To celebrate each UN Day (October 24), the Vancouver Branch recognizes an outstanding youth, or group of youth, who are working towards global betterment. In partnership with the Unitarian Church of Vancouver, this year’s recipient for the John Gibbard Award for Youth was Anjali Katta. At just 18 years old, Miss Katta is already an established gender equality activist. She is the CEO of her own non-profit, GirlsCo., that seeks to educate and inform youth about the issues that women and girls face, while raising money for girls education in developing countries. She also founded Bombay Pads, a program that delivers sanitary pads and sexual education to schools and orphanages in India. Earlier this year, Plan Canada chose Miss Katta as a Top 20 Under 20 Award. She is currently studying at Stanford University.
Here is Miss Katta’s full acceptance speech:
Hello, my name is Anjali Katta and I am 18 years old from Vancouver BC. I just want to start off by thanking UNA Vancouver and the Unitarian church for this lovely event and for presenting me with this award. Awards like these are not the reason I do the things I do, but they give me hope in that the community I live in understands the importance of my work and also understands the importance of the cause I am championing for. In a sense giving the issues of gender equality and the empowerment of girls the validation and the credibility they deserve. The United Nations Association of Vancouver’s work with educating young people through awareness building is integral in crafting a brighter future for the local community, so I just wanted to reiterate how thankful I am for the work they do. I also want to thank my parents, despite how much I grumble and groan, they are the reason I am able to stand here, and their lessons and beliefs are the reason I’ve chose to dedicate a part of my life to improving the lives of those who live in my community and beyond. A final thank you goes to all the teachers and mentors who have helped put together events or guided me when I needed it most. Your help was essential in everything I’ve done from the equality summits to the countless fundraisers. I remember, once a venue cancelled a week before an event and I was absolutely terrified and completely lost. But a teacher came through and worked tirelessly to help me find a venue, and the event was a success. This example is representative of how lucky I am to know the people I know. And as lucky and privileged as I am, I am still disadvantaged.
I am a girl. It breaks my heart, that gender, even in 2015, defines many of my opportunities. Trying to navigate the world as a girl, I can’t help but think about how far the movement for equality has come and how far there is still to go. A lot of people deny that there is more work to be done. They look back and take stock of the progress so far, and ask do we still need feminism. I’ve realized the best way to answer this question is to imagine what our lives would be like if the women’s movement had never happened and the position of women had remained as they were in the year of our birth. If you look back 30 or 20 or even 10 years ago, the change that happened over these periods is perceptible and significant, and therefore proves that feminism was and still is needed. I believe that girls are born with an inherent sense that they are equal but every single thing around them tells them they are less than. Don’t get your dress dirty! You can’t do that you’re a girl. If you’re a girl please jump off the smaller ski hill. You can’t debate, you’re a girl and girls get too emotional. These are all phrases that I’ve heard in my life and I can’t imagine what girls hear all across the globe. Every girl is smart and kind and clever and strong and unique and has an equal right to happiness, safety, and freedom. If we give a girl a chance, give her the tools to believe in herself and that she truly is just as capable, imagine how different the world would be. How many mothers would be able to teach their children to value an education? How many girls would be able to stand up in class and not care about the way she looks? How many girls won’t have to have their beauty equated to their intelligence? How many girls would be able to lift, not only themselves, but their family’s out of poverty? I’m saying this because each and every one of us owes it to the girls of tomorrow to take an active role in creating a future with more equality and less disparity. Every one of us should be conscious of what we say and do, the little things: like using the word girl as in insult or underestimating talents simply because of gender. We should foster discussion around equality and empower at a young age. Much of my work has centered around discussion and volunteering with younger girls, and I can attest to the difference instilling confidence can make. They stand taller, talk louder, and exist unafraid to let their voices be heard. Gender should not define opportunity and it’s our obligation to make that statement a reality. How much more peaceful, how much more free, and how much more just the world would be with more equality. So the next time you see a girl, don’t tell her how pretty she is—tell her how smart, kind, clever, interesting or the millions of other adjectives she is. Thank you.