International Day of the Girl Child

Ask a Journalist: What does 18 look like around the world through girls’ eyes?

Date: Thursday, October 11, 2018

About the author

Jessica Bennett, gender editor at The New York Times.
Photo: Sharon Attia

Jessica Bennett is gender editor at The New York Times and has recently led an exciting multi-media project releasing on the International Day of the Girl Child (11 October), “This is 18”. It shows what life looks like for girls turning 18 in 2018 around the world, captured through photographs, audio and video. The project was photographed entirely by young women, each of whom was paired with a professional mentor. Ms. Bennett spoke to UN Women about the making of the project. Take a look at This is 18 and follow along on Instagram.

Girls have long been the subject of photographers’ lens—but they have far less often been the ones behind it. When we set out to document the lives of 18-year-old girls around the world, we had one requirement: That those girls be photographed by young women themselves.

We wanted to know: What does life look like for one in five women who will be married by that age? For those who will earn the right to vote, to drink in a bar, or fight for their country?

“This is 18” aims to capture what life is like for girls turning 18 in 2018 across oceans and cultures: from Mexico to Mississippi, Ramallah to Russia, Nairobi to New Delhi.

Like many of us, these girls -- young women -- are figuring out who they are, and who they want to be.

They skateboard with friends, go to volleyball practice, play music and dance. Many of them plan to attend college. Others work full-time. They worry about things like climate change, violence against women, and how much time their generation spends on social media.

We met Liana, a musician from Bushehr, who is one of few Iranian women to play the bagpipe.

We spent time with Victory, a first-year student at the University of Lagos, who loves French food and wants to travel to Paris.

We heard from Obdulia, from Mexico, who helps her family make traditional crafts, and Shama, from Bangladesh, who was recently married and dreams of becoming a teacher.

In all, we documented 21 girls across 12 time zones and in 15 languages.

“Eighteen is that little gray spot between adulthood and childhood,” said Hélène, from California. “You're still a little kid, but the world is like 'you're a grown up,' and you somehow have to merge with the rest of the world.” 

Take a look at This is 18 and follow along on Instagram.