.

Some nights, Oumou leads group discussions with teens in her community – speaking on issues, like sexual harassment, that girls face.

When a young man in the group warns women to dress conservatively so as not to provoke sexual violence, Oumou remains steady. “No matter what a woman is wearing, you have no right to rape her.”

These conversations only propel her forward.

“We have to liberate what's in our hearts," she tells the young women she meets at the community centre, at school, in the city. “Don’t keep it inside.”

A young woman in Ecuador adjusts her earrings as she prepares for a traditional ceremony.
A teen girl in Ecuador dumps fresh milk from one bucket into another on her family farm, surrounded by cows and a pet dog.
A young woman in Ecuador adjusts her earrings as she prepares for a traditional ceremony.
A teen girl in Ecuador dumps fresh milk from one bucket into another on her family farm, surrounded by cows and a pet dog.

THE TEENAGE COUNCILWOMAN.

Paquiestancia, Ecuador

Belen Perugachi’s day begins before sunrise. At 4 a.m., the 16-year-old is up with the cows: Her family sells milk at the local market, fetching $0.43 per litre for the 20 litres they produce each day.

Then the pandemic hit. The price of milk dropped, and the market shuttered.

In the rural community of Paquiestancia, Ecuador, agriculture and livestock make up the primary source of income for many families. So when the main market closed in Cayambe, Belen and her youth group stepped up, opening a new marketplace to support women and their families.

Belen aims to preserve more than the local economy. She's also holding fast to local traditions: At 16, she's the youngest member of the Rights Protection Council of Cayambe Municipality. Her ascent to Vice President in 2019 marked the first time a teen was elected to the post.

A close-up of the back of a young woman's head as she adjusts her hair wrap in preparation for a traditional ceremony in Ecuador.
Two young girls sit in the back of a truck as it travels down a dirt road at the base of a volcano in Ecuador.
A close-up of the back of a young woman's head as she adjusts her hair wrap in preparation for a traditional ceremony in Ecuador.
Two young girls sit in the back of a truck as it travels down a dirt road at the base of a volcano in Ecuador.

Belen advocates for indigenous rights on the global stage. In 2018, she travelled to Chile for the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean.

“My participation sent a message to indigenous girls like me in Latin America,” she says. “I told them to stand up for their rights and feel proud of their traditions.”

One of the traditions Belen hopes to preserve is the 'purification ceremony,' an indigenous ritual that's faded with time.

“Today, almost 50 people in our community are participating. We will ask the sacred mountains to bring us prosperity in the market.”

Before initiating the ceremony, Belen treks the mountains of the Mama Kayambi to collect holy water. The volcano, she explains, represents feminine power in her culture.

Belen and her sister, Vicky, 8, climb to the Ugshapamba stream at the foothills of the Cayambe Volcano to collect pure water for a purification ceremony.

Belen and her sister, Vicky, 8, climb to the Ugshapamba stream at the foothills of the Cayambe Volcano to collect pure water for a purification ceremony.

Belen scatters flower petals in preparation for the purification ceremony.

Belen scatters flower petals in preparation for the purification ceremony.

Belen hosts a purification ceremony to help bring good fortune to the marketplace.

Belen hosts a purification ceremony to help bring good fortune to the marketplace.

Belen walks through her family's garden.

Belen walks through her family's garden.

After the purification ceremony, Belen helps a friend remove a bee stinger.

After the purification ceremony, Belen helps a friend remove a bee stinger.

Belen and her sister, Vicky, 8, climb to the Ugshapamba stream at the foothills of the Cayambe Volcano to collect pure water for a purification ceremony.

Belen and her sister, Vicky, 8, climb to the Ugshapamba stream at the foothills of the Cayambe Volcano to collect pure water for a purification ceremony.

Belen scatters flower petals in preparation for the purification ceremony.

Belen scatters flower petals in preparation for the purification ceremony.

Belen hosts a purification ceremony to help bring good fortune to the marketplace.

Belen hosts a purification ceremony to help bring good fortune to the marketplace.

Belen walks through her family's garden.

Belen walks through her family's garden.

After the purification ceremony, Belen helps a friend remove a bee stinger.

After the purification ceremony, Belen helps a friend remove a bee stinger.

Two young girls and their mother laugh as they set the dinner table together in Ecuador.
Two young girls and their mother laugh as they set the dinner table together in Ecuador.

Belen was just 12 years old when she decided to become an advocate for indigenous rights by joining the Children and Adolescents Group of Pueblo Kayambi.

“I want people in rural areas to have the same opportunities as people in cities,” she says. “I imagine a world with respect for different cultures, with respect for men and women…I dream of equity."

A young woman in Afghanistan disassembles used car parts.
Teen girls in Afghanistan work at a large table to assemble a prototype for a ventilator.
Young women in Afghanistan adjust pieces of their ventilator prototype.
A young woman in Afghanistan disassembles used car parts.
Teen girls in Afghanistan work at a large table to assemble a prototype for a ventilator.
Young women in Afghanistan adjust pieces of their ventilator prototype.

THE ROBOTICS CHAMPION.

Herat, Afghanistan

Somaya Faruqi, 17, flips the switch and adjusts a dial. "We used locally available, second-hand car parts to assemble the device," she says.

When Afghanistan’s first case of COVID-19 was reported in their province of Herat, Somaya and her all-female robotics team set to work on a low-cost ventilator to treat coronavirus patients.

"There were days when the project did not progress, due to missing simple tools, such as a screw," says Somaya. "And what made it worse, is that shops were closed due to lockdown."

But after three months, the girls had produced a lightweight, easy-to-transport unit at a fraction of the cost of traditional ventilators.

The government took notice. Somaya and her team will soon travel to the capital, Kabul, to present their device to the Ministry of Public Health. If approved, the prototype could be used in emergency settings where traditional ventilators are unavailable.

Somaya and her father, Abdul Qahar Faruqi, stand in the doorway of his mechanic shop, where Somaya learned to build her inventions.

Somaya and her father, Abdul Qahar Faruqi, stand in the doorway of his mechanic shop, where Somaya learned to build her inventions.

Somaya shows her brother, Farad Faruqi, 10, how a prototype for one of her inventions, a road duster, works.

Somaya shows her brother, Farad Faruqi, 10, how a prototype for one of her inventions, a road duster, works.

Somaya and her team describe how they used spare auto parts to assemble their ventilator prototype.

Somaya and her team describe how they used spare auto parts to assemble their ventilator prototype.

Somaya and her father, Abdul Qahar Faruqi, stand in the doorway of his mechanic shop, where Somaya learned to build her inventions.

Somaya and her father, Abdul Qahar Faruqi, stand in the doorway of his mechanic shop, where Somaya learned to build her inventions.

Somaya shows her brother, Farad Faruqi, 10, how a prototype for one of her inventions, a road duster, works.

Somaya shows her brother, Farad Faruqi, 10, how a prototype for one of her inventions, a road duster, works.

Somaya and her team describe how they used spare auto parts to assemble their ventilator prototype.

Somaya and her team describe how they used spare auto parts to assemble their ventilator prototype.

“There are thousands of girls in Afghanistan who have the same courage and determination to bring positive change,” says Somaya. “But not all of them have the opportunity like me.”

Girls account for some 60% of out-of-school children in Afghanistan. In some provinces, up to 85% of girls do not attend class.

"I had classmates who dropped out of school due to early marriage," Somaya recounts. Worldwide, families marry off their daughters for various reasons, including to reduce economic burden. "I know how much they would have loved to continue their education...”

A young woman in Afghanistan poses for a portrait, background blurred.
A young woman in Afghanistan poses for a portrait, background blurred.

Somaya’s thoughts return to the team’s upcoming trip to Kabul. “I guess we will be dubbed the first group of adolescent girls in the world to design a ventilator.”

For now, the girls’ official team name will have to suffice.

They are the Afghan Dreamers.

A teen girl in Armenia poses for a portrait on the grass outside of her home.
A teen girl in Armenia works with a flame in her school chemistry lab, dressed in a lab coat, protective mask and goggles.
Young women in Armenia talk together at a table, as the girl in the middle wears a virtual reality headset.
A teen girl in Armenia poses for a portrait on the grass outside of her home.
A teen girl in Armenia works with a flame in her school chemistry lab, dressed in a lab coat, protective mask and goggles.
Young women in Armenia talk together at a table, as the girl in the middle wears a virtual reality headset.

THE VIRTUAL REALITY CHEMIST.

Yerevan, Armenia

When Hasmik Baghdasaryan moved to a new high school, it was the chemistry lab that caught her eye.

“My previous school didn’t have anything like it,” the 16-year-old explains. “Many don’t have the space for a lab, let alone the funds."

Before Hasmik began conducting experiments herself, chemistry was not her strong suit. "When I was struggling, I began to wonder if boys really are just naturally better at science."

That's when Hasmik knew she wanted to help make science accessible to students of all backgrounds.

She and her co-founders created VR Labs, a virtual lab that simulates science experiments with virtual reality headsets.

“It’s one thing to watch an experiment being done by your teacher,” Hasmik says. “It’s another thing to do it yourself.”

Education in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) is critical for success in today's rapidly changing world. But compared to boys, many girls don't have the same opportunities to pursue STEM studies and develop the high-level skills needed, as adults, to compete in the workforce.

Globally, women are over-represented in the lowest-paid occupations and in those with the highest risk of being lost to automation.

Hasmik hopes VR Labs will inspire more students to pursue studies and careers in science.

Hasmik and her sister, Maria, 5, play together at home.

Hasmik and her sister, Maria, 5, play together at home.

Hasmik and her mother, Lucine, 40, bake in their kitchen.

Hasmik and her mother, Lucine, 40, bake in their kitchen.