When photojournalist Paola Gianturco decided to write her sixth book, Wonder Girls: Changing Our World, she asked her 11-year old granddaughter, Alex Sangster to co-author it. The team approach seemed totally appropriate for this project. Paola planned to interview groups of activist girls, age 10 to 18, in thirteen countries, who are improving education, health, equality and the environment in their communities.
The team approach worked perfectly and in the end both grandmother and granddaughter had a new respect for each other. Alex conducted 70 interviews between 2013 and 2015 while Paola traveled the globe photographing the girls using her million frequent fliers she’d accumulated when she worked for an advertising company.
Paola recently spoke to our GaGa Sisterhood about some of the groups highlighted in her book and the process of teaming up with her granddaughter.
She began by reminding us of the movie, Wonder Woman, a superhero who fights for peace, equality, and justice using magic bracelets, a tiara, and a lasso of truth.
Wonder Girls, real-life heroes, transform our world using energy and intelligence, creativity and confidence, determination and dreams.
Her book definitely overturns assumptions about girls age 10 – 18. Some people perceive them as “the future.” But right now, they are enhancing education, health, equality, and the environment—and stopping child marriage, domestic violence, trafficking, and war.
Between 2013 and 2016, Paola spent one week each with 15 girl-led nonprofit groups in 13 countries. Her 11-year old co-author granddaughter, interviewed them via FaceTime and some in person in San Francisco, Oakland, Los Angeles, and Guadalajara.
The girls’ stories are told in their own voices and they are truly inspiring. Here are a few of them.
Wonder Girls Groups
Bye Bye Plastic Bags is a project started by two Balinese sisters, Melati, 10 and Isabel Wijsen, 12, who are convincing tourists and locals to stop using plastic bags which are destroying the idyllic island of Bali. They started with an online petition to collect a million signatures urging the government to make a law banning plastic bags. Within 24 hours, they had 6,000 signatures and the next day 10,000. Ultimately, they met with the island’s governor who signed a Memorandum of Understanding to support their work and get Bali’s population to “say no to plastic bags” by 2018.
Creativity for Peace trains young Israeli and Palestinian women to partner as leaders by transforming anger and prejudice to mutual respect, facilitating an understanding of the other, and inspiring action to promote equality and peace. The program, based in Santa Fe, New Mexico, uses dialogue and art to introduce the story of the “other side” and begin the compassion and healing necessary for reconciliation. Israeli and Palestinian teens spend a 3-week summer intensive rooming with their “enemies” and embracing the Quaker belief that “an enemy is one whose story we have not heard.” These young women are trained to go back to their communities and become leaders for peace.
Shaheen Women’s Resource Center in Hyderabad, India focuses on the cities 20 slum districts where women suffer from profound institutional, community and family discrimination. Shaheen girls have no proper healthcare and are forced to stay inside the house. They are forced into marriage and not given any education. Shaheen wants to empower girls to say no to child marriage, get an education and have careers. The girls have created safety maps to show where girls can learn skills to earn money and have the freedom to make their own decisions.
Girls Empowerment Network in Malawi (located in south eastern Africa) is a girl-led initiative that caused Parliament to pass a law to stop child marriage in Malawi so girls can complete their schooling. Two-thirds of the families in Malawi live on less than one dollar a day. Families marry off girls at a young age for a dowry to pay off debts. Sixty-three percent of Malawi girls have had a child by age 19; one in five girls in the country are sexually abused before they reach 18. Until 2015, girls could be married at age 15. After the Girls Empowerment Network’s campaign, the Parliament passed a law imposing a ten-year prison sentence on men who marry girls younger than 18.
At the end of each chapter in the book, 11-year old Alex wrote a section called: “How You Can Change Our World.” She presents the challenge each group is facing; the change they have created; and the ways we can help these different causes.
The Global Fund for Women will receive 100% of the authors’ royalties.