By Sarra Alayyan
Considering the past year, it might be easy to look at 2017 with furrowed brows and wilted enthusiasm. Instead, I’m looking forward to a new year filled with hope and life, with tenacious optimism. Let 2017 be a year of inspiration, love, bravery, strength and equality.
It was hard to choose just five #GIRLHERO(es) that I’ll be looking up to next year because, really, every girl is a #GIRLHERO. That girl who sits across from you on the train, the lady who hands you your daily coffee, the woman sitting in the park feeding the pigeons, myself, my mother, my sister and you. You are a #GIRLHERO. Never forget that.
Here are some of the heroes I will be looking up to in 2017:
Kate Gilmore, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner of Human Rights
I had the pleasure of hearing her speak at the Girl Up Leadership Summit in Washington, DC last summer. I literally got goosebumps on my arms and legs, even my face (because it’s true I get them on my face, and I Googled it. It’s super rare, so now I feel cool). She spoke with oscillations of hope, and an endearing passion that is hard to come by. She has a wealth of experience and knowledge. She doesn’t let the weight of the world’s hardships discourage her as she deals with the most severe problems with grace and determination. She see’s the world purely, she sees how flawed it is and she still smiles because she knows she can fight to change it. So 2017 meet Kate Gilmore, a Girl Hero, strong, inspiring.
Yara Shahidi, Actress & Activist
I had the opportunity of hearing Yara speak at the Girl Up Leadership Summit last summer as well. Oh my, seriously, she is incredible. Think Aphrodite meets Athena for the perfect combination that is Yara Shahidi, who speaks with grace and intelligence encouraging girls to be empowered despite only being 16 herself. Yep, 16. Need I say more? There’s something infectious about her and her constant buzz of positivity and her humble nature shown even through her Instagram, which she uses as a platform for self expression and empowerment. I will be looking up to her this 2017. It’s hard not to.
Adwoa Aboah, Model & Activist
Adwoa is not just a model, but an activist for girls. Her recent series in i-D Magazine explored sexism in every crack of a country’s society, from the free the nipple movement to the sex industry. She has made clear that she will continually fight for women’s empowerment. She is truly unapologetic for her boldness and that in itself is liberating. So 2017, meet Adwoa Aboah and get ready for what she does, for who she inspires.
Ashley Graham, Model & Body Positivity Activity
Personally, Ashley’s message has helped me. Like a lot of girls, I pick my physicality apart with a fine -tooth comb. But I’ve stopped doing it as much thanks in large part to words Ashley Graham spoke at last year’s Girl Up Leadership Summit. She told the world and us girls in the audience that it’s okay to love yourself. It’s not arrogance, and it’s not wrong for society to know you love what you see, and you love who you are because that’s how it should be. She told herself she was beautiful, she told me I was beautiful and how I should know that. She’s helped me accept myself more. I may still have a long way to go, but Ashley Graham has given me the confidence to get there. I hope 2017 will be a year of love, starting with ourselves, led by the prominent voice from one of my #GIRLHERO(es) for 2017, Ashley Graham.
Zain Habboo, Senior Director for Digital and Multimedia Strategy at the United Nations Foundation*
Sometimes, the most inspiring #GIRLHERO(es) aren’t the ones in magazines or on stages, but the ones closest to home, like my Aunt Zain. Here’s to a small lady with fabulous shoes, jewelry and the closest thing to a unicorn you’re ever going to get. Here’s to her courage, here’s to her strength and the way she carries a world on her back, a world that has seen pain and heartbreak and everything in-between, but she won’t stop. She is beautiful in every sense of the word. She has been broken, but her might is something I’ve never seen before. I’m convinced if she was as strong outside as she is inside, she would be the equivalent of the hulk; obviously far more fabulous with pastel pink fur and instead of those rags and shorts, she would have a delicate lace dress with rainbow pom-poms attached. Zain Habboo will indefinitely be my #GIRLHERO next year and all the others that follow. She has taught me that with joy comes sorrow. She has taught me what it means to be brave, and that I may be cracked, I may be broken, but I am stronger than I know. So let’s all be Zain Habboo. Let’s be brave, beautiful, strong. Thank you Zainy, I love you.
*Girl Up is a campaign of the United Nations Foundation.
Sarra Alayyan is a 2016-2017 Teen Advisor who lives in Surrey, England.