Interest groups provide a great opportunity for AEGEE members to discuss common interests in a structured way and in a perfect environment where new initiatives and projects can be developed. Maria de la Torre tells us something about the Gender Equality Interest Group, for which she is coordinator.
Gender equality has been on AEGEE’s agenda since August 2014, when Léa Charlet was appointed as Policy Officer to develop the topic in AEGEE. As a result of her work, an active community was built around discussions on this topic. Seeing that there is a great interest in Gender Equality in the Network, and after a meeting during EPM Leiden, some AEGEEans decided that the natural next step was to officially establish an interest group, approved by the CD on the 11th of May 2016. The members of the Gender Equality Interest Group believe that every person should have the right to make choices about who they want to be, no matter what their gender identity is. Furthermore, they believe it is important to recognise and discuss how gender stereotypes affect us all in our daily lives, sometimes in obvious and sometimes in subtle ways, that we may not even be aware of. At the moment, the priority of the interest group is to assess the AEGEE awareness on gender issues, so that its members can build on the current situation in the best possible way.
At the time of researching for this article, the interest group has thirty-eight members in their mailing list and 469 ‘likes’ on its Facebook group, and the amount of members and ‘likes’ keeps growing every day. The interest group has four moderators: Marije Arentze, María Ballesteros, Léa Charlet and Maria de la Torre. But a lot of people are extremely active and are helping keeping the debate active, especially since the Interest Group was officially established.
The members of the interest group believe that gender equality is a matter of common interest in AEGEE and that it is a big part of our civic education in general. After almost two years of activities, they can still see a lot of sexism in AEGEE, and they want to play their part, raise awareness and make a small change. It is not about mitigating differences, they do not aim at eliminating the diversity of gender expression. Instead, the members would like a future when people will not need to be put into boxes; when everybody will have the same rights and opportunities regardless of their gender, because this level of equality still varies from country to country. There are still very few women in positions of power and the amount of women who are employed part-time is three times higher than that of men. Women still have to deal with harassment on the street and sexism at their workplace on a daily basis, let alone rape and abuse.
The members of the interest group witness everyday how women’s bodies are used as a marketing strategy in ads that depict women as objects without agency. The interest group’s Facebook group is very active and it is increasingly filled with discussions about gender equality and with shared information and experiences concerning gender equality almost every day. The members of the interest group have recently started a Book Club, where they also included a list of academic literature as well as a movie about gender equality. Furthermore, they would like to encourage debates and critical thinking by establishing a collaboration with the Civic Education Working Group. Recently, they conducted a survey in AEGEE on the perception of gender equality. Soon they will have the analysis of the results and publish them. For the next term, they plan to do a deeper, more policy-oriented survey, for which they will also launch a newsletter summing up the highlights of their discussions, news related to the topic and the pertinent activities. Finally, they are working on workshop outlines and plan to have a handout for locals after the Summer that, together with a PR campaign, will help to increase the number of events with gender equality education and discussion in AEGEE.
Written by Matteo Lai, AEGEE-Cagliari.