Double trouble: meet twin activists Maryam and Nivaal

(Courtesy of Bernard Weil / Toronto Star)

(Courtesy of Bernard Weil / Toronto Star)

Standing up for girls’ education, environmental rights and gender equality, Canadian teens prove the power of youth voices.

YouTube journalists, WE ambassadors and documentary creators — these are just a few of the many titles shared by twin sisters Maryam and Nivaal. Their resume is impressive, especially when you consider the fact that they are only 15 years-old.

The twins began their activism at 8 years old following a family trip to Pakistan, where they were born. While in Pakistan, they visited the girls’ school that their grandmother helped build. The girls they met were around their age, but they weren’t interested in school. Instead, they told Maryam and Nivaal how they planned to drop out of school after grade 5. Hearing this inspired the twins to get involved in the girls’ education movement.

Over the next five years, they returned to Pakistan to volunteer at the school and held workshops to encourage girls to stay in school and think about their future careers no matter what they hoped to be. Maryam and Nivaal’s message to the girls was simple: “Whatever you want to do, you can do.” But they stressed, whether you want to be a doctor or a hairdresser, you need to be educated.

Maryam and Nivaal’s motivation for their advocacy stems from the belief that “women have the power to achieve anything and everything they set their minds to. But we must, as a society, learn to help them reach their truest potential.” After their grandmother passed away, the girls were even more committed to fulfilling her dream to see all girls in their village finish school. Thanks to Maryam and Nivaal’s influence, many girls in their Pakistani community are now completing their secondary education.

In recognition of their work both in Pakistan and at home in Canada, Maryam and Nivaal received the Governor General’s Caring Canadian Award.

The twins harness the power of social media to advocate for the causes they’re passionate about. Their YouTube channel, The World With MNR, features the girls discussing social issues, covering philanthropic events like the Social Good Summit and We Day Toronto.

Maryam and Nivaal are also leaders in their home community of Whitby, Ontario. They have started book drives, raised money for school supplies and volunteered with a number of different organisations.

Just last month Maryam and Nivaal organised a conference at their school in honour of International Women’s Day. They held a screening and discussion of HE NAMED ME MALALA. The event also featured three different panels — Trades & Technology, Business & Leadership and Arts & Journalism. Female speakers discussed their careers and the gender-specific obstacles they had to overcome.

As Maryam told Durham Region, “We wanted to give them examples and role models of women who have been there and faced problems in non-traditional careers or any career and tell them you can make a difference and you can actually get to do anything you want.”

When they’re not working to change the world, Maryam and Nivaal love to read and eat Menchie’s froyo. They think that Emma Watson was amazing in the new Beauty and the Beast movie and are avid cooks.

Like Malala, Maryam and Nivaal prove just how much impact a young person can have.



Tess Thomas is editor of Assembly, a digital publication and newsletter from Malala Fund. She loves books, cats and french fries.