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The national feminist youth “With and For Girls” Club has been founded
From local to national youth feminist movement: With and For Girls
On November 7, 2023, a conference "From Local to national youth feminist movement: With and For Girls" was held in Belgrade's crowded hall of the Miljenko Dereta space. This event marked the end of the project "Youth Feminist Advocates Initiative in Serbia," the beginning of the initiative to formalize a national youth feminist club, "With and For Girls." Citizens Association Atina implemented this project in 5 local communities in Serbia, together with over 100 youth activists, with the support of the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany in Belgrade and the organization Schüler Helfen Leben (SHL).
At the conference's opening, the Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany in Serbia, Anke Konrad, the Commissioner for the Protection of Equality, Brankica Janković, and the director of Citizens' Association Atina, Marijana Savić, addressed the gathered youth activists.
In her speech, Ambassador Anke Konrad spoke in Serbian language about the importance of continuous work empowering women and girls in our society and creating a wide circle of support for women, including state institutions, public administration, courts, media, companies, and society. She also emphasized the need to create a brave and safe community to advocate for social changes where women's rights have yet to be fully realized. In her presentation, Ambassador Konrad pointed out civil society's indispensable and vital role in leading a public dialogue to secure women's deserved place and position in society.
Per Ambassador Konrad’s words, the most critical component of the fight for women's rights is their empowerment, "Empowerment is and remains the key issue. As long as women and girls are not aware of their rights, they will not claim them, nor question traditional roles and unequal treatment," she emphasized.
The Ambassador ended her address by thanking the youth activists for their efforts, courage, and perseverance in raising awareness about women's rights and contributing to gender equality. She also emphasized the Federal Government of Germany's support for these essential efforts to empower and protect women's rights.
The Commissioner for the Protection of Equality, Brankica Janković, pointed out the need to enable girls to take their rightful place in society and be present where vital decisions are made. She also expressed concern about the existing gender stereotypes and traditional roles that continue to limit women and girls in our society, "All the subtle mechanisms of patriarchy still work very well, push women and girls to the margins of society, and bring us back to the idea we should be ashamed to open any topic. We have tried many things in our society, different forms of social organizing and systems, but we have not tried to implement and advocate feminist policy. I think it's time for that, and your generation is exactly the one that could start it."
Speaking about the achievements in gender equality, Ms. Janković stated that inevitable progress is visible in women's participation in political and public life. Still, it remains primarily on a quantitative level. In contrast, true and accurate opportunities for women's participation in decision-making and implementation are still strived for.
Brankica Janković praised Atina’s youth project "With and For Girls" and the idea of forming a national feminist youth club, stressing the importance of motivating girls to create new ideas and ways to implement them, "We have to find a way to change things together because laws will not create justice and a just society on their own, much more needs to be done."
Marijana Savić, director of the organization Atina, emotionally expressed her delight at the presence and energy of the gathered girls from all over Serbia. She emphasized the importance of sisterhood, fostering solidarity among women, and affirming feminist values. Speaking in fundamental feminist values, she encouraged future leaders to be open to new experiences, stressing that "only the sky is the limit" when women receive support and believe in themselves. Savić also underlined the importance of the approval of the Federal Republic of Germany to the project and the joint mission in affirming women's rights and feminist values. She stressed the significance of solidarity among girls, urging them to support each other and celebrate collective victories rather than individual triumphs. At the end of her speech, she pointed to society's duties in creating a world that does not leave girls and women behind, "As a society, we have to shape a world where equality will not be just an aspiration but a reality. To ensure that each girl who faces expectations and obstacles becomes a woman who will overcome them", Savić concluded.
After the introductory speeches, Ilijana Berber, the conference facilitator, announced a panel, "Why feminist youth activism is a recipe for a better society," where representatives of local "With and For Girls" clubs from Vranje, Novi Pazar, Čačak, Novi Sad, and Belgrade discussed the importance of female youth activism, their motives for activism, the position of girls in the communities they come from, and their everyday problems.
Speaking about the experiences of participating in the "With and For Girls" project, Nikolina Ristović (Novi Pazar), Danica Jovanovski (Vranje), Aleksandra Kovačević (Čačak), Marija Đurein (Belgrade), and Sara Mrđen (Novi Sad) discussed the benefits of engaging in activism and the fight for women's rights both at the local and national levels, but also the negative aspects and the reactions among their environment to their involvement. Other important questions that were asked during the panel included the motivation for joining "With and For Girls" clubs, the importance of these clubs for their cities, the most common problems girls faced in their local communities, priority topics for the future activities of the clubs, and the contribution of the clubs to the development of "women's agenda."
At the end of the panel, the girls shared their views on what needs to be done to achieve gender equality, critical steps for the future, and messages they would send to their peers to encourage them to become involved in activism and change their society.
"What we did is a great start because I think that feminism, that is, women's activism, has no end and will never have one. When we are gone one day, there will be someone else, some generation after us. I always have my mom's sentence on my mind; my friend invited me outside to play when I was 5-6. I couldn't go and told her, ‘I can't; I have to dust for my mom.’ Then my mother would say, ‘You are not dusting for me; you are dusting for yourself and us.’ And that is something we should be guided by today. I'm not here just for myself but for everyone in this room. I'm here for the generations that haven't been born yet but may face the same problems we're facing now. So, why not be part of a great beginning without end? The goal is stunning and crucial. Think that the path that leads us to that goal is, in fact, a kind of satisfaction on its own and that it is much more beautiful and much more important than the achievement itself," Sara Mrđen, representative of the local “With and For Girls" club from Novi Sad, concluded.
After the panel, the local club representative from Novi Pazar, Nina Ristović, presented the manifesto of the future national youth feminist "With and For Girls" club.
"We, members of the national ‘With and For Girls’ club, gathered around the values of equality, justice, and women's rights, proudly stand in front of Youth Feminist Advocates Initiative in Serbia. Our mission and goal are clear: we work together to create a better, more just world fit for us all. This club is the result of cooperation between the Citizens' Association Atina and youth feminist activists, and our joint vision is the empowerment of girls and the promotion of feminist activism. We strive to fight against all forms of discrimination and gender-based violence, both in the private and public spheres.
We believe girls are critical actors in societal change, and we strive to build and strengthen their capacities for further feminist and advocacy action. Our network of advocates will actively work to map problems in our local communities and offer constructive suggestions for solving them. We will work together with allies who share our belief that youth feminist activism is a crucial component to creating a more inclusive and just society.
As an umbrella idea from our previous cooperation and work, we created the national "With and For Girls" club. This club aims to facilitate collaboration between clubs from different cities because we believe that the problems girls face are similar and that fighting together is the key to success. Through this initiative, we are building bridges and connections to work together toward achieving equality and justice for all girls.
We stand for:
Equality: We fight for full equality for all individuals, regardless of sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion, or other characteristics.
Justice: We work to eliminate all forms of discrimination, violence, and injustice in society, especially those that affect girls and women.
Inclusivity: We actively seek to include all voices and perspectives in our work to create sustainable and equitable changes.
Solidarity: We believe in the power of community and cooperation and stand alongside other organizations and individuals who share our values.
Education: We strive to empower girls through education, mentoring, and support to become community leaders.
We are the national ‘With and For Girls’ club, and together, we will continue to fight for a better, more just world where every girl and woman can realize their potential. Our activism is our strength, and we are ready to tackle the challenges and work together to make the necessary changes for all of us. It is up to you to stand with us.”
At the end of the conference, activists received awards for their outstanding work in promoting women's rights and youth feminist activism of local "With and For Girls" clubs. In addition to members of local clubs, i.e., future representatives of the national "With and For Girls" club, awards were also presented to deserving individuals who worked to empower girls through the mentoring process and as guest lecturers in the previous months and together with young activists thought out key places for future feminist fights and changes. On this occasion, awards were given to Iva Parađanin, Emilija Milenković, Milica Ličina Čalija, Jovana Mrdalj, Jelena Mirić, and Milica Sekulić. Emilija Milenković and Milica Sekulić spoke on behalf of the group of mentors and allies of local clubs.
The event continued with a cocktail and informal socializing.
More photographs from the event are available via the link: With and For Girls | atina