By: Nina Meiling
Every two years the General Assembly of the European Youth Forum is held. This year it took place in Maribor, Slovenia from the 21st until the 25th of November 2012. Nina Meiling went there as delegate of the European YWCAs.
The European Youth Forum (YFJ) is an umbrella organization that represents around 100 European Youth Organizations as one voice for youth in the United Nations, the European Union, the Council of Europe etc.
During the General Assembly (GA) a new board was appointed, the agenda, progress report, work plan, budget, and was adopted, candidate members were accepted. During lunch, dinner, coffee and drinks relationships were build and connections were created or reinstalled.
The YFJ consists of two pillars: the National Youth Councils (NYC) and European Non-Governmental Youth Organizations (ENGYOs), that are almost equally represented in the YFJ. The YWCA is a ENGYO. In the board there has to be an equal division of NYCs and ENGYOs.
On Wednesday I traveled from Amsterdam to Maribor, via Munich and Graz. I did not know a single person at the General Assembly but I was excited to meet all the new people. Already in the bus to the hotel I met some nice people from National Youth Councils (NYCs, for instance: Luxembourg, Belgium and Malta) and International Non-Governmental Youth Organizations (INGYOs). At the hotel I met the delegation from the National Youth Council of the Netherlands, and enjoyed a nice dinner with them.
At night there was an introduction for new delegates where we got an explanation of how to vote, when you are allowed to speak and which statuses you can have as organization (official delegate, observer delegate, candidate member or extra delegate. I was an Observer delegate)
As representative of the YWCA with the assignment to focus on gender balance I could not help but notice that there were 10 men on stage but only 3 women. Where is the gender balance in representation during the YFJ? Later I will talk more about this.
· Faith based Organizations
Since YWCA is a Faith Based Organization (FBO), I had a lunch meeting with the other faith based organizations WAGGGS (world association of girl guides and girl scouts), WOSM (world organization of the scout movement), EYCE (Ecumenical Youth Council in Europe), YMCA (Young Men’s Christian Association), MIJARC (rural youth movement), EUJS (European Union of Jewish Students), JECI-MIEC + more
We got to know each other, I was informed about the facebook group of the FBO and it was nice to know that the YWCA is part of a bigger group within the YFJ.
I had a moment to talk with Eri Papadaloupou(??) of WAGGGs and it was good to hear that there is another organization that is focused on gender issues, and they were very pleased to see the YWCA being present again since two voices are stronger than one.
· Discussion group: Gender equality
In the afternoon I joined a discussion group about the policy paper “ensuring gender equality in youth forum: exchange of ideas and good practices”.
The meeting was interesting! The group consisted of approximately 10 people including one of the girls from WAGGGs who is also a gender (amongst others) youth expert at the European Council.
During this meeting we discussed the approaches of the YFJ to create gender balance. I heard that normally there are statistics about the male/female at the end of the GA where you can see how much was being talked by men and how much by women. The advantage of this is that at least you address the balance between the amount of times they speak, but it does not track if the men talk very long and women only ask a short question for instance, or if there were 10 different men talking and 1 women 10 times…
Also, before there was a rule that of the two delegates there should be one man and one woman. Because this created too much difficulties this rule was scrapped.
We found out that there are no requirements about gender for applying organizations. There is no need to have any women in the board, or to have women members. There is a gender paper within the YFJ but that has not been updated since 2007.
Also, the work plan and strategy do not include anything about gender.
There was one guy in the group who tried to convince me that there ARE no gender issues within the YFJ. He stated that last term there was a female president and vice-president and that there are enough women talking etc. Because of this I decided to do a little research myself during the night program that same day (you can read that below)
Illaria pointed out that we first as YFJ have to have a common definition of Gender, as it is much more than just male/female. Also, she told that WAGGGs has tools that the YFJ can use to increase gender balance.
But gender equality is more than just putting a women in some spot. Its not just representation, it is also equal involvement and decision making.
1. Update gender paper
2. Put gender in ALL papers
3. Include gender in applications for internships and other YFJ activities
4. Discuss gender paper at COMEM
5. Encourage one man and one woman to GA
· Presentation of candidates for board
After the meeting we had a presentation of the candidates for the board.
The representation of candidates was 50% men and 50% women which is of course good to see. (Of the elected board there is a division of 6 men and 5 women, which is 45% women)
Important to note: There were 30 questions asked by member organizations to the candidates running for the board. In total only 8 of these 30 questions were asked by women (that’s 27%).
On Friday we had an early meeting with the FBO to agree on some amendments to the policy papers of the day before (LoveYouthFuture, Youth rights, Non-Formal Education, vote at 16)
After that the financial documents were adopted.
I had an informal lunch with Sophie of the NYC of the Netherlands and with Paolo Emilio Adami (European Non-Governmental Sports Organisation) and Stefano Felician Beccari (NYC of Italy). After that we interviewed with the FBO some candidates that were running for the board (Ryan Mercieca from Malta, Jerry den Haan from the Netherlands, Juha-Pekka Nurvala from Finland who was running for president and vice-president and who is board member of the YEPP)
· EU-Med/Arab Cooperation
After more amendments to the work plan I joined the Thematic Square of “EU-Med/Arab Cooperation within The European Youth Forum” convened by VJR, AEGEE, and KNZ.
The idea is to establish national youth councils in arab countries. Step 1 is to make a area. This was a very interesting discussion about what the role of the YFJ and its member organization is in the Europe-Arab cooperation, what capacity building means to us, who of the present delegates have experience with it, and how we can tease people to get involved.
Vania of the UN told us that we can use the UN for anything we want to organize! Stephanie who was leading the presentation gave a brief introduction about the work of the 15 years before and of the events of the last year.
We found out that we should use the umbrella organization to share the knowledge between European organizations. Many organizations pointed out that there is a LOT of money in this project and that we can definitely create something together.
During dinner we interviewed more candidates, until around 11pm. After that it was time for some networking and I met more people from different organizations.
· Election of YFJ board
On Saturday we started with the elections of the new board. Peter Matjasic was elected for another term as president of the YFJ. Also Guoda Lomanaite and Lloyd Russel-Moyle were elected, and also the other board members were elected.
After the elections I had dinner with some NYCs and met a lot new people. After dinner we all went to a bar in the center of Maribor and we heard which city is going to be the Youth Capital of 2015: CLUJ!!
· Proposed implementations:
1. Reconnect with WAGGGs, invite them to the study sessions and organize an event together
2. Reconnect with Big Six. Stay in contact and prepare the COMEM together (physical meeting in Brussels or Utrecht/Amsterdam beginning of 2013?)
3. Reconnect with the Faith Based Organizations. Stay in contact and organize a thematic square for the next YFJ event. Maybe also organize a trans-religion discussion in the future.
4. See what we can do within the YWCA with the relationship between Europe and Arab countries and if we can create a inter-religious dialogue there.
5. Make YWCA a strong voice at the YFJ and participate in many ways: at least be present at every COMEM and GA for the coming 2 years and also after that (Work with a buddy system where we can capture the knowledge and expertise)
6. Include gender balance in the YFJ: its internal documents as well as external documents
I am very grateful for the experience and all the people I met and all the interesting subjects I ran into. However, a meeting does not change anyone or anything. It is the implementations afterwards that will make the difference.
(the selected board members of the European Youth Forum)
The vision of the European YWCAs is of a fully inclusive world where justice, peace, health, human dignity, freedom and care for the environment are promoted and sustained through women’s leadership, with a special focus on young women. As part of the global YWCA movement, YWCAs in Europe are working to ensure young women are able to claim their rights as empowered leaders, decision makers and change agents responding to the issues affecting their lives and communities.