Young activists are leading feminist movements worldwide, says a new report.

But at what personal cost?

All around the world we are witnessing attacks on the rights of women and girls. The global roll-back of rights is coordinated, well-funded and gaining momentum everywhere.

Research by Restless Development found that whilst young feminists are largely optimistic about the future, their resilience is waning, and without a concerted effort to support them sustainably they risk burning out. The annual State of Youth Civil Society Report, ‘Young, Feminist, and Fearless: Holding the Line’ that highlights the critical need for feminist allies and funders to play a larger role in supporting young feminist movements was launched at the Women Deliver 2023 conference in Kigali, Rwanda on 19 July, 2023.

The report this year assesses feminist movements and the critical role they play in making the world more equitable, safe and free for everyone.

Here’s what the research found:

● Feminist movements are now largely youth-led, with young women increasingly at the forefront. 

● Rampant social injustices against women and non-binary persons, such as gender discrimination, harassment, gender-based violence, lack of sexual and reproductive healthcare act as catalysts for young feminists to start taking action.

● Young feminists are collaborative: 47% of respondents reported engaging in transnational collaborations with other feminist movements.

● 85% of our survey respondents identified social media campaigns as one of the popular strategies employed by young feminists to drive social, political, or cultural change.

● However, young feminists now risk drifting away from on the ground civic engagement, and losing the face to face, real-time community support which cannot be replaced via online communities.

● Young feminists are ‘growing up’ in a toxic online world.

● Big tech companies are censoring young feminists’ messages and imposing restrictions on what can be published even in situations where the messages pose no threat to the wellbeing of others.

● Young feminists have had to adopt strict measures to ensure their personal safety, often finding themselves living in a state of heightened vigilance. 

● All of this has a significant impact on the mental health of young feminists. In particular, non-binary individuals experience more adverse effects on their mental health compared to those who identify as male or female.

● There is a profound disconnect between donor strategies and the genuine needs of feminist grassroots movements. 

● Trust is also a major barrier to donors investing in young feminist movements. Lack of donor support can lead young feminists to seek funds from less secure sources, putting them in further danger.

Young Feminists have spoken and they need to be listened to! We must provide better support through flexible funding opportunities which acknowledge the mental health toll of their work, by including self care. With a shrinking civic and political space, it is now increasingly difficult for young feminists to organise and speak truth to power. We must all be activists for the activists

Yande Kalengo, Power Shifting Director for Restless Development, Feminist Zambia

Assessing the reasearch evidence, Restless Development calling for:

● A rethink of funding strategies, to shift toward more empathetic, contextual, and inclusive approaches to enabling grassroots feminist movements.

● Greater regulation by social media companies to crack down on online harassment and abuse of young women, and resources dedicated to supporting survivors of abuse.

● Tech companies must involve young people in policy development on the use and abuse of social media. Power should be shifted to young people in social media and digital regulation, so that policies resonate with their needs and expectations.

● Both funders and ally organisations should put planning and funds into supporting the mental health of young feminist activists, with clear, tangible resources designed around the needs identified in this research.


What is the State of Youth Civil Society report?

The State of Youth Civil Society report is a global, youth-led publication that looks back over the past year and forward into the next to explore the realities that youth civil society and social movements are experiencing. It reflects upon the global circumstances of young people over the past year that have shaped the collective experiences of youth civil society groups.

How was this report created?

Research for the report was carried out by 6 young global researchers, using a youth-led approach. Restless Development received 847 responses to a Global Survey which took the pulse of young feminist activism across 82 countries. The report then focused in on 7 ‘Spotlight countries’; India, Iran, Lebanon, Uganda, Honduras, Brazil, and Sierra Leone. 20 focus groups were held across these countries, and 127 individual interviews were conducted. In total, 1097 young people were involved in the research.