Meet the women campaigning for change

A growing number of women in the UK are fighting for a better world. From period poverty demonstrations outside Downing Street to protests in favour of abortion rights, women are rallying together, building communities and driving change.

As someone who began campaigning in LGBTQ+ equality and mental health as teenager, I have been privileged to grow up witnessing and working alongside so many amazing women. However, so often their ingenuity, passion and determination can often go unrecognised and their causes devalued, especially if they are related to gender. I know first-hand that the world of campaigning is not immune from misogyny, that women in this area are still often undermined, undervalued and even exploited.

I caught up with some of the female campaigners you need to know about. Tackling everything from climate change, racial inequality, mental health and poor sex education in unique and innovative ways, they truly are a revolutionary force, driving change in a world that desperately needs it.

Paula Akpan

Paula Akpan

Paula is a London-based half-Trinidadian, half-Nigerian journalist and writer. Along with her friend Nicole Crentsil, she founded Black Girl Fest.

Where did the idea for Black Girl Fest come from?

It came about after my friend and co-founder Nicole went to see Angela Davis speak at WOW festival in March 2017. Aside from seeing such a brilliant woman speak, she was really overwhelmed seeing so many black women in one room.

Afterwards, we spoke on the phone about it and she was telling me how excited she was to be there. We were like, ‘Shall we just do a festival?!’

That week, we had a three-hour phone call where we planned out this massive programme. Loads of it were things we wished we had seen when we were younger. Things like being a black girl in education, the politics of hair and beauty, mental health within the black community.

What was the response to the first event?

At the first event in 2017, the venue had a capacity of 350 people. However, 4,000 people signed up for tickets and queued to get in. It just shows that there has always been a demand for this, that there has always been a need for this.

When we had been planning the event, we had been thinking about black women our age, but on the day, it became a truly inter-generational event.

How have you developed Black Girl Fest since then?

Last year we really looked at how we facilitated the sharing of knowledge and learning of skills, funnelling knowledge from industry experts to black women and girls who might be interested in those areas.

NHS Give Blood also sponsored our healthcare department. Both myself and Nicole are blood donors and it was really important for us to have them there as there is a massive lack of black blood donors. On the day of the festival, 175 new donors signed up.

Why do you think that nothing like this existed before?

It’s quite wild to think in 2019, that something like this on this scale hasn’t existed before. And hopefully in the future there will be more events, not just Black Girl Fest, because you are showing people that it’s possible, that it can be done.”

Georgia Dodsworth

Georgia Dodsworth

Georgia is studying at The Guildhall School of Music and Drama. Her enthusiasm for self-care and creativity began after overcoming her own complex mental health issues. This led to her founding World of Self-Care and campaigning to help others facing similar issues.

Where did the idea for World of Self-Care come from?

The idea for World of Self-Care came from a lack of support I was receiving from the NHS Mental Health services. I wanted to create a space for people to come together and share their lived experiences of the challenges of Mental Health, through providing self-care workshops. 

What do you think is missing from the conversation around mental health in 2019?

I think action is missing from the mental health conversation. I hear enough people talking about it, but what are they doing? Where is the action? Where is the change?

What has been your experience of being a young woman campaigning in this area?

The work I do is both rewarding and exhausting. I love receiving DMs and emails [saying] that a talk I have given has helped them. I love being a small part in affecting change. I love advocating for many people who feel like they’ve lost their voice.

We all have a mental health, we all have a voice, so let’s start talking and create a change.

Tolmeia Gregory

Tolmeia Gregory

Tolmeia is the founder of Tolly Dolly Posh, an ethical fashion log committed to raising awareness for the issues within the fast-fashion industry and a climate change campaigner.

What is it like being a teenage girl campaigning on climate change?

It can feel both empowering and daunting being a teenage girl and a campaigner. On the one hand, I feel really proud to be championing a cause at such a young age, especially in the sustainable fashion sector, but it can be hard not to compare myself to others and what I'm not doing.

You have used the internet in a lot of ways to help you on your mission – from blogging to Instagram to creating gifs that have been shared around the world. What gave you the idea to use technology in this way?

My blog was very basic in the early days and didn't really have a core message. But after the Rana Plaza garment factory collapse in 2013 that killed over 1,000 people, I knew that I wouldn't be able to rest easy if I stayed quiet and didn't utilise the platform I'd started to grow.

Instagram is a really great tool because it's such an accessible platform; my audience is more likely to tap through several pages of an Instagram Story and pass that on than they are to read and share a 1,200-word article about how their wardrobe is contributing to climate change.

The GIF stickers were similar to how my blog started; a spontaneous decision that snowballed. The GIF stickers I make for Instagram about climate change and ethical living have now been viewed over a billion times and I believe their success has come from how simple they are. They send a strong message whilst being fun and rather innocent at the same time. I like to take that approach with everything I do, hence why all of my social pages are generally plastered in colour.

Have you found the response to be positive, or do people take you less seriously because of your age and gender?

I'm so fortunate that my audience seems to be one of the nicest out there (although, I'm sure everyone says that). I don't have the hugest following and my experience with large numbers definitely came with its downsides - I took over Instagram's account for Earth Day 2018, reaching over 230 million users, and received marriage proposals and comments telling me I shouldn't be wearing toxic nail polish if I'm supposed to be an eco-warrior.

I'm not sure if my age plays a part in my fairly slow growth, or if it's just the heaviness of the topics I cover. There are 18-year-olds going viral left, right and centre but they usually don't talk about charity shopping, not shaving your legs and plastic-free periods.

Milly Evans

Milly Evans

Milly is a campaigner for better, more inclusive sex education. She is a member of the Family Planning Association’s Youth Council, a Stonewall Young Campaigner and founded I Support Sex Education.

Where did the idea for I Support Sex Education come from?

Through my campaigning with various organisations for better sex education, I realised that lots of people are all working towards the same goal and that our voices are more likely to make an impact when they're united.

I Support Sex Education aims to be a focus point for sexual and reproductive health rights campaigning, to highlight key issues and resources. It aims to evolve in response to the needs of campaigners and global political events and also provides a way for the general public to easily have a say on sex education and show support for the issue.

What are you hoping to achieve as a campaigner?

My current goal is for the UK sex education curriculum to be comprehensive, inclusive and sex positive and for its implementation in schools to be supported with resources and funding from the government. Long term, I want sex education to be taught from a human rights perspective and for sexual and reproductive health rights to be supported by all governments.

How can sex education be improved for women?

Gender equality is intrinsic to good sex education as at its core it develops respect and healthier attitudes to gender and sexuality. We need more lessons from an early age on gender roles, sexism and language in order to help reduce gender discrimination. We also need more of a focus on female masturbation, orgasm and a big focus on consent.

Clearer, law-focused lessons on gender-based violence, abortion and FGM and forced marriage are absolutely necessary to improve the lives of women.

This article is part of Virgin's International Women's Day series

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details.

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