It has been said that millennial women are at the helm of some of the most transformative social movements in recent memory. Having met them, I have to agree.
A few months ago, I had the good fortune to meet an extraordinary young woman. Her name is Beatrice Nyandamira, she is 21, and if she is not going to be the next Australian Prime Minister, I will eat my hat. Although, Beatrice has even more lofty ideals. She wants to work for the UN, to help girls and young women like her in the Congo, the country where she was born. They don’t go to school, are being married off to old men, and are often raped when they go to get water. Beatrice wants to change lives. Sink a well, build a school. Rise them up, to use the old-fashioned term. Beatrice is struggling. She came here as a refugee at the end of 2015, after years in camps and being on the road. A few months after her family arrived here, her mother died, and now Beatrice is trying to keep her brothers and sisters going and go to university at the same time. While learning yet another language. Number five in as many years. Fast. Because her assignments need to be written, presentations given. And Australia is nothing if not impatient.
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I am telling you this story not because I want you to feel pity. Believe me, Beatrice is not somebody who fits that word. On the contrary. I am telling you about her, because I am so proud of her generation of girls and young women. And because I want you to think about them when you feel hopeless and angry at politicians. I was watching SBS World News a few days ago. One item made me stand up and dance. It was about the upcoming American mid-term elections. Yes, no, not about Trump. It was a number that made me so happy. Next year, in early 2019, millennials will be the largest voting base in America. Out of 325 million Americans, 73 million will be between 18 and 29 years old. The time of the baby boomers and even my Generation X is over. And that is great news. Especially because millennials want change. They have been sold a dream that they know will never come true and they are angry. So they are turning away from capitalism and surging to the left. According to the SBS report, a party like the Democratic Socialists has grown by 800% in the last two years. Thank you, Mr. Trump!
Within the millennial group, it is girls that are, the New York Times recently wrote, “at the helm of some of the most transformative social movements in recent memory.” There have been, for example, the young women who were in charge of the March for Our Lives after the shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. You remember Emma Gonzalez, don’t you, the amazing young woman who stood up and was strong and angry and emotional and not afraid? What courage. It made me cry to look at her. And so did the thousands in Washington who were watching and listening. Like Beatrice, Emma has a good reason to be brave. But it would have been easier, so much easier, to do nothing. To sit at home and turn away from the world. But this is where these girls teach us what to do: hope, they say; be angry and optimistic, and hope. And do something. Like 11-year old Naomi Wadler, who led a walk-out at her elementary school after the shooting, and spoke at the rally as well:
This is not, of course, only about gun control. This is about being heard. About saying, as Naomi did, “we matter”. On climate change, (sexual) freedoms, education, politics, race, living a good life. And saying “no” to what adults, their “betters”, make of the world. In America, this means that they have to vote. With as many as they can muster. Vote and tell our generations what they think of us. “Call BS”, as Emma said.
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But also: look at the few grown-ups who do make good role models. This is where we can be (a little) proud of ourselves as well. As the New York Times wrote, it is for the first time in history that these girls have plentiful, visible, diverse role models around them. “Girls cannot be what they cannot see,” as the saying goes. So we can be proud of us, and especially of them. And hope, and believe, that they will lead us out of this wilderness to the light.