Changing Women’s Lives – at 19

Being bullied in her early years made Pranjal Jain aware of her school’s inability to provide her with support she needed at the time. So, ever since the age of 12, Pranjal has been busy organizing for girls globally.

“The Internet was pretty new then,” she recalls. “We were still getting our bearings, especially socially.” She experienced a disconnect between her struggles and the school and the community that could have helped her. To her dismay, she found she was not the only victim of bullying, and it motivated her to form an anti-bullying curriculum.

That was the beginning of her activism. “Ever since I realized the power of my voice and the ability to make a change, I have been organizing on a national level since 2017,” she tells SEEMA.

“I firmly believe we need to educate young people so that they are equipped with the knowledge required to be successful,” Jain says. She recalls a time when she began her menstrual equity workshop.

“None of my peers knew what it was about,” she says. “It was so scary. I was shaking. I felt very vulnerable,” she adds. “But my vulnerability was my strength. My peers … understood and they opened up. Through my curriculum my classmates noticed where they needed menstrual equity in their lives.” This is when Jain understood that “grassroots is where the change happens in our communities. Bottom-up organizing is the only way real change happens.”

In 2016, after seeing a spike of despair among fellow people of color in her community, Jain decided to take action.

“I organized a post-2016 election ‘healing event’ focusing on acceptance of people of all races, genders, and sexualities in our community,” Jain says. It was the very first event she organized “while wearing the hat of a social justice organizer.” Ever since, she has organized several events, campaigns, and projects focusing on different aspects of justice for the people she cares about. 

“I put my best foot forward to uplift my community, especially immigrants and undocumented people, and people of color,” she says.

Jain is currently a sophomore at Cornell University, majoring in labor and industry relations. She also works part-time as the director of digital media for Alysa Cisneros, city council member of Sunnyvale, California.

Global Girlhood

Jain started ‘Global Girlhood’ a little over a year ago. On its website, it is described as “a womxn-led organization that inspires storytelling, fostering intercultural dialogue, and representing the heights to which womxn soar.” The term ‘womxn’ is the most recent of several alternative political spellings of the English word ‘woman.’ ‘Womxn’ is used particularly by intersectional feminists, to avoid perceived sexism in the standard spelling and to explicitly include or highlight transgender women and nonbinary people.

Jain conceptualized Global Girlhood two years before it was established.

“I was 17 when I came about the idea, and realized the importance of it, as it was born out of my past,” she says. “Growing up, especially as a former undocumented immigrant, a South Asian woman, and living in America as a hyphenated person, I thought I don’t really have anyone accessible in my life with a background and values similar to mine.”

She lamented that she didn’t have a “direct female role model” who was doing the kind of work that she wanted to do. “So I always grew up thinking that there were no powerful women.” But at the age of 17, she realized it was impossible to have no women role models. And that is when Jain went to Jaipur, the city where she was born.

“I interviewed the women in Jaipur, because I was curious to learn more about them,” she says. “Those are the women from where I come from and I wanted to learn that if I am the way I am is a direct result of these women.”

After her interviews via social media, she says, “I realized that Jaipur is filled with powerful women once I lifted the veil of western narratives around empowerment and fixed perspectives.” She owes this eye-opening understanding to the power of digital media. 

“So I would like to think of Global Girlhood as a platform that encapsulates those experiences for me, and I call it my love letter to the world,” she says.

Sharing Stories of Empowerment

Jain says Global Girlhood aims to revolutionize representation in media, education and leadership.

“Our modus operandi is, we have a journalist sort of structure where we ask women to go out into their local communities and interview other women who inspire them,” she says. “And we take those stories to women in other communities and we ask them for their responses.”

By doing this, Jain says, “we are fostering intercultural dialogue and sustaining those lasting connections. As we publish these stories on social media, we change the algorithm and add representation to the platform. And it’s amazing.”

Jain notes that she did not want Global Girlhood to play into that savior complex.

“When we are sharing these stories, when we are going into these communities, we are never ever focusing on the negatives or the barriers, but instead focus on uplifting women in the community,” she says. Instead of “demonizing” women, Jain argues, “we celebrate women and their role in society. That’s a more powerful narrative – the one that celebrates who she is.”

She provides an example: “If someone had to leave school and marry at 13, then have babies and start a family, but later found a passion that she nurtured, Global Girlhood celebrates that and uplifts these women and decolonizes those perspectives. We don’t have to demonize women for their actions because they were based on the society they lived in and the opportunities that were available to them at the time. That’s a powerful narrative, one that does justice to the community she belongs to and the person that she is.”

Radical Sisterhood

“The idea is that you are always going to be there for the women in your life, regardless of what’s happening in your life,” Jain says. “You are always going to go out of your way to uplift them and you are always going to center them in the work that you do; like taking their names in the rooms they are not in, giving them opportunities, believing in them, being a support system for them, adding a lot of transparency, trust and communication with your sisters.” It’s “a direct manifestation of what is happening in my life,” she says. “I am who I am, where I am, because of the women who have believed in me and invested in me.” 

Jain says the best place to find the sisterhood is within Global Girlhood’s leadership team.

“Our board is completely Gen Z-led and I think we are really pioneering what global citizenship looks like,” she says. “I have yet to meet women who are more invested, supportive, kinder than the women on our team. It’s just an amazing feeling to be with them.”

A Brown Girl in America

Jain’s multifaceted identity as a brown woman, immigrant and American has greatly impacted the work she does and strives to do in her community. “As a brown girl, everything I do, I do as an Indian woman,” she says. Sometimes, I am the only young woman in the room,” she says, and adds, “I am doing this for younger girls, to show them, that they can be in these spaces too and that they are not limited.”

Jain came to this country when she was six months old, and acquired her passport when she was seven. “I learned that I was an immigrant at age 15, which is about the time of the end of Obama’s presidency,” she says.

“I was an undocumented immigrant for seven years, and as I built solidarity with other immigrants, I learned more about myself and I will always carry the lessons I learned with me,” she says. “As I piece together everything and understand how it fits my narrative, I imbibe the culture and all the other stuff in my life, and now it shapes the way I navigate my hyphenated identity.”

Read about other teen trailblazers who are changing the world.