Where Are the Young Women?

by Aimee Thorne-ThomsenPEP Executive Director

Since becoming Executive Director of PEP two years ago, no question has irked me more than that one. The first few times I heard colleagues ask the question, I thought it was odd. In my work, I saw young women everywhere –  organizing, writing, educating, and leading. When the question made an appearance at almost every meeting,  conference, or panel I participated in, I realized something was really wrong with the way we think about young activists.

Just this morning, my local National Public Radio station broadcast, “Young people aren’t thinking for themselves. Young people aren’t involved in government!” In all fairness, this was an announcement for a program highighting youth activism by dispelling the ubiquitous myth that young people are apathetic. Unfortunately, I hear it echoed throughout the movement. Colleagues want to know why young women aren’t mobilizing around the same issues that galvanized them as young activists. They want to know why they don’t see young women leading protests as they did and continue to do.“Where are they?”

Unfortunately, I long stopped being surprised by people who ask that question as if it were a reasonable one. Some of us in the reproductive health and rights movement have developed a kind of myopia. We are so familiar with certain forms of activism, maybe because that is what led us to movement work, that we cannot recognize activism taking place in other ways. We then see only what we expect to see and disregard the rest. The problems with that kind of thinking are obvious, but that doesn’t stop us from asking, “Where are the young women?” So in the hopes of being helpful, let me answer that question. THEY ARE EVERYWHERE.

Just look through the stories in this issue of Raise Your Voice, and  you will see young women taking charge and engaging on the issues that matter most to them. Whether educating their peers about HIV, lobbying their school boards to passcomprehensive sexuality education curricula, or marching on the nation’s capital to support women’s reproductive rights, young women are doing what they have always done. They are leading the fight for reproductive justice for all of us. Just because they are doing the work differently than we did or would, doesn’t change the fact that they are fighting alongside us. And we would see that if we just looked for it.