AGORA 2016: Europe needs feminism, still and always!

This blog post was written by Youth Coalition member Hazal Atay. Hazal is a Turkish feminist studying and working in the field of sexual and reproductive rights. She is currently finalizing her master’s thesis on women’s political participation in Turkey at Paris EHESS and working with Women on Web

Coming from the ancient Greek tradition agora means a gathering or market place to assemble and exchange among people. The AGORA 2016 Young Feminist Summer School, organized by the European Women’s Lobby (EWL) in Brussels, opened such a space for young feminists. This year, AGORA hosted 50 young feminists from across Europe, representing over 22 countries.

It is true that important progress towards gender equality has been made in Europe over the years. Some even go further and claim that we don’t need feminism anymore. But the young feminists at AGORA falsified this myth and showed that there is still a long road ahead in the fight for equality. Europe needs feminism, still and always!

As we sat in a circle at AGORA, we discussed, we gave and took, we shared, we agreed and disagreed, we cried, we laughed out loud. For four days, I was surrounded with 50 feminists who were engaged in the feminist struggle, everyone in their own way, with determination, creativity and openness. As we talked, we realized how little has really been achieved and how much work is still needed. One prominent theme of our discussion loomed large: intersectionality. In this respect, we questioned what it takes to be in a room together, how to be inclusive to feminists with disabilities, and also what it means to be a white ally with feminist people of color.

On September 14th, the President of the European Commission, Jean Claude Junker addressed the European Parliament delivering the State of the Union (SOTEU). As we watched his speech, we felt the necessity to respond. And we did: with a feminist State of the Union. Junker had his own agenda, but so did we. After the vibrant discussions from AGORA ’16, we could not stay silent about the reality we live in.

Today, women are still underrepresented in the EU bodies and earn less than men in EU countries. While there is a lack of data on violence against women in the EU, it is estimated that 1 in 3 women have experienced physical and/or sexual assault and 1 in 20 have been raped. Despite the international recognition of abortion as a basic human right, in Ireland, Poland, Northern Ireland, Isle of Man and Malta, abortion is still restricted. Furthermore, in Italy and Turkey, access to abortion services is becoming increasingly difficult, and in Hungary and Croatia, abortion services are under threat. In Malta, women still do not have access to contraceptives. Moreover, the increased popularity of far right parties across the EU is alarming as it upholds the heteronormative and patriarchal society that we don’t want to live in.

At the end of the four days, we closed AGORA ’16 with a “riot workshop” organized by one of our participants. We were alive with stories and full of emotions. The riot workshop narrowed in on our anger and taught me that it’s okay to be angry. Surrounded by my fellow feminists, I realized the power and good that can be done when we are angry together.

You can read the full text of the Feminist State of the Union here.