“Before coming here if someone asked me if I was a feminist I wouldn’t have been sure what to say but after this I will proudly shout, ‘YES- I am a feminist!’”
Above are the powerful words of one young woman who attended this year’s FiLiA conference with nia’s Young Women & Girls team. The Young Women and Girls Teams at nia and Southall Black Sisters have had an exciting year of collaboration; working to improve access to feminist spaces for Black and Minoritised young women and girls. Our Young Women and Girls Team had the opportunity to visit SBS for a shared lunch and to discuss plans for a Black young women and girls workshop and drop ins which will be rolled out next year. In addition to this, both organisations have partnered up with FiLiA and were delighted to take minoritised young women from each of our services to this year’s FiLiA Conference in Glasgow.
It was the first time that any of us had been to Glasgow and was the young women’s first time attending a feminist event and so excitement and anticipation was in the air. The trip provided an opportunity for the young women to not only learn more about a wide range of issues affecting women and girls globally, but also to meet each other and connect with other survivors which was a powerful way to start to address feelings of isolation that survivors often feel following experiences of abuse and trauma. One young woman commented that “being around other women was great because even though the topics were hard, the emotions and solidarity could be felt from all the women in the room, it was liberating!”
The Young Womens Advocate who accompanied the young women echoed this:
“As an advocate, attending FiLiA with the young women I have supported was a very beautiful way to connect in sisterhood. Together, we were able to share painful experiences, shed some tears and rise above sadness – we listened to other women’s stories and – we were heard. We shared knowledge, we were angry together, we were hopeful together.”
During the conference we facilitated a live consultation for young women and girls to coproduce a 3-day girls weekend away which will be taking place in Eastbourne next summer, the Young Women and Girls advocates have also been undertaking 1-1 consultations with girls who access services from nia and SBS. The idea of a weekend away came about after recognising that many young women and girls, particularly those who are working class, in care, gang-affiliated or sexually exploited are often left without adequate support and enrichment over the summer holidays. We hope that this retreat will provide an intervention and safe space for girls by equipping them with support, skills and opportunities. There was fantastic engagement and enthusiasm from the young women and girls who participated in the workshop, which we will be key in shaping our weekend away for girls who are survivors of sexual and domestic abuse and related trauma. The young women from nia fed back that this was one of their favourite parts of the weekend (the second highlight for the team was definitely the surprise guest appearance from the brilliantly unapologetic JK Rowling!):
“My favourite part of FiLiA was the Southall Black Sisters/nia event where we was able to give our opinions and thoughts on the summer camp and what topics and activities they should focus on. I loved this because I felt in a way my voice was being heard in a way that will manifest into change and evolving better spaces for younger girls, something I wish I had growing up.”
“My favourite part was planning the summer camp. I enjoyed reminiscing about what I enjoyed when I was younger and trying to adapt it for a younger generation.”
The young women valued this introduction to feminist spaces and the women’s liberation movement and said that what they have taken away from FiLiA is..
“What it looks like being united all of us women together. How much more I can do with what I have and experiences that I carry. It was amazing being here!”
“To be in an unfamiliar place with new people isn’t as scary as I thought.”
“The BestFriends Handbook- a project I will continue to follow and plan to gift it to my younger sister. That there’s a large community of women supporting women.”
There was a noticeable increase in young women and girls attending this year’s FiLiA conference which was commented on by many who had attended the conference in previous years. The weekend provided hope and assurance that future generations of feminists will continue the fight that the women before us have so bravely and tirelessly paved the way for.