YOUth In Power - Pranjal Jain
Meet Pranjal Jain, an Indian-American activist, organizer, and content creator!
My name is Pranjal Jain, I am a 17-year-old activist, organizer, and content creator. I first got involved in activism when I was about 12 years old, it was 7th grade - I had gotten cyberbullied in 4th grade via email from girls in my class. I remember telling my school, telling my teacher, and I remember them not having resources or knowledge to deal with it because cyberbullying was so new at the time.
So seeing that gap in how my school dealt with it, I decided to mobilize my community and equip them with skills on how to deal with cyberbullying - I think it was a really cool experience because I was really focusing on the victim and how the victim can rise above [cyberbullying]. I feel like most other workshops around bullying have always been talking to the bullies, saying things like “no, don’t bully”, instead of reversing the script and giving the victim resources. I had local workshops at my library and health classes at my middle school, I taught students how to overcome cyberbullying and what to do as a victim.
From there on, I started getting more involved in the community and really using my voice to make change. I think that the biggest thing that helped me realize how much power my voice truly has was in 7th grade - I wrote a letter to President Obama because I wasn’t born here and I talked about how because I wasn’t born here, I can’t be President here and how I think that is unfair. I was really involved in my community, I really cared, and I really wanted to amount to the biggest office there was - everyone in America is always talking about how you can be anything you want to be, but it wasn’t true for me so I wrote a letter to him talking about that. A few months later, when I got a response from him, it made me realize the power of my voice, because as a 12-year-old, I had a conversation with the President and it definitely showed me that your voice can make an impact.
And from there on out, I started upscaling my work - throughout high school I started organizing a whole lot of rallies and events to further messages. I remember after Trump got elected, we held a peaceful rally at my school about the importance of acceptance and piggybacked off the national safety pin movement - so by wearing safety pins you showing solidarity with the groups that Trump tends to attack or marginalize. So took safety pins and spray painted them white and handed them out around the school and that was to represent acceptance and after school we had an event where students from different clubs gave speeches and dances about acceptance. It was a really nice way to address this imminent problem in my school - I could sense the tension walking down the hallways, so being able to address something “political” in a school setting without outwardly being political showed me the power of addressing things with more compassion and letting that get results. It was crazy, we got people that were conservatives and republicans come to the event, so it was really cool to bridge the gaps among everyone and show that at the end of the day, as a community, we care about acceptance.
My senior year, I created a curriculum around menstrual hygiene and the Menstrual Movement, just educating people about it and why it’s important. Right now I am currently serving as associate director of Gen Z Girl Gang, which is an online community that is invested in fostering our generation’s female leaders, which we do through mentorship, networking, and bringing that all over into one space.
Also, I am also working on launching my own organization! It’s called Global Girlhood and it’s going to be launching in late September, we’re a UN-affiliated organization. This organization is literally my baby because I think it just captues everything that matters to me and really just speaks to all my life experiences. Global Girlhood is revolutionizing the way women interact with each other across the globe, and we do it by inspiring storytelling, fostering intercultural dialogue, and building lasting connections. So essentially, we have girls of any age interview other women - they can be from their community or an international community, whether they’re vacationing or they live in an international community. We ask them to interview others about their stories of empowerment and we then we take those stories and we share them with women in other communities and we ask them to react to it. And those reactions bring about things like “wow I had no idea I shared so many similarities with women in China” for example, then we share those stories all of our platforms. So that’s what I’ve been spending my entire summer working on, and I’ve been meeting amazing women and just really getting to understand how much the media really refrains from showing how much power lies among common women. It’s really cool to be able to highlight those stories and uplift those women and pass the mic to other people.
Pranjal’s multi-faceted identity as a brown woman, immigrant, and American has greatly impacted the work she does and strives to do in her community.
So, when I was 15-year-old, I learned that I had spent the first seven years of my life in this country undocumented - before then I had absolutely no idea. It’s funny how I actually came about it. So for my Girl Scout Gold Award, which is the highest award you can achieve as a Girl Scout, you have to make some sort of sustainable change in your community. So for my award, I wanted to focus on immigrants.
I was asking my dad’s assistant who lives in an immigrant community how I could help her and her community - and she randomly blurted out, “don’t you remember when you were an undocumented immigrant”. And that’s when everything hit me -it made me realize how Indian culture had felt such a huge immanence in my life and why it was so prominent compared to by brother for example. Just being born in India and coming here and staying here undocumented influenced my life in a really big way. A lot of the times I’m in space where I’m the only South Asian woman and it’s so important to represent and be my most authentic self in every possible because growing up, I never really saw South Asian women being represented like that. Because South Asian culture has such a deep prominence in my life, I remember growing up trying to hide and trying to subscribe into the dominant culture in America which is fuelled by Eurocentric ideals.
Being an immigrant, a South Asian, and an American, I have American values. I believe in the principles of democracy, and equality, and I associate those values mostly with my American side, because growing up here and going to school here, that’s what I learned the most. And having the experience as an Indian woman, I feel like I got to experience first-hand the patriarchy and inequality that women face.
I say this a lot, but if I feel like if wasn’t born in India, if I wasn’t from international community, if I didn’t experience the way Indians treat women, I wouldn’t be able to see the importance of feminise. Being able to see that first hand - the disparities in India are absolutely ridiculous and they are so blatant - especially where I come from, Rajasthan is a blatantly patriarchal state so really just being able to see that I think has definitely fueled by beliefs and feminism and gender equity.
My multi-faceted identity has definitely fueled everything about me and I think it’s one of the most important things about my work - and that’s why I really really try hard to show up in every space, in every community, all the work I do, to make it as representative of all of that as a whole. Because if I had that growing up, if I was able to see Indian women doing something that wasn’t your basic career path, or straying from the whole idealized path that our parents tend to set up for us, I think it would’ve definitely made me realize all that stuff earlier and have someone to look up to. Recently, it’s been a lot of just me reconnecting with myself and my roots - figuring out what’s important to me and implementing that into my life.
In South Asian culture, there are often many taboos in place that restrict people from speaking out on important issues. Pranjal constantly fights normalize such conversations and break down disastrous social constructs, beginning within her home.
So I truly believe it starts at home. Being able to stand up to your family, and being able to reject those ideals and show other people in your family how to reject those ideals is the biggest win for not only yourself, but your community. Once your own family starts to de-stigmatize and break down those constructs, it usually leads to other people doing that. So one of the things I really pride myself on, which is kind of counter-intuitive, is that I refuse to set foot in the kitchen, I refuse to learn how to cook right now especially from my mom - because growing up I’ve always heard things like “if you don’t learn how to make rotis, no one’s gonna marry you!” So for me being able to cook has been so associated with the idea of being “perfect for marriage”, and the idea that girls only exist to be married. So ever since then, I refuse to cook and I refuse to even step in the kitchen. I do various things like helping around the house but when it comes to when guests are over and my mom will be like “oh, go get them water” I’ll be like “why don’t you also ask my brother”. It’s definitely tough doing that, especially in India, because it’s so normalized in places like that - but it's such an important part of the work that I do and it’s been amazing seeing how my family has worked to break down those constructs.
Growing up, periods were always such a big taboo. I remember when I first saw a period and I was in India and I was like “oh mom, what is that?” and I said it in front of everyone, and she gave me the eyes and told me to stop talking. Just seeing her from that moment to now, where she is openly saying things like “make sure you grab your pads” in front of my dad - I think that is so revolutionary and so unheard of in India. My mom grew up in India, and seeing her as an Indian woman doing that is really enlightening to me and it makes me proud of being able to carry that over to my family. I think you just go to do it, because at the end of the day they realize that it’s important too.
With my parents growing up I used to hear “no one is going to marry you”, and now they don’t use that anymore because they know that it is not effective, and they know that my worth is more than who marries me. Starting from home will make it so much easier to do it outside, because often times, it harder to stand up to your friends than a stranger.
Sisterhood has always been an important part of Pranjal’s life, and the meaning of what sisterhood truly means to her is changing as she grows older. To her, listening and learning from other women in an integral part of sisterhood.
This year especially, I’ve learned how much sisterhood has changed for me. Growing up, I thought it meant just supporting one another to me, especially as women, because we all tend to have a lot of shared experiences and having someone to share those with and really learn from is an important part of sisterhood.
But now that I’m continuing to expand my circle of women and as I’m continuing to meet more women who have dealt with more diverse experiences, I think sisterhood really means listening to them and learn from them. One of the missions of Global Girlhood is also to really inspire other people and show how much power lies in common women and I’m really trying to institute that into my own life. For example, I spent this summer cold DMing women and asking them things like “hey, are you free to meet up” if I liked their Instagram or if I was interested in them or the work that they do. I just ask them to hang out with me and we would just grab a coffee or grab lunch and it would be an hour conversation, but every single conversation I would learn so much. I think it is a testament to how much inspiration exists around you if you really go and look for it. That’s also one of the ways I’ve been practicing sisterhood in my daily life - just really believing in common women and wanting to hear them and spend time with them if the best way I’ve been practicing sisterhood. Without sisterhood, we really aren’t going to be able to rise and be stronger together.
In a political climate in which it is often easy to lose hope, young people are a source of hope and inspiration to Pranjal.
This summer, I’ve spent a lot of time reconnecting with my roots and reconnecting with other women and new people and honestly I think they give me a lot of hope. I think the most powerful thing I realized this summer was how empowered South Asian women truly are - it’s crazy! Growing up I heard the ideal that “South Asian women only work in the house” or “only exist as housewives that are meant to only get married and live with their husband’s family and care for their husbands and their children”. But this summer going to Jaipur, which is where I’m from, I met someone who runs her own organization and basically started a franchise for preschools because in Indian people don’t really believe in the importance of preschool. And just hearing her talk about how she’s made a career while having a husband and kids - it’s amazing to see how much women are really accomplishing. Just being able to reject all those ideal and preconceived notions placed on me - I’ve just been so hopeful. Even at Girl Scouts, I gte to work with 12 or 13-year-old girls, and seeing how informed they are of our world and how much change they wanna make has been amazing. Seeing them think of issues like gun regulation and LGBTQ issues at 11-years-old make me really hopeful for the future. I truly believe that our generation is and will continue to change the world.
By existing in spaces where brown women are traditionally “not supposed” to be in, and challenging social norms and constructs, Pranjal “dares to defy”.
I truly believe that just by existing, I have been defiant. Especially recently, existing feel so radical these days because I’m in spaces that my ancestors and my family have never been in before. I’ve been doing things that girls who look like me often don’t get opportunities to do. For example, I’m the first person in my family to go to college and it’s been really nerve wracking. Stepping into those experiences that my family/ancestors haven’t is really enlightening and radical in a way. Even with the career path I want to do, society just really enforced the idea of becoming a doctor on me, and the fact that I’m now stepping out and working on building my own organization. I truly believe that it's important to be defiant - I defy social constructs, social expectations, parental expectations, and even my own expectations and values for myself. That’s how you truly find happiness and feel fulfilled and satisfied. So I believe that existing as a South Asian woman who is doing this kind of work in spaces where I am the only brown woman, I am “daring to defy.