Breaking down barriers: young women and girls pursuing their passions

For International Women’s Day 2020, #iwill Ambassadors Claire, Esther, Joana, Abbey and Tahirah share how they are pursuing their passions in spite of a world full of stereotypes.

Claire: Making decisions that matter

“Being a young woman in decision making means that I represent the voices of many who have been quieted before. Globally, the views of women have been misrepresented, filtered and altered, so we’re often perceived differently to our meaning. It’s essential that our voices are heard and that more women rise into roles of authority.

In November 2018, I had the privilege of being a part of the Co-op Foundation’s panel from the Building Connections Fund youth-strand. I had the opportunity to decide where £4.2 million of funding went towards building a more welcoming environment for youth. Since then, I have continued to help design different projects such as #LonelyNotAlone and encouraging others to take part in decision making.

It’s important to me that more women become decision makers because we need to be more represented. Sharing more stories about women and their accomplishments presents new options and possible futures for young women’s lives.

International Women’s Day celebrates the achievements of women throughout time. For me, I use it as a time to honour the women in my life who have inspired me to be the person that I am today. Take the chance to share your own stories and inspire others too.”

Joana: Finding the solutions in STEM

“On the 24th February 2020, Katherine Johnson, an American mathematician who made critical contributions to NASA’s orbital mechanics knowledge, that led to the success of the first and subsequent manned US spaceflights, very sadly passed away at the age of 102.

The event saddened the whole STEM world, but in particular girls in STEM who viewed Katherine as a phenomenal role model who demonstrated just what amazing things a black woman could achieve in a field dominated by the very opposite at the time – a privileged white male. Still to this day, the STEM landscape, despite improvements, is mostly unchanged.

Like Katherine, there are many inspirational women in STEM, and many young women trying to find their way in the STEM world – including myself. To me, some of the biggest issues we still face are a lack of representation, being shot down or not given a platform to share our voice, and – critically – being scared off at a young age.

By missing out the minds and contribution of young women in STEM, we are potentially missing out on the solutions to some of our biggest challenges – whether that is addressing the climate crisis or preventing epidemics in a globalised world.

But on International Women’s Day, the important thing is not to dwell on what often goes wrong, but on what we can do right.”

How to encourage more girls in STEM:

Introduce girls to role models and teach them at a young age that they can do more than sit around in a pretty dress and wait to be saved – they can be the hero of their own story.

I hear all too often that girls don’t feel confident studying a STEM subject because they think it’s ‘too masculine’ or they’re bullied out by their male counterparts. This is unacceptable. No girl should feel she can’t do a subject because of her gender. This needs to change.

I am only one voice, I have only one brain and one opinion and one experience. What about all the girls being left behind in a world that desperately needs them? Let’s recognise they are the only people that can tell us what needs to be done to support them, and let’s learn from them.

Abbey: Building a career in agriculture

“At seventeen years old, I am Farm Manager for South Woolley Farm, a 180-acre Beef and sheep farm supplying meat to our own Butchers shop, where I have been for a year. I have faced some difficulties in being a woman in Agriculture. 

In building my career as Farm Manager, physical work has been the trickiest. As a young woman, I have had to build up my physical stamina to keep up with day to day tasks like lifting heavy gates and handling cattle.

But beyond these physical challenges there is the ideology against women in Agriculture, which is seen as a ‘masculine industry’. I believe that more women are getting involved in Agriculture due to changing attitudes. Personally, my experience has supported me in allowing me to believe I can do what I dream, regardless of what others may suggest. 

The Gratton brothers, who own the farm and shop, have really helped me develop in my career but also helped me flourish as a young woman and believe in myself. Taking on this challenge has boosted my confidence in everything I do – including just being me!

I hope other young girls who want to get involved in Agriculture or other ‘manly’ industries aren’t hesitant to due to the ‘old-style’ attitudes of others – as I have found that you can overcome these barriers. My advice is to follow your passion – there is no limit to what us women can do!”

Tahirah: Lifting weights as a Muslim woman

“My headscarf has nothing to do with my ability.”

Tahirah shares her passion for weightlifting and how she is breaking down stereotypes about young Muslim women.

Esther: inspiring women of the climate movement

I’m passionate about taking action on our big environmental challenges – I’m an Ambassador for Action for Conservation and I started the Youth4Climate Strikes in my area.

What I’ve found interesting as a climate activist is actually how female-led campaigning feels. When I think of some of my role models in the sector, from Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand, who wants to be ‘on the right side of history in regards to climate change’, Alaxandria Ocasio-Cortez, who’s been crucial in the battle for the Green New Deal, Anna Taylor, who set up the UK school strikes and – for obvious reasons – Greta Thunberg, it really does feel like women tend to be at the forefront of the fight. 

And it isn’t just these global leaders of change, it’s even evident when I go to my local school strikes. People ask me where all the boys are. The truth is, I don’t actually know – though recent research has suggested people environmental awareness is a “feminine” trait, which might put boys off. While I hope this isn’t the case, and recognise the many boys who – despite stereotypes- are leading the way in the fight against climate catastrophe, I am still inspired by the sheer quantity of powerful women at the head of the movement, and am proud to be one of them.