[Brussels, 29 September 2017] From the 7th to the 11th of September Rachael Stockdale kicked off her internship at the European Women’s Lobby (EWL) by attending our annual Feminist Summer School, AGORA 2017. Read about her experience in the blogpost.
AGORA is a unique opportunity to engage with a range of young feminists from across Europe spending time reflecting, exchanging ideas and supporting each other to become confident feminist leaders and activists. I found that not only did this experience strengthen my knowledge and skills to advocate for women’s rights and gender equality in an official capacity, but also opened up a space to learn and grow from each other too.
After meeting everybody on Thursday, we began with an introduction outlining the aims of the programme and the communicational tools by which we would achieve these aims. We identified aims of sharing our own feminism, learning about feminist leadership and moving forward into a feminist Europe.
For me, an interesting aspect of AGORA 2017 was the style. Coming from an academic background, I’m accustomed to the more typically traditional conference style, so walking into a room with a huge circle of chairs and flower plot in the middle was an interesting welcome. The facilitators explained that the approach would be heavily influenced by their own areas of expertise, such as experimental learning and The Art of Hosting. I’m really glad I had the opportunity to learn about these communicational skills, which will no doubt be useful for me in the future. Although applied to feminism in this specific instance, the tools which we learnt would certainly be transferable, and I personally look forward to using some of these techniques in an interdisciplinary manner.
One of the first items on the agenda was to make a checklist of points we would adhere to throughout the project – a main focus would be to always speak and listen with intention at all times, whilst respecting each other. From the beginning we learnt about our similarities and differences through interactive activities such as physically “mapping the field,” storytelling, the circle way, world café, open space, pro-action café and appreciative inquiry.
- Notes on appreciative inquiry
The group was encouraged to bring forth its own issues and topics, and so participants themselves controlled the subject matter in this way – a recurring theme was diversity and how to support each other as intersectional feminists. This involved formal platforms such as signing up to host an open space or volunteering to create a workshop, and informal platforms such as discussions and group debates. Some of these were pre-planned, others were organised on a spur of the moment basis. It was in this way that I ended up co-hosting an open space session on Abortion Rights in Ireland with Síona Ní Chatháil, in which we held a discussion about the lack of reproductive rights on the island of Ireland from a North and South perspective.
- Faciliators of the abortion rights open session
There were also some opportunities to examine theory such as the models for systemic change as well as more traditional conference styled sessions, for example a formal introduction to EWL, a panel presentation from key players in the EU and the European Commission and Parliament. Of course, plenty of opportunities also arose for networking and socialising during downtime. There is a lot to be said for sharing meaningful feminist conversations over dinner!
I really valued how an overarching theme of AGORA 2017 was sharing our knowledge. We each brought our own knowledge we have acquired through various channels such as academic, activist, professional and lived experience to the table in order to converse in a meaningful and productive manner. We did not always agree on everything, and we opened each other’s eyes up to things we hadn’t thought of before; it was a good opportunity to listen to each other and allow for these conversations to happen, then reflect on it afterwards, and hopefully, move into action when we brought home everything we had gained at AGORA 2017.
Written by Rachael Stockdale, EWL intern working on digital knowledge management