Careers

7 female activists under 23 who are changing the world

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Whether it's leading a national conversation about gun control or fighting for girls' education and gender equality around the world, an increasing number of young women are stepping forward as change agents.

To keep the momentum going, this year's theme for International Women's Day is centered around #PressforProgress and urges women of all generations to to use their voices to make a difference.

Below are just a few of the young female leaders leading national and international conversations about some of the world's most critical issues:

1. Emma Gonzalez

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Just days after a gunman opened fire at her school and killed 17 of her peers, Florida high school senior Emma Gonzalez used her voice to call national attention to gun law reform. She, along with several of her classmates, have held gun control rallies in their Florida community and called on government officials to act now to prevent future mass shootings from taking place.

In an essay written for Harper's Bazaar, the 18-year-old spoke about her determination to continue to use her voice until change has occurred.

"If I'm able to communicate one thing to adults, it would be this: It should not be easier to purchase a gun than it is to obtain a driver's license, and military-grade weapons should not be accessible in civilian settings," she wrote. "You don't drive a NASCAR on the street, no matter how fun it might be, just like you don't need an AR-15 to protect yourself when walking home at night. No one does."

2. Amariyanna "Mari" Copeny

In 2006, 8-year-old Copeny wrote a letter to President Barack Obama in which she referred to herself as "Little Miss Flint." In the letter she asked if she could meet with him or the First Lady during an upcoming trip to Washington, D.C. She was heading to the nation's capital to hear Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder testify before Congress about the water crisis in her hometown of Flint, Michigan.

"My mom said chances are you will be to [sic] busy with more important things but there is a lot of people coming on these buses and even just a meeting from you or your wife would really lift peoples spirits," The Washington Post reports her writing in her letter. "Thank you for all that do for our country."

While her trip to Washington did not end with the meeting she had hoped for, "Little Miss Flint" later received a call from the White House that President Obama had read her letter and was emailing a response. In the letter, Obama explained that he was moved by Copeny's words and that he hoped to meet her on his upcoming trip to Flint.

Since that meeting, Copeny has continued her fight for clean water in Flint and has also become a youth ambassador for the Women's March.

3. Malala Yousafzai

Malala Yousafzai
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Malala Yousafzai

In 2012, Yousafzai was shot by the Taliban after publicly speaking out about her fight to protect girls' education. After surviving the attack she went on to share her story around the world and launched the Malala Fund in 2013 with her father to raise awareness.

"I started speaking out when I was 11 years old and I had no idea if my voice can have an impact or not," Yousafzai said during a session titled "An Insight, An Idea With Malala Yousafzai" at this year's Davos summit. "But soon I realized that people were listening to me and my voice was reaching to people around the world. So change is possible and do not limit yourself, do not stop yourself, just because you are young."

In addition to being an activist, 20-year-old Yousafzai is a published author, a United Nations (UN) Messenger of Peace and in 2014 she became the youngest Nobel Laureate ever after receiving the Nobel Peace Prize.

4. Yara Shahidi

Michelle Obama and Yara Shahidi participate in panel discussion at Glamour Hosts 'A Brighter Future: A Global Conversation on Girls' Education.'
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Michelle Obama and Yara Shahidi participate in panel discussion at Glamour Hosts 'A Brighter Future: A Global Conversation on Girls' Education.'

Shahidi is an 18-year-old actress and activist who uses her platform to advocate for important issues like diversity in Hollywood, girls' education and voter turnout. Most recently, she sat down with Oprah Winfrey to discuss how she's turning her activism into action by launching a new initiative called Eighteen x '18, which will encourage more young people to vote in the upcoming elections.

In the past, she's worked with Michelle Obama's Let Girls Learn initiative and with the United Nations to launch a mentorship program called "Yara's Club," through the Young Women's Leadership Network.

Her work with empowering young women also helped her to score the ultimate college recommendation from Mrs. Obama herself. After completing her gap year, she plans to attend Harvard University as a sociology and African-American studies double major.

5. Shamma bint Suhail Faris Mazrui

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In 2016, at just 22 years old, Mazrui was appointed Minister of State for Youth Affairs in the United Arab Emirates. According to the Los Angeles Times, she is believed to be the youngest government minister in the world and her role is to create pathways for young people to have more engagement with government and within society.

She holds a bachelor's degree from New York University Abu Dhabi and a master's in public policy from the University of Oxford, which she attended as her country's first Rhodes Scholar.

6. Sophie Cruz

Sophie Cruz and her family at the 2017 Women's March.
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Sophie Cruz and her family at the 2017 Women's March.

In 2015, 5-year-old Cruz broke through security to give Pope Francis a letter in which she asked that her parents, who are undocumented immigrants, not be deported from the United States. In the letter, she asked that Pope Francis speak with the President and Congress about the issue and said that she would soon be sending a letter to President Obama.

Since then, Cruz has continued to advocate for immigration rights. Last year she spoke at the Women's March in Washington, D.C., and she called on the crowd to work together to bring about change.

"Let us fight with love, faith and courage so that our families will not be destroyed," she said.

7. Marley Dias

At 13 years old, Dias is the founder of #1000blackgirlbooks, a campaign that she started in 2015 with the goal to collect and donate 1,000 books to her peers that featured black girls as the main characters.

To date, she has collected more than 10,000 books and spoke alongside Michelle Obama and Oprah Winfrey at the United State of Women Summit in 2016. This past January, she released her own book, "Marley Dias Gets it Done: And So Can You!" which features opening remarks and praise from Hillary Clinton, Ellen DeGeneres and filmmaker Ava DuVernay.

"I'm working to create a space where it feels easy to include and imagine black girls and make black girls like me the main characters of our lives," Dias said at Forbes' Women Summit in New York City last year.

Her work has also earned her a spot as the youngest person on Forbes 2018 "30 Under 30" list.

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