Reading girls' participation in Girl Up as feminist: club members' activism in the UK, USA and Malawi

Publication date

14 Nov 2018

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The United Nations Foundation’s Girl Up campaign has been criticised by many feminists for perpetuating patronising discourses that see girls and women in the Global North as the saviours of their counterparts in the South, while doing little to challenge underlying global inequalities. This article draws on focus group data with Girl Up club members in the UK, USA and Malawi, and explores how they are adapting the aims of the campaign to better fit their own vision of empowerment. From girls in New York attending women’s marches together to girls in a township of Lilongwe marching to their friends’ parents’ houses to demand that they send their daughters to school, the girls have shown courage and creativity, their actions rejecting discourses of empowered Northern saviours and passive Southern girls in need of rescue. This article explores the agency with which girls negotiate discourses emerging from powerful international institutions, and puts forward the argument that these girls deserve recognition as feminist activists who are adapting campaigns, such as Girl Up, in order to challenge the many and complex injustices that they face in their own communities and globally.