International Youth Day

Peer support for girls and women with disability is revolutionary

[Brussels, 8 August 2022] Each year on 12 August, we mark International Youth Day – an opportunity for the world leaders and society as a whole to draw attention to issues concerning young people worldwide.

As the largest umbrella of women’s organisations in Europe, the European Women’s Lobby is once again using this occasion to highlight the work of its members. The struggle to achieve a just, prosperous and feminist Europe requires dedication, passion and a strong will to create space for the next generation of feminists, and the following blog post from Selda from Finland shows how big of an impact these efforts can accomplish.

International Youth Day 1

I want to write to the readers about how empowering young disabled girls and women started from something quite small and eventually evolved into something bigger – a whole online community. But let’s not jump ahead! First, I will explain what it is all about. Second, I will detail why and how the empowering activities and discussions happened. And last, I will try to explain the colossal impact this has had in the disability community in Finland and what is going to happen next.

VEERA is a Finnish project that is administered by Rusetti ry (Rosette, The National Association for Women with Disabilities). The basic idea of the whole project is to empower women with disabilities through peer support to embrace themselves as women with disabilities. So, in the fall of 2020 and in the summer of 2021 VEERA project organized two weekend camps for young women with disabilities aged 13 to 29. I was invited to participate to the team that discussed about the content for the weekends. Themes like self-esteem and dignity were chosen to be used in the camps among some others.

Both camps lasted from Friday evening to Sunday afternoon and they were held over Zoom due to the Covid-19 restrictions and our safety. Covid definitely added a tiny element of nervousness to the mix. How to organize an online event that lasts several days? And how to engage all participants with different needs and interests? This in mind, we decided to schedule enough breaks to the program and encourage participants to listen to their bodies and needs – there was no need to overdo anything.

The first camp was held November 2020, and the idea was to help participants find answer to the questions Who am I? and How can I better express myself? We organized several different workshops relating to art, writing, and public speaking. The second camp was held in early June of 2021 and the topics were style and body image. We also held a day long event in the fall of 2021. The theme then was relationships. Later we encouraged participants to take part in discussions about the workshops – and let me tell you they were amazing!

Like I mentioned, peer support was also a key element of these camps. So, in every camp we organized a discussion panel and asked women with disabilities from different age groups to participate. Those panels were very popular and well liked among the participants. The topics in those panels were things like life as a woman with disabilities in this society, hopes, dreams, and fears – as well as relationships, body image and their own style. We also had hours and hours of deep conversations after those panels and in every single possible situation. So much so, that we skipped or shortened some parts of our planned activities because we felt like the conversations were so important. Our participants kept those conversations going and flowing. It was incredible to see that we had managed to create a truly safe space together with our girls and young women. Some things that people opened up about were things that they had never shared with others. Also, some things were clearly painful to talk about and still they chose to talk about them. A space for these conversations and ideas without the gaze and judgement of able-bodied was, and still is, absolutely necessary.

During our conversations it came up that for those reasons disabled girls and women hoped for a media platform that would be created by disabled girls for disabled girls about topics that we found interesting. And finally, it is now possible for us to fulfill that dream! The Finnish jewelry company Kalevala has funded that project – and we at Rusetti ry have hired a young woman to work on that. There will be at least two more empowering camps for disabled girls and women though Zoom and hopefully one in person on top of the social media platform. We are excited and hope this will start a worldwide disability revolution!

Project Designer, Rusetti ry

This blog post is a part of the International Youth Day 2022 series. For more stories about young feminist engagement from EWL members, please visit this section of our website and follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

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