Adolescent girls are making their voices heard, from leading climate strikes to marching for justice and equality. But are we listening?
It’s not enough to talk about ‘elevating the voices of girls.’ It’s not even enough to make sure they have a seat at the table. We need to listen to – and act on – what they have to say. Girls deserve no less. And it’s what our world needs to make progress on the Sustainable Development Goals, our global to-do list to create a just future for people and planet.
In honor of #DayoftheGirl on October 11, Michelle Milford Morse, our VP of Girls & Women Stratedgy, had the opportunity to speak with Fasica Mersha, a committed advocate for gender equality and a former Girl Up Teen Advisor, about her ideas, passions, and hopes for our world.
Posted by United Nations Foundation on Friday, October 11, 2019
In honor of International Day of the Girl on October 11, I had the opportunity to speak with Fasica Mersha, a committed advocate for gender equality and a former Girl Up Teen Advisor, about her ideas, passions, and hopes for our world. It was an enlightening conversation, and I hope you read it and join us in the movement to secure the rights and opportunities of girls everywhere.
Discovering her passion as an advocate
Michelle Milford Morse: I’m so delighted that I get to talk to such a passionate advocate for adolescent girls. Tell us about your journey.
Fasica Mersha: Discovering my passion for gender equality was a little bit of fate, I’d like to say, because I actually discovered Girl Up through Instagram – completely on coincidence. I had always had an interest in gender equality and human rights and that kind of thing, but it was never really clear how to actually do something with that interest, and Girl Up made it really simple.
I was in high school, and Girl Up had all these resources that inspired me to start my own club, and through that I learned even more about gender equality and how to make change. It actually influenced what I chose to study in college.
MMM: So, this has become almost a career path for you?
FM: Yeah, hopefully.
MMM: We hope so, too. Along your journey, have you discovered an issue that you think is particularly important in regard to adolescent girls?
FM: Sexual assault and things of that nature, because once I learned more and more about it, I realized I didn’t really know anything about it before. Because it’s not really an issue that is talked about for me. I think that it could be discussed more, debated more, but also in terms of how it affects women and men and things like that.
I think the biggest thing is understanding the power that girls have, especially at a young age. Young girls don’t really know what they’re able to accomplish until they can see what other girls their age can do, or the opportunities that they can access. And I feel like once girls really tap into that, it’s a game changer.
Where progress is happening – or not
MMM: I love that you’re demonstrating how to seize and make the most of your power. Since you became involved in Girl Up, what have you seen change and what do you think hasn’t changed fast enough?
FM: So, I think that there’s been an increase of people who are starting to get interested in this mission. Girl Up has grown a lot since I’ve been in it, and I’ve seen more girls get into it. The girls themselves are just getting more and more impressive, and they keep surprising you and showing you other things girls can do, and that’s really beyond amazing, because it’s showing you these are our future leaders, and it’s amazing to see what they’re capable of.
What I’d like to see more of, though, is some more boys, to be honest.
MMM: So we want more boys and men involved in the quest for gender equality. Well you were speaking of the girls that you were seeing coming to this mission. Who are your girl heroes?
FM: So, I was a Teen Advisor with Girl Up, and I honestly have to say that my girl heroes are my fellow Teen Advisors, like the other people who were in my class, because they are beyond amazing. They’ve all accomplished so many amazing things in their vastly different backgrounds, different communities, and different accomplishments, but all equally impressive.
MMM: We’ve seen other girl heroes, Malala and Greta, who in their unapologetic striving for what’s right, which is gender equality and the full rights of girls and women, sometimes have been dismissed or threatened. Have you ever encountered that, and how have you coped?
FM: I think everyone gets that, in some type of way, when you’re just asking for donations and people just walk by you and ignore you, or especially if you’re advocating for something like gender equality. I’m always met with the question that, “Why only girls? Why not boys?”
It feels like people just want to nitpick and find something wrong with it. It’s annoying, it gets to you a little bit, but it’s never really that bad because I know what I believe in. I know the power that comes with having a passion for something such as gender equality, and I’d like to say I’m more educated. I feel as if people were more educated on the issue, there would be less pushback.
Girls advocating for girls
MMM: Because, in the end, this is not about girls and women versus boys and men, it’s actually about a better, more fair future for all of us. It’s the forces of fair-minded people against people who are scared. And I think about these girls you’re speaking of, and it reminds me of Shine Theory. I know that Girl Up girls are particularly great at Shine Theory. What has that meant for you, and how do you practice that with other of your peers who are also advocating for adolescent girls?
FM: So, really, it just enforces the sense of a community, and the fact that we’re in this together. It’s not just about you – you can find joy and happiness in someone else’s joy and happiness. And you have to keep in mind that the world doesn’t really change by one person, it’s one person helping another person and that person helping another person, you know?
We all have the same goals, we all have the same ambition, so if you really want to see that come true, the best way is to help others get there.
Men and boys advocating for girls
MMM: It’s a powerful message, and I love that you’re serving as a powerful example of how to do that. You mentioned that you’d like to see more men and boys involved in this work. In your life, in your family, have you come across any particularly strong advocates for girls who are men or boys?
FM: I definitely have. I feel like there are lots of men and boys who are also interested in this issue – they just don’t see how they fit, or their role, and that’s completely understandable.
Some strong male figures in my life include my father. He was a huge supporter for me. He always supported everything I did and never really pushed any type of stereotype on me. I feel like boys and men can really realize that their role can be small, they don’t have to be in the protest or in the Girl Up club or anything like that, but they can do their part in simple roles such a being a good father, being a good friend, supporting the women in your life and showing them that you don’t adhere to these kind of stereotypes that people assume that men and boys do, which I don’t think that applies to everybody.
Unscripted and unstoppable
MMM: So this year’s International Day of the Girl has a really unique and fun theme, and it is Girl Force, unscripted and unstoppable. What does that mean to you?
FM: I think those words are perfect in describing girls, and what that really means to me is that they’re unstoppable. There have been so many barriers put in the path of girls and women, and they’ve shown us before that they’ll push those barriers down and they’ll keep on doing it.
The unscripted part of it is like… I feel like girls have an image in their head of what they’re supposed to be, and that’s proper, or nice, or polite – and all of those are great qualities to have – but the unscripted part really shows that you are who you are and not to follow what others put onto you. Do what you want do in your own way.
Message to world leaders and people everywhere
MMM: Next year is really important for gender equality. We’re going to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Platform of Action, which serves as a high watermark for the women’s movement, and we have a lot to do to deliver on its promise. If they are listening right now, what do you want government leaders to do? And what do you want individuals to do?
FM: When it comes to government leaders, I understand that their jobs are difficult, so I’m not going to ask for the world. I feel like it’s easier to start with including women in the conversation, getting more women in government positions, getting more women elected, voting for women, seeing women in all different aspects of law making and policy making.
I feel like that could be really a great first step that honestly to me doesn’t seem that difficult, because these women are capable. They deserve to be there, they should have been there in the first place, so might as well start to see that, and understand that, and then from there on work on issues with women, because how to really achieve gender equality is men and women working together.
MMM: And what can individuals do?
FM: Everyone knows the statistics, but they don’t really understand them. Like, you know about the wage gap, but you don’t really understand how much that wage gap affects so many women.
I feel like instead of just passing by those statistics, see how those statistics affect the women in your life. They apply to your teachers, your doctors, your mom, your sisters, your friends – all women are affected by these problems. So, if you understand that, and learn more about it, maybe you’ll be more intentional about the way you act or the things that you support.
MMM: What a terrific message to everyone on this International Day of the Girl. We are just delighted to have you as an advocate, and an ally for adolescent girls. You are a remarkable role model for us all.