The Kids Are Alright: Using Gen-Z Power to Build a Better World

Many of us have turned inwards over the past year of social distancing and working from home, eschewing the outside world in favor of books, arts-and-crafts and testing our baking skills. But while the world has slumbered, Sumarha Tariq, Jhade Vasquez and Ashley Offor stayed woke. These ambitious high school students are the brains behind Project Women NYC, an online magazine and empowerment initiative whose mission is to smash gender norms, raise mental health awareness and provide a safe space for non-binary and femme teens.

The initiative began in July of 2020 when Tariq reached out to Vasquez to voice concerns over the treatment of women in their community: “A lot of things are going on, primarily in New York City, with women and slut-shaming and things like that,” Vasquez said. “We’re both very passionate about empowering women, so she hit me up, and ever since that, we’ve been brainstorming.”

Soon after this initial conversation, Vasquez and Tariq met Offor, who they immediately recognized as a kindred spirit. “We just instantaneously clicked,” said Offor, who uses they/them pronouns. “That was kind of the moment that I knew this was going to be something very big, because we’re all really passionate about these things, and we’re working really hard. We had no money, we had nothing; we basically kickstarted the whole thing.” Offor agreed to manage the social media for the initiative, and Project Women NYC was officially in motion.

Until recently, PWNYC’s activities have largely focused on the organization’s sizable online presence. The PWNYC Instagram account showcases photoshoots intended to help femme and non-binary teenagers feel more comfortable and confident in their own bodies. The project’s website also features interviews with women of color about the adversity they’ve faced as students in New York. Additionally, PWNYC has taken on the mission of providing mental health aid for students, receiving official support and approval from Tariq’s high school, the high School of Fashion Industries.

This spring, the teens at PWNYC hope to leverage their neighborhood connections in order to provide mutual aid to struggling women in New York City. They’re planning to run a donation drive for women’s shelters across the city, setting up donation boxes across the five boroughs for used bras (in good condition), new underwear, pads, menstrual cups, sealed shampoo and conditioner bottles and deodorant.

“Living in Astoria, I want a collection box [here] because this community is so diverse and so economically situated that I believe Astoria can help a lot,” Tariq said.

The PWNYC Women’s Drive will be running from mid-February through the end of March. To schedule a drop-off, get more information about the drive or learn more about the badass teens behind Project Women NYC, you can check out the organization’s Instagram account at @projectwomennyc, their website at projectwomenyc.com or shoot them an email at [email protected]