Safe Space and Sisterhood at Femencamp 2019

Participants of Femencamp 2019 outside

The third Femencamp took place on August 2–8, 2019. The window for applications was only open for three weeks, yet the organizers received a total of 131 applications for participation and selected 25 participants of ages 18 to 24 who then spent an intense week in the Carpathians. The participants came from across the entire country: Donetsk, Kharkiv, Zaporizhzhia, Lviv, Vinnytsia, Poltava, Chernihiv, Zhytomyr, Dnipropetrovsk, Kyiv and Volyn oblasts.

Geography of Femencamp 2019 participants

“We selected the participants through open competition, assessed the motivation part of their applications, i.e. “Why I should be at the camp,” their experience with activism and plans of future feminist events after the camp,” says Svitlana Dubyna, chair of the information and educational center VIS and co-organizer of Femencamp. Other co-organizers are psychologist Marta Chumalo, lawyer Halyna Fedkovych, photographer and co-founder of Association of Ukrainian Women Lawyers “JurFem” Roksolana Potsiurko.

Expression “Feminism is cool” made from wood and a circle of participants

The idea of Femencamp emerged in 2017 after students’ gender-based social theater was held. That was when Svitlana Dubyna noticed that girls who participated in the theater and attended workshops were having a hard time. It was hard being alone with their feminist ideas without any support. “I completely understand them because I’m a feminist as well. I wanted to organize a safe space for them and for me too, and that’s how Femencamp was born,” she reminisces.

Femencamp includes:

— being in a safe space and understanding it;

— immersion into the subject, because the participants are staying together, learning and developing ideas for a whole week, the whole day;

— the participants feeling that they are not alone and there are other like-minded people around them;

— networking, which the co-organizers and participants of Femencamp call sisterhood. Thanks to the strong ties between the camp graduates, this year’s project was partially financed through a fundraising campaign #helpingFemencamp.

Posters dedicated to feminism and Femencamp

Nargiza Shkrobotko talks about her participation in the project: “This year’s Femencamp left some special feelings and impressions: like there’s one more support structure in your ‘house.’ For me, it’s about sisterhood, trust and creative interaction. The organizers managed to provide all the conditions for us all to create a safe space together, where everyone respected and helped each other. This experience was unique and very inspiring for me, it was kind of ‘light that stays with me,’ which helps me find resources for new ideas and project within myself and out.”

This year’s camp for girls was held to help them to meet each other, since they have different experience in different Ukrainian cities, to find out more about gender equality, women’s rights and fighting gender-based violence and discrimination by means of intense, creative methods of informal education. Later, they will be able to use the knowledge and connections from the camp in practice.

Participants standing in a circle with their arms raised

Lesia Alam, one of the participants of this year’s Femencamp, tells: “I have taken part in all three Femencamps, and each of them was unique and affected my life a lot. For me, Femencamp 2019 was a story about a creative and safe space. I enjoyed, got inspired and empowered by each moment in this space where each participant could be herself and speak about her thoughts and feelings freely. I use the knowledge and the results of thinking that I’ve done in my daily life. I have several projects planned where I’ll be using the support of fellow activists not just from my city, but also from various regions of Ukraine. I truly value the experience that I’ve received and the results of networking at Femencamp.”

At Femencamp, the participants discussed feminism and eco-activism, the history of feminism, gender-based violence, the tools of identifying and fighting against discrimination including sexism, visualization in feminist activism, feminist reasoning in debate, fighting against violence in witness position, consent and fighting against sexual violence. In addition, the participants organized a screening of feminist short movies. This year, last year’s participants joined the organizers and trainers in preparing presentations and workshops. Psychological support groups worked in the evening for everyone interested.

Participants and trainers sitting in chairs in a circle indoors

“For me, Femencamp became a power place, a safe space where I can speak about things that worry me without fear or shame, speak about how I feel. The spirit of support and trust that reigns here empowers me to continue fighting against discrimination and patriarchal ideas which poison my life and the lives of others. I really like the idea to speak about human rights and feminism through art, put difficult things simply, engender true emotions. That’s why I have joined the preparation of two feminist projects,” says participant Daryna Mekshun.

After Femencamp, the communication continues in a closed Facebook community, where each graduate can share her news, ask for advice or support for her project. This year, the group held a poll to select a new camp logo, which will be used starting next year. 

Yaryna Dehtiar, participant of Femencamp 2019, shares her impressions: “It’s hard for me to express what was useful at Femencamp in a few sentences. First of all I would like to point out the safe and comfortable space. As a feminist, I often end up among people who don’t understand or accept my position, and that causes a lot of difficulties. When you are in an environment where people understand you, where they don’t judge you but support you instead, you stop being afraid to speak your mind and ideas, because you understand that you are not alone. Group work was very useful, as were the tasks for different projects at the camp, because suddenly you discover that you have ideas and that others are interested in them. This makes you more confident and less afraid. At the camp, I met a lot of people, I got support from other participants and the inspiration to keep doing something. I’ll use everything I got from the camp in my activism; this has given me confidence that I can do something for the feminist movement and that I shouldn’t be afraid.”

Participants of Femencamp 2019 outside

At the Femencamp, Ukrainian Women’s Fund announced a call for projects among our graduates. They offered up to UAH 25,000 for each. In autumn, they announced the projects they are now backing:

1)    Trainings for teenagers on consent and boundaries;

2)    A series of resource trainings for mothers of children with disabilities;

3)    A zine (custom-made magazine) about women and precarious work;

4)    Events dedicated to 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence in Zaporizhzhia;

5)    A group of psychological support for young women feminists.

Femencamp is implemented by Vinnytsia CSO Information and Educational Center VIS. The 2019 camp was financially supported by Heinrich Boell Foundation Regional Office in Ukraine, Center “Women’s Prospects,” National Democratic Institute and fundraising campaign #helpingFemencamp.

Photos by Roksolana Potsiurko