When they were just eight years old, Maryam and Nivaal Rehman (MNR) became activists. Since then, these 19-year-old twins have been campaigning towards issues such as girls’ education, climate change, gender equity and inclusivity in their local and global community. They use activism, storytelling and creativity to take action and encourage others to do the same through their non-profit, The World With MNR, their YouTube channel and social media site. Meet Maryam and Nivaal Rehman. 

We often think there is a set age to achieve something. Most of us postpone huge plans, intimidating goals, do not ask for what we want and stay exactly where we are. On the other hand, there are people who go after what they want and strive for that everyday. Not too often, they come in pairs with a delightful smile. Here are the most exciting bits of SheThePeople’s conversation with them.

1.How has your journey looked like?

Activism is something which means a lot to us. Just the ability to make a change is really important for us and we are eternally grateful for it.

2.How did your path of social activism begin?

It really began unconsciously. We were born and raised in Pakistan until we were 5. We recognised the challenges there and they brought us a reality check. When we shifted to Canada, our parents reminded us of our privilege and we learnt that in order to support those who do not have the same resources as us, we must take steps ardently. Making sure that we inform people about the importance of women emancipation through education remained one of our core beliefs.

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3.What have the obstacles in your path looked like?

There have been some challenges which do remain difficult to overcome. In some policy spaces, it can be the fact that we are women, who are often a minority among the majority of men there. Sometimes people wouldn’t take us seriously there because of the intersection of our identities, being the only people of colour who are also visibly muslim women. When working in our village in Pakistan, we have always felt that it is the safest place for us, and we have not faced a lot of challenges there. Sometimes, people are not comfortable being photographed and in one case, responded aggressively when we asked to take pictures of them in a brick building factory. Working outdoors in our village, with the pouring hot sun, the dust at times etc, have been tough for us to acclimatise to as well.

4. Reports say that women are often under-confident of their abilities with reference to technical subjects like mathematics and science and are less confident. How do you think this mindset gets inculcated?

The culture and environment play a huge role in this journey. They are extremely important and should be considered before anything else. When the same thing is repeated several times, it tends to become a cultural bubblegum people like to stick to. For the longest time, we wanted to be scientists, because of our teacher. She made us love physics. The society and teachers matter a lot. The kind of conditioning you get is very important.

5.What has your biggest accomplishment been in this journey?

Our biggest accomplishments have included the range of interviews we have done, with world leaders like Malala Yousufzai and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. We were also 2 of the 21 filmmakers for Disney and the UN Girl Up Campaign’s “Dream Big Princess” Project and were given a huge opportunity to make an impact through the film we made. It was overwhelming for us and brought us considerable experience and skills.

6.According to statistics, 33000 girls become brides everyday. How do you think this will change, if at all?

There is a herculean notion that a daughter is a burden. They are ridiculously young when they are married. Education can change the scenario. Women are more than wives and caretakers of the home and it is going to take a collective effort to eliminate the misconceptions. It all starts with education. Progressive media ideals also help in changing the narrative of the culture. It can help contribute to a phenomenal cultural shift. This can actualize women’s rights.

7.According to the World Economic Forum’s latest Global Gender Gap report, we are 108 years away from gender equality. Do you sometimes think the odds are too herculean?

We will be honest. Since we are in this field, where the results cannot always be quantitative. There are qualitative changes we seek to bring which are tough to understand. And a lot of times people falling prey to the all-or-nothing dichotomy. But we must understand that reflecting and recognising is important. Taking baby steps is crucial and doing something, is better than doing nothing. Our collective actions, big and small, will ultimately help us reach our goals and achieve gender equality.

8.What would be your advice for other social activists?

We believe that it is important for an activist to understand their social message and combine it with their talent.  To this end, we have developed a formula for activism that others can use: Talent + Cause = Change.

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