Animated photo of Ashwini balancing two twirling illustrated globes on her knee and her finger.

Photography By Carla Antonio / Illustrations By Michele Perry

10 GTA girls who will make you feel better about the future

Feeling the news-cycle blues? Get inspired by these game-changing young women

There’s no denying the flurry of disheartening news items featuring women and girls. #MeToo stories continue to surface, and issues such as access to education, reproductive rights and representation remain as pressing as ever. But there are also good news stories, if you know where to look. May we suggest directing your gaze to the women who are rolling up their sleeves and diving right in to find solutions?

When you do, you’ll see more gals stepping up than ever before. A report from UN Women notes that 2017 saw a remarkable increase in women’s engagement the world over. Activism is on a serious uptick—and that’s particularly evident when you look at young women.

Girls are engaging with their communities through volunteering, and leading the charge in science, the arts and grassroots organizing. Get to know 10 young women in the GTA who are making their mark.

Photo of Hannah reaching out her hand to catch an illustrated microphone

Hannah Alper, Social Issues Speaker

While Hannah, 15, writes about a range of topics from green living to bullying on her popular blog, Call Me Hannah, she’s perhaps best known for her moving speeches on social issues, including a TED talk. While her accomplishments are huge, Hannah is a proponent of making small, everyday changes. “Know that it’s the little things that add up to make a big difference,” she asserts.

Animated photo of Rachel holding an illustrated picture frame around her torso

Rachel Burns, Visual Arts Trailblazer

Rachel is only 18, but she’s already made headlines for receiving college scholarship offers in the millions; spoken at OCAD about turning personal history into art; and hosted a solo exhibition in Toronto, inspiring countless young creatives—and older ones, for that matter. The Etobicoke School of the Arts student’s advice for girls interested in creative expression is as simple as it is powerful: “If you find something you’re passionate about, follow it.”

animated photo of Loizza with an illustrated brain bouncing around

Loizza Aquino, Mental Health Champion

Loizza founded Peace of Mind Canada, a non-profit focused on lifting the stigma around mental health, after losing a close friend to suicide when she was just 15. (She’s now 19.) The group’s youth-led events feature diverse speakers, from teachers to government officials, who share their personal experiences and encourage young people to do the same. “We can all do our part simply by talking about mental health,” she says.

Animated photo of Riley holding an illustrated megaphone and yelling into it

Riley Yesno, Indigenous Activist

As a public speaker and member of the Prime Minister’s Youth Council, Riley is one of Canada’s strongest voices for Indigenous issues. “As a young woman—especially a young woman of colour—you’ll feel pressure to shrink yourself to fit into a narrow window of what’s ‘acceptable,’” 19-year-old Riley says of the challenges facing girls in advocacy. “Don’t allow systems to water down you, your experience or your message.”

Animated photo of Ashwini balancing two twirling illustrated globes on her knee and her finger.

Ashwini Selvakumaran, Global Citizen

Ashwini spent the summer of 2016 interning at the United Nations, where she worked on projects pertaining to sexual violence against women in West Africa. Now, the 18-year-old regularly speaks on panels and at conferences about the importance of development for women and girls. As if that wasn’t enough, she’s an aspiring journalist who has already scored a byline in Seventeen.

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Josie Kearney, Model Volunteer

At just 17, Josie is the youngest person to win Aurora’s Citizen of the Year award. She has also received a prestigious Ontario Medal for Young Volunteers for her work, which includes spearheading fundraisers for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, leading a peer-mentoring group at her school and organizing a bone marrow drive that resulted in more than 200 names being added to the Canadian registry.

Lily Edmunds, Inspired Organizer

Last year, at just 15, Lily used money from RBC’s Making 150 Count to purchase stuffed animals to donate as therapy items for people in her community living with dementia and Alzheimer’s. She was inspired by her own family’s experience—her great-grandmother, Ruby, had late-stage Alzheimer’s. This concept soon grew into a nonprofit foundation, Fur-Ever Friendz. Now, Lily regularly delivers companion animals and meets with day program clients at the Alzheimer’s Society of York Region.

Alexandra Philp Reeves, Tech Innovator

After her friend was hospitalized, Alexandra recognized the need for a healthcare resource tailored to young people. So, in 2016, she launched EmojiHealth, a messaging bot platform that provides real-time personalized information using services like Facebook Messenger. Since then, Alexandra’s idea has grown even further; she’s now the founder and chief innovation officer of conversationHEALTH, a larger digital health company. Oh, and did we mention she’s only 19?

Animated illustration of a Canadian flag and drum with the name

Marica Pinnock, Heritage Advocate

When Marica was in sixth grade, she wanted to get in touch with her roots. She started working with the Canadian Caribbean Association of Halton, handing out brochures and other simple tasks. Now, the 17-year-old is the group’s Youth Outreach Coordinator, a role that sees her promoting programming, creating educational materials and organizing events to help young people learn more about cultural identity. In 2016, she received the Lieutenant Governor’s Ontario Heritage Award for Youth Achievement for her work.

Kayley Ting, STEAM Advocate

In summer 2018, 18-year-old Kayley travelled to Ottawa to receive a STEAM Horizon Award from Canada’s Science Minister for her contributions to field. And those contributions are seriously impressive: She worked with a non-profit to create STEAM-based activities for youth with autism; won a top prize at the 2016 European Union Contest for Young Scientists in Belgium; and founded all-girls robotics and physics debate teams at her Richmond Hill high school.

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