The next generation of Australian youth activists are set to become bold change-makers, in an exciting program designed to amplify girls’ and young women’s voices on the things that really matter.
As a collective of Australian women and allies hit streets around the country today for the annual March4Justice protests, the 10 passionate new activists from Plan International Australia’s 2022 Youth Activist Series (YAS) have rallied together to demand equality, justice, respect and an end to gendered violence. The events mark a year since the inaugural snap march was sparked amid news of systemic sexual assault and harassment at Parliament House, including Brittany Higgins’ alleged rape.
Joined by Plan International Australia ambassador Yasmin Poole, the activists stood with hundreds of other protesters in a peaceful, stationary rally along Bourke Street, as a powerful moving artwork made its way from William Street all the way up to Parliament.
In their first advocacy campaign for the year and ahead of the 2022 Federal Election, the young people are demanding genuine action to remove sexism and misogyny from political leadership, and calling for a representative Parliament that reflects the true diversity of this country. These demands of all political parties include:
Their calls follow on from the powerful recommendations by 2021’s youth activists on how we can make Parliament equal and free from misogyny – important solutions that were included in Set the Standard, Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins’ seven-month review of the workplace culture in federal parliament.
The youth activists’ recommendations formed part of We Can Lead: Young people in Australia share their views on sexism and misogyny in politics in 2021 – and what needs to change, and included shocking polling data of girls’ leadership aspirations that revealed the vast majority of Australian young women do not believe the culture in Parliament House is safe for women, and would like Australian men to do better in calling out sexism. Just 10% of the 500 young women surveyed said they believed Parliament was a safe workplace for women.
“Diversity and representation is crucial in Australian politics because it ensures that the voices and concerns of all Australians are heard, represented and acted upon. Too often we see that those most disproportionately impacted by social issues such as climate change, rape and domestic violence are rarely put at the front and centre of national discussions and almost never have a seat at the decision making table,” said Sydney-based youth activist Dani Villafaña.
“As a result of the lack of diversity in Australian politics women and minorities are consistently put last. We are systematically disenfranchised, traumatised and failed by the people who we are supposed to look at for leadership and hope. Having genuine representation and diversity in Australian politics, beyond tokenistic stunts and symbols, means that all Australians will be looked after and represented by those we turn to for leadership – including those who live in the spaces and lines between what we see in the news. “
For Melbourne-based activist Iremide Ayonrinde, a diverse Parliament inspires a diverse nation.
“It is so important that marginalised communities are the voices that are heard because these are the voices first drowned out by the rising water, silenced by the winds, starved by the droughts and burnt by unyielding heat. Issues like climate change will harm these communities disproportionately, and inclusion in all levels of policy making may begin to facilitate proper change,” she said.
Throughout the year, the youth activists will learn essential activism and leadership skills and get involved in advocacy and campaigning, media and public speaking, and collective action to fight for equality. They will connect with other Plan International activists around the world, from Vietnam to Lebanon, Kenya to Indonesia, and publish pioneering, youth-led research on issues they are passionate about, from the climate crisis, to girls’ access to education.
“It is incredible inspiring to witness these brave young people speak up and demand urgent action in response to the spate of reports of sexual misconduct, alleged rape, and women being victim-blamed, talked over and side-lined in our national parliament that has made headlines over the last year,” said Plan International Australia CEO Susanne Legena.
“These extraordinary activists may be young, but they have an unwavering passion for gender justice and equality. They have told us that change is too slow. They seek solidarity and action with others to bring about the changes that will empower all young people to fulfil their potential,” she said.
Meet the 2022 Youth Activists!
Bettina Zurzolo (she/her)
Bettina is a young activist who has always dreamed of an equal society. Ever since she was little, living in Perth, Bettina has always stood up for those around her and fought for what she believed in. With her passions for justice mainly being towards climate change and gender injustice, Bettina has also created an informative website on Asylum seekers and Refugees and a report on sexual assault in Australia in the past. Bettina has attended many protests, including the School Strike for Climate Change back in 2019 and the March4Justice protest outside of Parliament house in Canberra during 2021 and has also worked with many non-for-profits like OneGirl. These opportunities have inspired Bettina and has helped shape who she is now: which is a space loving teen. Bettina is still learning about activism and the universe, and is very grateful for all those that have taken a chance on her. Bettina hopes that they will be able to make a difference and enjoy life, at least when she finishes her homework.
Christina Cushen (she/her)
Christina is born in Melbourne and is a 2nd year university student studying Business and Law. She is studying the Spanish language with the aim of working at the United Nations in the future. They are passionate about gender justice and human rights issues and hope they can make a difference.
Dani Villafaña (she/they)
Dani Villafaña is a 17-year-old grass-roots organiser and sexual assault survivor-advocate based in Sydney, Australia. She campaigns for legislative and institutional action against sexual violence and support for victim-survivors of sexual violence. In 2021, she was the recipient of the Edna Ryan Award and United Nations Foundation #GirlHero Trailblazer Award in recognition of her advocacy and community organising. Dani has served as a Girl Up Teen Advisor where she advocated for improved legal literacy for girls and women and an end to gender-based violence globally. She is also a climate justice activist and has served as an organiser for School Strike for Climate since 2019, where she led Australia’s school climate strikes and campaigned for legislative action against the sourcing and usage of fossil fuels. As a Plan International Youth Activist, Dani strives to champion young victim-survivors, particularly those from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, in the hopes of seeing a world where everyone is truly safe from gender-based violence.
Emily Borgo (she/her)
Emily is in her final year of a Masters of International Relations and Masters of Security and Strategic Studies. She has an interest in foreign languages and cultures, a passion for environmentalism, and a drive to see a better future for her generation. She hopes to see more collective action addressing gender inequality and climate change.
Grace Falconer (she/her)
Grace is currently studying a Bachelor of International Studies (Development) and French at university. She is passionate about climate justice, gender equality and ensuring all children have access to quality education. Being adopted has shaped Grace’s interests and she hopes to pursue a career in international development and work in Vietnam. She currently works with Plan International Australia in the Donor Consultant Team and was inspired to be part of the YAS to elevate youth voices and advocate for girls’ rights to be protected globally.
Gracie Phelan (she/her)
Gracie is currently studying a double degree in a Bachelor of Business majoring in Business Law and Marketing Communications, alongside a Bachelor of Creative Intelligence and Innovation. She also studies a certificate in French on the side. She has a keen interest in climate activism, the upholding of human rights, biodiversity and animal protection. While she is currently interested in the ethical dilemmas surrounding the massive amounts of power available to private enterprises, especially in relation to and contrast with the public sector – she also is passionate about film, visual design, and writing.
Iremide Ayonrinde (she/her)
Iremide is currently studying International Relations, with a keen focus on development. She is passionate about climate activism – and about highlighting solutions that exist across all levels of society. Currently engaged in a community led farming initiative, which is aimed at increasing the involvement of immigrants and refugees in sustainable farming here in Melbourne, she has seen the power of collective action at work. Understanding that different groups experience the effects of climate disruption differently, she stands committed to raising awareness around the experiences of Indigenous peoples, POC, women and children, and other marginalised communities. She believes it is vital that these profiles are raised, given the disproportionate effect climate change has on these groups. Passionate about presenting solutions to these problems, Iremide is thrilled to be working alongside Plan International Australia. In her spare time, Iremide loves to dance – you’ll find her grooving along to the latest Afrobeats and Dancehall rhythms!
Jan Sam (they/he/she)
Jan is an international student from Malaysia who grew up most of their life in Brunei. They are disabled and identify as queer, trans/non-binary/gender fluid and a Person of Colour. They are currently living on unceded Wurundjeri-Woiwurrung Land of the Kulin Nation and are studying Bachelor of Arts, Psychology at the University of Melbourne. They are passionate in intersectional feminism and have advocated for social justice including refugee rights, Aboriginal rights, climate justice and so on. They will be commencing their internship at Multicultural Women Victoria as a Project Officer to continue advocating for female refugees and migrants. They are more than excited to begin working with Plan International Australia as a Youth Activist and are looking forward to empower women and girls’ rights as well as gender equality for all marginalized genders. Their hobbies include drawing, singing, acting, reading and writing fiction
Janice Rodrigues (she/her)
Janice is a university student who lives on Dharawal Land in Southwest Sydney and studies Politics, IR and Socio-Legal Studies. She is passionate about social justice and tackling the inequalities of our contemporary world, and is a firm believer in providing spaces and platforms for all people to share their perspectives. Janice is also interested in the power of storytelling as a tool to connect with people and in her spare time, she enjoys volunteering at AIME and Democracy in Colour, painting and reading. Through the YAS, Janice hopes to learn more about effective ways to tackle gender injustices in a context where the voices of women and non-binary people, especially from diverse backgrounds, are often overlooked. She is excited to work amongst a team of dedicated, young individuals and can’t wait to see what change they make throughout the year!
Jemma, from Canberra, is currently in Year 12 campaigning for gender justice and greater youth voice. Her vision is a future where equity is inclusive and accessible for all, a goal she looks forward to supporting through working with Plan International. As an emerging activist, she is passionate about raising awareness on issues affecting women and girls, the LGBTQIA+ community, and victim/survivors of gender based violence. Jemma has received a grant to develop a project providing aid to Canberrans escaping domestic and sexual violence. She also volunteers in several college and community initiatives, including a global youth education program, and a youth advisory group at a local non-profit. Jemma is so excited to be working with Plan this year and hopes to improve girls’ access to education, enable more diverse feminist representation, and eliminate gender based violence. In her spare time, Jemma is probably studying or catching up with friends.