Supporting Feminist Youth-Led Research and Practice for Transformative Change

This blog is a follow up from the Dynamic Accountability Dialogue: Feminist Youth-Led Research and Practice with Dr. Suchi Gaur (World YWCA), Yande Kalengo (Restless Development), and Yasmina Benslimane (Politics4Her) – moderated by Jacqueline Hart (The Feminist Humanitarian Network)

Continue reading below to watch the dialogue recording and to find tools and approaches for feminist research and practice

We are at a pivotal moment for women’s rights and feminist movements, with stark statistics reminding us how far we are from achieving gender equality (at our current pace, it will take an additional 130+ years to achieve gender equality). Shockingly, only 0.2% of ODA spent globally in 2022 was aimed at combating violence against women and girls. As of June 2024, only 27 of 193 UN member states had female Heads of State and/or Government. This stark underrepresentation in decision-making (particularly with so much at stake), coupled with insufficient funding, highlights the immense work ahead to ensure women and girls can leverage their power for transformative change. 

Despite these hurdles, young women and girls are bringing fresh perspectives, innovative solutions, and a sense of urgency to the fight against gender-based injustices. From their work within civil society organizations to conducting participatory research projects to campaigning to advocate for their rights, young feminists lead with holistic, collaborative, and intersectional approaches essential in tackling the root causes of inequality and creating lasting change.

In March, to wrap our #GenderEqualityNow campaign, we invited a panel of young feminists engaged in activism, civil society work, and research to share their insights and experiences, and to hear reflections on how civil society organizations (CSOs), funders, and other civil society actors can build a more supportive ecosystem for feminist youth-led movements to thrive.

Here are some of the barriers and facilitators they identified:

Click on the headings below to learn about the different barriers and facilitators that we heard from our speakers (this is by no means an exhaustive list – if you would like to raise another issue or contribute to this conversation, please do not hesitate to get in touch with us!)

Barrier: Traditional Structures and Approaches​

Colonial, patriarchal systems often exclude the voices of young women and girls, particularly from the Majority World, perpetuating traditional power imbalances where decisions about what constitutes facts and whose voices are valued are often dictated by a select few. There’s a pressing need to dismantle these power structures and uncover the truth beyond biased narratives.

For example, traditional research approaches prioritize degrees and titles over feminist values, hindering progress towards more inclusive and representative research practices. Often, when young women are engaged either as researchers or as participants of the research, it is often through processes that are extractive and/or tokenistic. Redressing these imbalances requires methodologies and approaches that ask tough questions and help us understand the world. 

Recognizing that ‘knowledge is power’, feminist research methodologies emphasize the inclusion of diverse forms of knowledge, valuing lived experiences alongside academic knowledge and broadening our understanding of who qualifies as an ‘expert’. Experience has demonstrated these more participatory, inclusive evidence gathering processes that are central to feminist research methodologies have resulted in data that is owned by communities and used by these communities to advocate for their rights

‘he who has knowledge has the power… he who tells the story has the power (or she in a feminist world!)… and it’s really about shaping the perspectives of young people for them to change and dismantle that colonial perception and that systematic perception that young people can’t be academics’  Yande Kalengo (14:56 – 15:17)

Barrier: Resistance and Backlash

Currently, we are facing a major global backlash against gender justice and the restriction of the rights of women and girls. This resistance can manifest in various forms, including on and offline harassment and legal restrictions on their activities. Internal barriers within organizations, including resistance to relinquishing power and redefining roles, pose significant challenges. Overcoming these barriers requires self-awareness, introspection, and a willingness to challenge deeply ingrained norms and practices.

‘Some of the barriers are actually sitting in our organizations. Because we are so used to doing things the way we have been taught, and the way we have learned it, and the way that ‘works’ according to us, that we forget that it’s not about us. This whole thing is not about us, not about donors, not about what our goals and mission and vision are as an organization… it’s actually outside.’ Suchi Gaur (36:22 – 36:50)

Young feminists engaged in digital activism face similar barriers and retaliation, stymying their efforts and creating a hostile environment for advocacy. While increasingly taking up space online has allowed feminist youth movements to easily communicate, strategize, and find community, digital platforms and social media sites have introduced security and safety threats disproportionately facing young women and girls but also LGBTQIA+ community and gender minorities, such as online gender-based violence or tech-facilitated violence, censorship, and surveillance.

Barrier: Lack of Funding

The significant lack of funding reaching young feminist activists and movements profoundly impacts their ability to carry out their work effectively and can limit their long-term sustainability. Where funding is available, it often comes in the form of one-time grants or restricted project support – the flexible, core funding that will truly make a difference is even harder to acquire.

A lack of funding does not only threaten the efforts and sustainability of feminist youth-led initiatives, but can limit the ability of young women and girls to have their voices heard. For example, a lack of funding for young feminists to attend international conventions and workshops means that young activists frequently find themselves excluded from influential forums where policies and strategies are discussed and formulated. This exclusion not only silences their voices but prevents them from using their knowledge to advocate for themselves and hold powerful entities accountable. Additionally, failure to provide financial compensation to young women and girls who complete surveys or participate in focus group discussions can prevent young feminists from participating fully and safely in these critical discussions and having their voices heard.

The bottom line? ‘If you’re going to utilize the expertise of young people and their lived experiences you need to fairly compensate them’ (Yande Kalengo, 46:50 – 46:46). This is not only important in terms of fairness but also a recognition of their value contribution. Young feminists must be compensated for their time and expertise, and have access to (adequate) funding for their work. Compensation is crucial as it aligns with the principles of feminist research, equity, and justice, and helps mitigate power imbalances between researchers and participants. This approach acknowledges young people’s expertise and lived experiences, fostering a co-creative process rather than a one-sided extraction of information.

‘(Paying young feminist researchers and research participants) is really aligning with the principles of feminist research – equity and justice – and it mitigates power imbalances between researchers and participants because it’s a co-creation process whether you’re the researcher or the participant we’re not here to just take your information and put it out there we’re here to actually amplify your voices and make sure that you have a safe space where you can express yourself.’ Yasmina Benslimane (28:23 – 28:48)

Facilitator: Safe, Inclusive Spaces for Learning

Safe spaces, both physical and digital, are essential for young feminists to come together, share experiences, and collaborate. These spaces must enable organizations to learn from one another by fostering a culture of learning and a willingness to test and make mistakes. To ensure an environment of mutual support and solidarity, these spaces should be free from harassment and discrimination. Advocating for legal protections that safeguard the rights of young activists is essential. Governments should enact and enforce laws that protect activists from harassment, violence, and other forms of retaliation. 

Another critical aspect of creating safe spaces is addressing burnout and mental health, as the demanding nature of feminist work necessitates collective care and support. The issue of burnout and mental health in the sector is significant, affecting many young feminists. During the dialogue, our panelists emphasized the need for self-care, setting boundaries, and recognizing the taxing nature of this work.

‘Fighting the patriarchy and pushing a feminist agenda is going to be taxing work and it’s very important that we’re taking care of ourselves and as a community embodying collective care. Because the system is designed to burn us out, to make us give up, to stop pushing, because it’s the status quo. So just to say yes, it can be demoralizing, it can be draining, but just ensure that when you’re doing this work … that you’re taking care of yourself and you’re doing your advocacy in a safe way and in a way that protects your well-being’ Yande Kalengo (1:10:29 – 1:11:07)

Facilitator: Collaboration and Knowledge Exchange

Feminist and/or youth leaders and movements are working on addressing some of the world’s toughest issues. Breaking silos and working together to address shared challenges is essential to driving long lasting change. Collaboration between organizations, movements, and activists across borders and generations can enhance knowledge exchange, resource sharing and collective action, strengthening the impact and sustainability of feminist research and advocacy efforts.

For example, building partnerships between nascent intersectional youth movements and more established organizations can facilitate a meaningful two-way exchange of information where more experienced activists and movement leaders can share ‘tried and tested’ strategies for advocacy, while younger activists and movements can contribute with their fresh perspectives and innovative, out-of-the-box strategies and solutions.

Intersectional youth must be trusted and supported to lead! Horizontal, equitable partnerships grounded in trust are essential to ensuring meaningful collaboration and collective action.

Facilitator: Holistic Ecosystem Support

Ensuring consistent and adequate funding can significantly bolster the sustainability and reach of feminist initiatives. To be sustainable in the long-term, funding must be core, flexible and accessible, with streamlined application processes to ensure that young activists can easily apply for and receive financial assistance. 

Funding for must be made available for travel support (ie. for young feminist researchers to present at conferences) and for training to equip young feminists to effectively lead their movements (for example in advocacy, digital literacy, and leadership). Mentorship is another critical aspect of support for feminist youth-led movements. Established organizations and senior feminists can provide guidance, advice, and networking opportunities, helping young feminists navigate the complexities of advocacy and activism. This mentorship can support young leaders to build their confidence and enhance their ability to navigate challenges and leverage opportunities.

‘Yes financial compensation is important, but the funding has to come with mentorship, the funding has to come with guidance. It’s not just like throwing money at us and be like okay go do your research – like it’s great to trust us, I love that, but you have to align with feminist principles of you know care and compassion and support and empowerment and being here through every step of the way with us.’ Yasmina Benslimane (30:31 – 30:52)

Facilitator: Shifting Organizational Roles

Organizations need to redefine their roles in the international development sector, moving away from traditional models of ‘empowerment’ towards facilitation and platform-building. This entails relinquishing power and embracing a collaborative, supportive approach that centers the voices and agency of marginalized communities. Shifting organizational roles in this way involves listening to the needs and priorities of young activists, providing them with the tools and resources they need, and stepping back to allow them to take the lead. 

‘It’s time we play a different role in the development sector because that’s not what the role of the organizations should be. Our role should be facilitator, our role should be as a bridge builder, our role should be a platform to make things happen rather than doing things on our own’ Suchi Gaur (37:09 – 37:26)


Feminist youth-led movements are powerful agents of change, driving the agenda for gender equality and social justice. To harness their full potential, it is imperative to provide comprehensive support that addresses their unique challenges and empowers them to thrive. Financial backing, capacity building, creating safe spaces, amplifying voices, and fostering collaborations are all essential components of this support. By investing in and uplifting these movements, society can move closer to achieving a world where gender equality is not just an aspiration, but a reality.

In a rapidly changing world, the voices and actions of young feminists are more critical than ever. Their unwavering commitment to justice and equality serves as a beacon of hope and a catalyst for transformative change. It is our collective responsibility to ensure that these voices are heard, supported, and empowered to lead the way toward a more equitable and inclusive future.

Tools and Approaches to Feminist Youth-Led Research and Practice


Advancing women’s rights and gender equality is one of our 12 Accountability Commitments, and one that is deeply ingrained in our work at Accountable Now. We’re hoping that we can be part of an increasing call to action to donors and countries to provide more flexible support to feminist movements around the world, especially those led by young people, whether they may be informal or formalized efforts.

About the Dialogues Series: Accountable Now’s Dynamic Accountability Dialogues series brings practitioners, activists, funders, and other social sector actors together to discuss pressing issues, threats to CSO accountability, and innovations in practice in the development, humanitarian, and human rights fields. The Dialogues aim to level the playing field between small and large institutions and funders and CSOs by identifying speakers and presenters with rich and diverse voices, positions, and experiences and offering each an equal platform to express their opinions and share their lessons. To support continued conversations, AN works to pull together resources and cases exemplifying points from the various speakers and to broker partnerships and seed collective action in the field.