Uncovering the true potential of youth-led feminist movements

As we emerge from the pandemic, my hope is that young people will remain restless, that we will strap on our boots and bring out whatever tools we have in our arsenal, – our art, our hashtags, TikTok dances, and poems to raise our voices says Sepiso Mwamelo

I still remember the immense responsibility I felt when I signed the agreement to be the lead researcher for this year’s State of Youth Civil Society report. Countless questions raced through my mind: “Am I fearless? Do I hold the line or let go when the going gets tough? Is it okay if I let go? How do I honour Alaa Salah and Mahsa Amini?” 

I’ve always known that I am a feminist, and I’d like to think of myself as fearless. But was I truly prepared to embark on this journey to uncover how women, especially young women, have been bravely leading the fight for their freedoms and rights? risking their limbs, eyes, and lives, standing up for what they passionately believe in?

The Covid-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on democracy worldwide. Efforts to curb the virus’s spread have unintentionally led to democratic deficits and a surge in authoritarianism. This has limited fundamental freedoms, such as free speech, expression, association and assembly, posing a growing threat to democracy. 

Over the past three decades, global democracy has also been in steady decline. Indices tracking democracy reveal a continuous decrease, with the average global citizen’s level of democracy in 2021 falling to that of 1989. Consequently, only 45.7% of the world’s population lived in some form of democracy in 2021, compared to 49.4% in 2020. Nonetheless, the younger generation continues to play a vital role in defending democracy, particularly in developing countries. 

This year’s report “Young, Feminist, and Fearless: Holding the Line” aims to highlight the pivotal role that young feminist movements play in preserving democracy and pushing back against authoritarianism. As a researcher, I find it both fascinating and crucial to explore the immense potential that these movements have in fashioning social, and political change in their communities and countries.  I believe that young feminist movements have the power to drive change at the scale that is needed, and with the urgency required.

Now, two months into my role as the lead researcher, I’m still grappling with the same questions and more: Can I be as courageous as Alaa Salah and Mahsa Amini? Who will hold the line when fear seeps into the hearts of the youth? How did we reach this point? Why is it up to young people to take a stand? What happened to the checks and balances, and who will restore them? 

As we emerge from the pandemic, my hope is that young people will remain restless, that we will strap on our boots, and bring out whatever tool we have in our arsenal, – our art, our hashtags, TikTok dances, poems to raise our voices. I hope that through this report, we can capture the true essence of the young feminist movements. I hope that we can shine a light on those who need illumination on their footpath, and that we can create a pipeline of allies who will join young feminists in holding in the line fearlessly.

Sepiso Mwanmelo

Sepiso is a recent graduate from the University of Edinburgh, where she earned a Master's degree in Africa and International Development. Sepiso is a passionate researcher with a keen interest in youth empowerment. Her multifaceted understanding of development research through her experiences as a research subject, a researcher, and an implementer of community development projects, has ignited her passion for conducting research that amplifies the voices of young people and shapes policy and practice in International Development. Prior to joining Restless Development, Sepiso was finalising a book chapter for an edited book titled "Transformative Leadership: Timeless and Timebound Practices for Young People in African Contexts." Sepiso’s Book chapter explored the role of Higher education in Creating transformative leaders who can lead socio-economic change in sub-Saharan Africa. Sepiso has been engaged in youth movements and previously founded Youth Alive Africa. She has also co-founded SEVN a community of young people in Tanzania aimed at creating safe space for mental health discussions.

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Uncovering the true potential of youth-led feminist movements

by Sepiso Mwanmelo Reading time: 2 min