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Who Is Gen Z And What Makes Them Different From Other Generations?

Generation Z was born between 1995 to 2015. The oldest of the cohort in the US were in kindergarten during the 9/11 incident of the World Trade Towers bombing in 2001. They have also grown up seeing the global recession of 2008, the election of the divisive Donald Trump in 2016, school shootings at Parkland in Florida in 2018, the Covid-19 pandemic, and finally, the economic crash of 2020.

Gen Z is also called the Founders (of a new society), the Plurals, iGen, and Homelanders. They’re digital natives who use the internet more than books, GPS rather than maps, Spotify rather than CDs, and Netflix rather than videos, and rent fancy dresses instead of buying them. Many students have been forced to practice virtual learning due to the pandemic of 2020. As they’ve been surrounded by unemployment and college students graduating with an average debt of over $35,000 in 2019, many are reluctant to take loans, work long hours, and work for themselves in the “freelance economy”.

As a diverse generation (almost half are people of colour) like the Gen Y, the Gen Z are comfortable with diversity (i.e. ethnicity, gender fluidity, LGBTQIA+) and use the word “intersectional” in their organising. They tend to be progressive and liberal in their political views, but older Americans are still more likely to turn out to vote even though the youth are very worried about climate change and the environment. Some of them think politics is corrupt and not worth taking the time to vote for. They volunteer at about the same rate as Gen Y, but with longer hours, according to Corey Seemiller.

In an international online survey of young people in 2019, the Future of Humanity Survey reported the top global issue was climate change (41%), followed by closely-related pollution (36%) and terrorism (31%). The survey included more than 10,000 youth aged betwen 18 to 25 years across 22 countries.

The report concluded with the youth realising that they live in a failed system. This generation lives in a world of widening inequalities, economic instability and austerity where a vast number of people have been left behind. The climate crisis, pollution, corruption and poor living standards are all windows on an alarming truth about how the powerful have exploited their power for selfish and often short-term gain.

Representative image.

Seemiller surveys and writes about the Gen Z — mainly college students, whom she characterises as loyal, thoughtful, passionate, open-minded and determined (Corey Seemiller and Meghan Grace: Generation Z Goes to College, 2016.  Generation Z Leads, 2017. Generation Z: A Century in the Making, 2019. Generation Z Learns, 2019).

They are spiritual rather than affiliated with a religion. She reports that their parents have shifted from being protective helicopter parents, and more than any other generation, they look to their parents as role-models. They learn through an experiential, active demonstration of a skill and then practice it with feedback.

Unlike the Gen Y, they don’t prefer to work in groups, but they like “social learning” such as studying next to each other in libraries or coffee shops. They like honest feedback from their parents, employers, coaches, etc. in contrast to the Gen Y who mainly want positive feedback. They’re more interested in being happy and making a difference in their work than making a lot of money. Relationships are important to them and nearly half intend to start their own business. They seek passion and meaning in their work; almost 40% would like to invent something to help change the world. In my interviews with global Gen Z female climate activists, many of them described themselves as passionate.

Many of them are addicted to their smartphones and some suffer anxiety if their phone isn’t nearby. The average teen spends more than seven hours a day on screen for entertainment. The average Gen Z in Seemiller’s surveys has 8.7 social media accounts. They get a lot of their news from Twitter and YouTube. They can suffer from information overload and sometimes misinformation. This may be part of the reason why Seemiller found 83% prefer face-to-face communication, followed by texting (60%), even though they tend not to be good communicators.

She found they may not even know how to flirt or banter, but she says the biggest legacy of Gen Z is their belief in unconditional love. The University of Michigan Monitoring future researchers discovered that girls are spending less time with friends, exercising and in nature because of their time spent on social media, which contributes to loneliness and increasing rates of feeling bored.

Anxiety and depression rates are high due to high stress and loneliness. However, they’re more likely to report mental health problems than any of their earlier generations. A 2019 Pew Research Center found that 36% of girls reported being extremely anxious daily. Michael Gurian observes that girls have “an intimacy imperative” that values relationships and social media, rewires the youths’ brains.

woman sitting on a bridge alone and watching sunset

He adds that in 2011, nearly 31% of first-year college women had an overwhelming anxiety attack in their first year, and this increased to 62% in 2016. An icon of depression amoug the youth is award-winning teen singer Billie Eilish, who said she wants to be “the voice of the people” and says she loves freaking people out. She too is uncomfortable with her body, wearing large baggy clothes. In one of her music videos, she’s tormented with cigarette butts and in another, she’s poked with syringes, which apparently helps her deal with depression.

Professor Jean Twenge blames smartphones as one explanation for the increase in major depression among teens since 2010 — especially for girls. Their rate of having Major Depression increased from 12% in 2011 to 20% in 2017 and their suicide rate doubled since 2007. Based on three surveys of more than 200,000 teens in the US and UK, Twenge found that girls spend more time on social media and boys spend more time on games.

In case of both girls and boys, teens who spend more time on digital media are more likely to be depressed and unhappy, especially in case of girls — and social media is designed to be addictive. Social media creates hierarchy, Twenge says, based on the number of likes and followers. This leads to comparing yourself to others, which can be depressing, worrying about appearance. Many of the girls I interviewed for the climate activism book told me they have body image worries because of social media.

A study on the Gen Z reported that some of them are turning away from social media. The survey of over 1,000 young people aged betwee 18 to 24 years in 2017 reported that 91% use social media and 51% say they use social media almost constantly. The most popular social media platforms are Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook.

The problem is that 68% report that social media has sometimes (48%) or often (20%) made them feel anxious, sad, or depressed and 29% said it has hurt their self-esteem or made them feel insecure. At the same time, 61% said it had a positive impact on their self-confidence. Over half (58%) wanted to take a temporary break from social media. Certain cited reasons were that it wastes too much time (41%), too much negativity (35%), too much pressure to get attention (18%), or it made them feel bad about themselves (17%).

However, my conversations with teens indicate they’re anxious about a lot more than the social media likes or photos. High school students are working as well as trying to get good grades to get into a good college, do sports and other school activities, maintain friendships and family responsibilities.

Homework keeps them up late, which contributes to depression. College students worry about how to finance their education and pay off student loans. A YouTube influencer is followed by a 15-year-old girl because she talks about “how it’s harder being a girl than a guy, how we feel more pain”. (Claire Balleys, et al, “Searching for Oneself on YouTube: Teenage Peer Socialization and Social Recognition Processes,” Social Media and Society, April 2020) The Gen Z girls I’ve interviewed are very well-informed, articulate and devoted to making a difference. They are unapologetic feminists.

The author is writing a book on global Gen-Z young women climate activists, a follow-up of “Brave: Young Women’s Global Revolution.” In order to gain insights into Indian Gen Z, comments are welcome.

Note: The article was originally published here

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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