AGORA young feminist summer school

EWL Young Feminist Summer School 2015

[Brussels, 23 September]
From 3 until 6 September 2015 the European Women’s Lobby organised in Brussels the AGORA, the first ever young feminist summer school in Europe!

• What happened?
We wanted to set up a space to exchange, to inspire and to reinforce the skills. In this perspective, the programme has been co-created with the participants upstream and during the AGORA. From the application forms’ inputs, we identified the main skills and issues on which our 50 participants seemed to have an interest.
It came out that the main skills were: media and communication training, lobbying and campaigning (including online campaigning), tackling opposition and public speaking, networking and facilitation.
And the main issues: migrants and minority women (roma, refugees, minorities); intersectionality (anti-racism, LGBTQI, engaging men); violence against women (sexual violence, street harassment,), sexism in culture and the media / using arts and culture as a tool for advancing feminism; women in power (women in politics, in decision making, parity, pay gap); sexual and reproductive health and rights.
The AGORA took place in Amazone, a center supporting women’s organisations in Brussels, and was facilitated by the EWL team and two experienced consultants Maria Cristina Temmink and Maaike Boumans.

AGORA 2015

On Thursday 3 September, participants got to know each other, starting to learn how their peers were fighting inequality across Europe and defined together the programme in itself according to their expectations and needs. They have had the chance to visit the European Parliament and to meet two MEPs, Ulrike Lunacek, Green, Vice President of the EP and Marie Arena, S&D, member of the FEMM Committee. This first day ended with a welcome and fundraising evening at the bar “Bravo”.

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On Friday 4 September, participants who were keen to host a workshop proposed themselves and the rest of the group chose which sessions to attend.

The choice of workshops was extremely diverse:
-  Public speaking and winning the argument
-  How to deal with verbal attacks during a feminist discussion?
-  Campaign about self-esteem and body confidence
-  Street action on the refugee crisis
-  Inclusive feminism: bridging the gap between theory and practice
-  How to defend reproductive rights in a conservative context?
-  Women and Lesbian Trans Inter Queer in the refugee crisis in Europe
-  How to integrate anti-racism into our feminism?
-  Online Campaigning
-  Telling stories with images (women’s body in photography)
-  Blog for young European feminists
-  Legal obligation to eradicate gender stereotypes in international treaties
-  Domestic violence and violence against women
-  Women under ISIS captivity
-  Violence against women: testimonials
-  Women’s political participation
-  How to engage men in gender equality?
-  Feminism & poetry and history: writing and giving a voice to women

On Saturday 5 September, the AGORA welcomed two external trainers: Laura Shields who proposed a media training and Elisabeth Gehrke who proposed a workshop called “master’s suppression technique”. The day ended with a feminist party in the EWL secretariat office!
Finally, on Sunday the 6th, the group gathered a last time to debrief on the passed days, summarised the initiatives that started in the AGORA and made recommendations to the EWL.

• What came out?
Participants seemed very satisfied with this first edition.
According to one of them, Isabella Borrelli, a 25-year-old photo-journalist from Italy “it was a great challenge, a great week full of ideas, discussion, smiles, anger, inspirations and friendship.” She relates her story on her blog and shares the wonderful pictures she took.

Another one, Claudia Shute, 23, wrote an article on her blog to share her experience:

“I have just returned from probably one of the best trips abroad of my life. (…) The 5 day training and sharing course that hosted 50 feminists was organised by the European Women’s Lobby and reached far beyond any of my expectations. (…) Here I was safe from being judged as a political fake, and I was welcomed into a community united by a passion for women’s rights and feminism. It is not every day that such an experience presents itself. (…) I have found it difficult to relay my involvement in the event, without bursting into a song of superlatives; “Amazing! Brilliant! Just incredible!”. (…) How do you describe a life changing, defying, empowering and inspiring time of your life, where days and nights rolled into one another, and discussion and brains did not stop ticking? (…) The summer school reminded me how powerful we can be when we join together in the name of one common purpose. It was refreshing to meet such strong characters from all over the world, to hear their stories and their plights for justice. When the time drew closer for breaking up our safe hub, everybody was visibly sad yet very grateful for the rare opportunity that we had shared. There was a common feeling and conviction that no matter where we feminists are in the world, no matter what we are fighting for, and no matter how lonely we may at times feel, we have each other’s support. No woman is ever alone.”

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After these 4 days, many projects have been launched, from the blog “European Young Feminists” which has been created with the will “to build a place for feminists all over Europe, to learn about the movement in other countries, connect and share the love”, to a website on European feminists supporting refugees or also a photo-project with participant’s portrait to encourage young feminists all over the world.
Besides, we asked participants what main recommendations they could make to us in order to improve potential next AGORAs. One thing is for sure: we all wish to have a 2016 edition!

• Why a feminist summer school?
The EWL has witnessed a new generation of young feminists rising up, innovating and rebooting the fight for equality! A lot of new organisations, initiatives, and campaigns have been flourishing throughout Europe. We saw many opportunities to strengthen the connection between these activists across Europe and with EWL itself. Therefore, as a creative way to bridge this gap and hear the voice of young feminists, we decided to organise the first European Feminist Summer School, which aimed to:
-  Reconnect and reinforce young European women’s activism
-  Set up a creative space for young feminist change agents
-  Build solidarity and empower young feminist activists
-  Work across borders to amplify feminism in Europe and the feminist network
-  Enable the EWL to know more about the interests and needs of young feminists and bring these more into the center of EWL’s future strategy and actions

• Who?

We launched the application process in June and selected 50 self-defined women aged between 18 and 30, feminist activists and living in Europe. The selection was based on applicant’s commitment to women’s rights and gender equality, their motivation to participate in the Agora, specific skills or knowledge that they could bring and/or would like to learn more about.
In the end, we have had around 26 nationalities represented: Austrian, Armenian, Albanian, Belgian, UK, Bulgarian, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, French, German, Hungarian, Iranian, Irish, Italian, Kosovar, Lithuanian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Serbian, Scottish, Slovak, Slovenian and Turkish.
18 women were aged between 18 and 25 and 32 between 25 and 30. Workers in NGOs, in politics, feminist activists, bloggers, artists: they were all committed to gender equality and women’s rights.

Written by Julie Chrétiennot, AGORA Coordinator

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