At only 25 years old, Joy Munthali is leaving her mark in the world.
She is a youth activist empowering girls and young women in Malawi to be the next generation of feminist environmental conservationists.
Joy has always been passionate about conservation work and she founded the Green Girls Platform.
As a girl, her father always talked about the importance of conserving and living in harmony with nature.
“We had many trees and flowers around our house and lots of domestic animals. This ignited my passion for conservation and at age 10, I joined a wildlife club in primary school. I was just a girl, but this club exposed me to many conservation efforts that were happening in Malawi at the time.
“When I got to secondary school, I joined the environmental club and witnessed the beauty of Malawi’s nature. I went on to study environmental science in college, which affirmed my passion for nature and conservation,” she said.
In 2016, Joy volunteered at the National Youth Network on Climate Change.
While there, she saw a huge gap between men and women in the environmental sector—as most girls and young women were left behind in policy implementation processes.
“That is when I decided to set up the Green Girls Platform with support from the National Youth Network. I am its founder and executive director. It is a female-led initiative that addresses the violence girls and women face due to climate change in Malawi. I teach girls and young women about environmental conservation, climate justice and equip them with leadership skills so they can take up leadership roles and influence change,” she said.
Joy created the platform to enhance the participation of girls and young women in the climate change sector and also provide safe spaces for them to freely interact and share the best practices on climate change adaptation in Malawi.
The Green Girls Platform ensures that gender and women’s rights are placed on climate change and environment of national and global agendas by advocating gender responsive governance structures, policies and laws.
The platform also provides safe spaces where girls and young women can easily share their experiences, lessons, best practices, build networks and coalitions together.
Joy has been able to reach approximately 3 500 girls and young women in Malawi spread over all four regions.
Her work has proved that it is possible for girls to organise themselves and implement conservation activities.
Some of their members in flood-prone areas have started coming up with their own climate change adaptation strategies that work in their contexts.
Girls are now taking up leadership spaces in their communities and addressing issues by tailoring sustainable conservation efforts such as producing reusable bags to eliminate the use of thin plastics, setting up orchards, adopting climate-smart agriculture, meaningfully participating in climate change high-level meetings, actively participating in national clean-up efforts and mentoring their fellow girls in conservation work.
“In 2019, we received the With and For Girls Award for one of the best upcoming organisations in Sub-Saharan Africa working with girls’ rights.
“And we have been recognised by government and non-government organisation in Malawi.”
In her line of work, Joy has also faced problems and challenges, especially as a woman, which she has had to fight through.
“Many times I have not been taken seriously. Most people think what we are doing is not serious which makes it hard for us to push through and reach more girls and young women in Malawi,” she said.
“I have also experienced exploitation. When people know you have some value, they tend to use it for their own benefit and hang you out to dry,” she added.
Joy has been harassed when doing interventions in rural areas and online with people calling her and her team names.
However, despite these challenges, Joy is still very passionate about seeing people freely enjoying access to resources.
She was initially drawn to activism because she believes there is a world where everyone can enjoy the same access to resources and opportunities regardless of their gender, sexuality, age or social status.
“I know the world is possible and all it needs is a little push. This belief in equality and reducing the burden on others is what drew me to activism. I have seen firsthand the power youths and other marginalised groups have when they have the same access to resources and opportunities as everyone else,” said Joy.
She added that seeing many young advocates, activists and conservationists that are driven and motivated is what keeps her hopeful for the future.
Joy is particularly proud of involvement of young people, especially girls and young women in climate change governance structures at all levels she has been able to be a part of.
Green Girls Platform is also a Co-founder of We Trust You(th), a global initiative that was set up to challenge and support youth-focused donors and NGOs to partner and fund young people.
In 2021, Joy was recognised alongside 99 other youth from 23 countries in Africa as top youth leaders in conservation in the continent.
This was the first-ever top 100 young African conservation leaders list, a collaboration between the Africa Alliance of World Organisation of the Scout Movement, African Wildlife Foundation and WWF to empower the efforts of young, talented Africans and inspire other youth in leading the way to ensure nature and people will thrive for generations to come.
“This proved I was an exceptional young woman who has proven to be a leading light for sustainable development of the continent,” she said.
Her advice to young girls is to start with whatever they have, believe in their vision and know they will succeed.
In her free time, Joy enjoys reading books, listening to music and playing basketball.
She is also the happiest when she listens to the dreams of girls and young women; and sees how her work helps them feel closer to achieving their dreams.
Joy is the seventh born in a family of eight and has three brothers and four sisters.
Her father passed away in 2010 when she was in Form Two. Her mother passed away two years later.
She did her primary school at St Maria Goretti in Blantyre and went on to Stella Maris Secondary School.
She was later selected to Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources, where she studied Environmental Science.