Across the world, March 8th has been celebrated as International Women’s day for well over 100 years. In Italy, it is tradition to celebrate “la Festa della Donna” by giving women mimosas - the bright yellow flowers, not the drinks. Oxfam Italia found the popular holiday to be a perfect reason to initiate a dialogue on gender equality and violence against women in Italy. As a result, they decided to host a Gender Equality Forum in Florence for high schoolers throughout Tuscany.
Although the Oxfam Italia staff commissioned the forum, most of the preparation and day-of activities were developed and facilitated by Oxfam’s student ambassadors. As part of my internship, I had the opportunity to sit in on one of their meetings prior to the forum. I sat their amazed listening to these young students, both male and female, share their visions for the forum while my internship advisor, Claudia, simply kept the conversation on track. Each of them came to the table with brilliant ideas, excitement, and a willingness to work hard. It was so encouraging to watch them bounce their ideas off one another with respect and see them volunteer to lead various parts of the forum.
When March 8th arrived, the eagerness was even more tangible in the Florentine school. student ambassadors were entrusted to do all of the day’s activities from checking in teachers and fellow students, to delivering the introduction speeches. The day was filled with various engaging speakers, games that taught students statistics about inequality, and skyping in other schools across Europe that were also hosting forums.
One of my favorite parts of the day was the breakout sessions we held before lunch. During this time, students were divided into groups to discuss different topics. The group that I was a part of was tasked with recognizing causes and effects of gender disparities and discovering potential solutions. We created ‘equality trees’ in which the roots symbolized the causes we thought contributed to gender inequality: religion, stereotypes, media bias; while the tree trunks were the effects that these roots had: violence against women and the gender pay gap; and the tree tops were the solutions we came up with: educating students about inequality and increasing female representation in leadership roles.
During the forum, we were all asked to write down a word that described what we learned from the day. When asked what word I selected, I told them “encouraged,” because watching so many students take a stand against gender inequality and share their ideas on how to combat violence against women at such a young age left me hopeful for the future. This event reminded me just how beneficial it is when we provide a seat at the table for young people. When students are entrusted to lead, they become the perfect conduit to engage and educate other young people. In doing so, they are able to create a better understanding and foster lasting solutions for future generations. Among the opportunities I have had with my internship at Oxfam Italia, I am confident that this has been one of my favorite events I have been a part of.