By Zikora Akanegbu
It’s common for teenage girls to look one another up and down and focus on the exterior: shoes, clothes, face. It’s one reason why teen girls can see each other as competitors, fighting despite a longtime campaign for unity. The question, then, is: how do we break this cycle? How do we uplift teen girls in our age of infinite connectedness and social media. I decided to take the issue into my own hands.
This year I founded GenZHER, a youth-led organization that aims to empower, connect, and inspire Gen Z girls and young women; those born in the mid-1990’s to 2012. Many people are surprised when I inform them I started my own organization as a fifteen-year-old high school freshman. Being a young, female founder involves a lot of resilience, hard work, and being your own champion. And when I began to doubt myself, I reminded myself of the reasons why I started this in the first place. After constantly seeing how Gen Z girls were being cruel to one another in school and cyber-bullied online too, I recognized that a platform like GenZHER was needed. I created this platform to promote an inclusive environment for Gen Z girls to inspire, empower, and connect with one another. In a time of divisiveness and hate, I wanted a space for girls to not be afraid to speak their truth and to build a community. I believe our generation has strengths in both togetherness and diversity because although we can be competitive, we’re accepting. Gen Z sees beyond what a person is at face-value, by allowing people to not only be one aspect of themselves, but rather just be.
I see my organization, GenZHER, as being a place to talk about passions and triumphs, favorite books and movies, have meaningful conversations, but also as a place to ask for advice and unload struggles. I’m doing this so that solidarity and inclusivity can continue to grow between all Gen Z girls. GenZHER has a commitment to societal change. We encourage Gen Z girls to share their stories and creatively write their views and perspectives on a wide range of issues including, social justice, mental health, and more. Through my organization, Gen Z girls and young women from around the world can connect with other, as I like to call, “Gen Z-hers.” I believe in using the power of writing to empower others, shifting culture forward, and driving social change. I know that Gen Z girls are intelligent, powerful, creative, and capable of doing amazing things; the exact opposite of what society says we are supposed to be. As a “Gen Z-her” myself, I am starting young to take a stand for what I believe in and I am inspiring others to get involved.
Our generation has the power to demand that their stories be heard and the power to impact change. Look at climate change activist Greta Thunberg, or UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, Millie Bobby Brown, Nadya Okamoto, founder of PERIOD, or social and STEM activist, Yara Shahidi. All of the “Gen Z-hers” I have mentioned have contributed to our national discourse by using their identities to reflect the social issues they care about, consequently pushing the status quo. Society underestimates us because they see us as the generation addicted to our smartphones, procrastinating, constantly scrolling through Instagram and making fifteen-second dance videos on TikTok. But by being connected everywhere, we are also excellent communicators who are entrepreneurial and independent. Our generation is incredibly outspoken and we unfailingly express ourselves passionately, truthfully, and creatively. We are not only shaping the future, we are changing the present.
You can check out GenZHER here.
Originally published in April 2020.