Young Women Leaders Visit Brussels

Tackling the climate crisis is close to my heart, but I am equally committed to increasing the number of women in politics. On this theme, I was delighted to be able to invite a diverse group of 16 young women from across the North West, to join me in European Parliament on a visit. Along with a guided tour and experience to learn how the EU Parliament works, we were able to introduce the young women to some of my fellow female MEPs, notably the Swedish MEP Alice Kuhnke, deputy chairwoman of the Greens/EFA, and my fellow Green UK MEP Alex Phillips and explore what it means for women to be active in politics.

After visiting the Parliament and showing them the Hemicycle where crucial debates are held, the young women met representatives of NGOs based in Brussels and learned how they lobby the European Union. They explored with Fran Gater from Friends of the Earth Europe, and Manon Deshayes from the European Women’s Lobby, amongst other topics, how climate change impacts women more than men.

In the afternoon the young women participated in an interactive workshop, ‘Empowering Young Women to Become Leaders’, led by Mirka Virtanen, Deputy Leader of the Green Party in Wales and Alice Hubbard, Secretary of the Young Global Greens and International Coordinator of the Green Party of England and Wales.

The day was rounded off with a lively group meal in Brussels city centre.

I was hugely impressed by all of the women, how they bonded in their shared interest to become female leaders and their passion to create a more just society.

Many of them told me at the end of the trip that they felt they were able to face the perceived and actual barriers that can hinder women entering politics and some of the group were inspired to become politically engaged in the future.

We produced a short video and below you can read the thoughts on of visiting European Parliament by the young women themselves, along with their experience of travelling together, meeting female role models and how they plan to take what they learned back to their own communities.

Roshni Palmer Hill

The trip to Brussels and the European Parliament has been inspiring, engaging and above all empowering. By meeting women from across the North West who are as enthusiastic about the fight for equality has given me contacts and friends for life. Through sharing experiences, this short trip has opened by eyes to the diversity of views and opinions that can all be aligned to create a powerful message of harmony. It has given me great hope for the future of this country, continent and world now and in the future.

Besides from my peers I also was fortunate enough to meet and converse with MEPs from Britain and beyond affiliated with the Greens. From Gina Dowding MEP to Alice Kuhnke MEP, these women are pioneering what it is to be and excel as a woman in politics at the highest level. They have left a huge impression on me through their words of encouragement to strive further for what we believe in, no matter what barriers may be in our way. Finally, the programme and the workshops gave each and every one of us newfound knowledge of what privilege and activism means in the UK and Europe. Conversations such as these are invaluable to recognising the lives of those around us and realising that each individual sees the world differently and through the lens of a unique perspective.

I am certainly more enlightened after the trip than before on issues ranging from the EU’s political system to grassroots climate and feminist activism in Europe. However, all of these accumulated into a single message. A true leader and an effective campaign are not one that tries to destroy all competition, is not one that stays clandestine and isolated with a view to defeat competition. Instead, leadership is defined by the ability to bring people together to project many messages into a common framework. For me, that frame is one of harmony, peace and sustainability – providing health and wellbeing for us now and in the future. These qualities of unity and diplomacy are paramount in a political age of blame and factionalism which aims to polarise us. I have learnt that with a common voice we can fight against divisive politics and with a common voice we are louder than any dialogue of hate.

Harriet Kelsall

This trip has been a fantastic experience for all involved, I feel truly lucky to have had the opportunity to visit European Parliament with my local MEP at such a vital time for the United Kingdom. It went beyond my expectations of what I would learn about the EU and how it works, but also about the role of women in leadership. From start to finish, the trip was organised to be as accessible as possible for women from the North West, regardless of their background, with the sole focus on offering the opportunity to strong Young Women who want to make a difference to the world.

I feel that the most valuable thing I have taken from the trip was meeting so many inspiring women from many different situations who all have a vision of making the world a better place. This ranges between inspiring talks from 3 female MEPs from the Greens/EFA group in the EU; to workshops with passionate women from charities and the Green Party UK; to discussions with like-minded and encouraging peers.

As well as teaching me so much about the EU itself, I had the chance to develop my skills in public speaking and debating through comfortable environments. I plan to present about my time to my Girlguiding unit at home. With the hope of broadening the perspective of younger girls surrounding what opportunities lie ahead of them when women support each other and bring out the best in one another!

Roukagia Afan

Meeting some incredibly inspirational female leaders, especially during a time where our society is divided due to the ongoing Brexit negations, sparked hope. It was interesting to listen to the points of view of the different young women, and to respectfully share my own opinion in each of the discussions, some of which ranged from implementation of quotas in organisations to have a more representative range of employees, to how statistics show that climate change affects females more than males. These discussions, which were facilitated by organisations ‘Friends of the Earth’ and ‘European Women’s Lobby’, provided an insight into how interlinked many issues in our society are.

However, they also highlighted key problems, some of which include the lack of racial and religious diversity in leadership roles within the European Union. As the only visibly mixed and Muslim female amongst the other young women leaders, this reinforced the belief that I need to be the change I want to see in the world. The young and diverse females from across the globe deserve to have role models who represent them and their views, who look like them, and who motivate and inspire them to also take on leadership roles in politics, but also in all other fields.

Visiting the European Parliament and being alongside some of the female MEP’s of the Green Party, was truly empowering. I was humbled and inspired by the words of Swedish MEP Alice Bah Kuhnke, who talked to us about the importance of freedom and being in touch with our human roots. MEP Gina Dowding discussed her initiative to reduce carbon emissions, in order to combat some of the current global environmental issues. She reminded me of how important the basic, yet fundamental, necessities of a human being are; a breath of fresh air from a healthy, green and flourishing environment. It was refreshing to hear that the Green Party are striving to achieve a sustainable plan for the future, and build a society ‘from the bottom up’, by giving ordinary citizens the opportunity to speak up within accessible grass-root organisations, who then feed this information on to leaders of their cities, countries and eventually the EU.

This experience was more than just a trip to the EU Parliament; it was an opportunity to connect with passionate activists and leaders in the northwest of England, and collaborate in future campaigns, projects and events for our next initiatives. It has brought the young female leaders of our communities closer together and taught us that we are even more powerful as a collective. It has increased our knowledge and confidence in the political area and strengthened our leadership and debating skills. But most of all, this opportunity showed us how vital female leaders are in our male-dominated society, and it has motivated us to keep changing the world, one female at a time.

Jessie Leigh

There is so much I have taken out of the trip and I can honestly say it was one of the best trips I have ever been on. In just three short days I know I developed not only on a personal level but allowed me to widen my knowledge about the European Parliament and the leaders of tomorrow. A talk I will forever hold in my heart was by the MEP from Sweden – Alice, talking about “growing love for the planet” and the importance of the “Three solidarities: solidarity with the ecosystem, solidarity with every human being and solidarity with coming generations.” This particularly struck a chord with me as there was a power in her words making me want to work for a better future.

The trip also inspired me to support the Green Party, as their equality and fairness, as well as love for the planet, was so especially important. I never truly wanted to work in politics but after this incredible trip, it is definitely a career I am considering as the real change you can make is immense. I have learnt so much in such a short amount of time. The debates and talks we had opened my mind even further about the world we live in. This trip made me especially passionate about equality and human rights. If the people in power don’t aren’t like the citizens, they are representing how can we ever live in a fair world? Going forward I want to work with marginalised groups to ensure everyone’s voice is heard, to give a voice to the voiceless.

There is something very special about a group of females coming together; powerful, strong and inspiring females from all across the North West. Before I even stepped foot in the European Parliament, I knew this trip would be powerful. These women come from all sorts of backgrounds, whether that be socially, economically or culturally all with a common goal- wanting to create change. Each and every one of them has done something incredibly inspiring. From petition starters, to campaigners to leaders.

The power of femininity is under-estimated. But believe me when I tell you we are more powerful than we have ever been before. This is shown in our words, our actions and our deeds. Being a female shape us, but it will never completely define who we are and what we can achieve. We are ready to take on leadership roles and to be fully represented in all walks of life, leaving no girl behind.

There is a disparity between leaders and the people they represent, and those that hold the most ‘privilege’ tends to be those with the most power. ‘Privilege’ was also a topic that came up. As a white woman, I have a privilege. I was born with white skin, which automatically gave me an advantage, a ‘privilege’ in life. I am able to do things that other females cannot. Similarly, being born in a Northern European Country, my postcode means I have access to free education, to human rights and to freedom. Privilege’s that I take for granted despite millions across the word not having them. However, as female, I am presented with challenges. You only have to look at the decision-makers and significant leaders in our society to see that white upper-class men are overrepresented in our communities.

Categorically, there are enough figures that represent females and those from minority backgrounds and it is no longer good enough to say, “it will sort itself out” or “we are fine with what we have.” And this is backed up by statistics.

Because it is not okay and will never be okay to leave anyone behind.

I also learnt we will always be better together, when you work with people, listen to them and understand them, miracles happen.  Equality IS attainable in our lifetimes. If we judged people by the content of the character and not the colour of their skin, if we judged people by their courage and not by their culture, if we judged people by their righteousness and not by their religion. But this is no ‘one-trick pony’. It is going to take every person to open their minds and their hearts.

That person is you, female, male, binary, non-binary, white, Asian, Buddhist etc. Creating change starts with you.

Change the world, one step at a time.

I cannot thank everyone who made this trip possible enough, it was simply incredible.

Lauren Barclay

For me the trip was an incredible opportunity to come together with a group of likeminded young women. Every single person on the trip from the MEPs, trip leaders and others participating taught me so much. Whether it was more specific knowledge of the European Parliament, or general life knowledge and skills. The trip to me highlighted the importance of youth voice and participation and the incredible impact that young people can have on the world. As a generation of dreamers and doers, the trip brought together so many young people who are all making impacts on the world in their own way; whether that be in climate change, mental health or many other topics.

I have taken far too much from the trip to put into one small paragraph but in the words of green MEP Alex Phillips, who we were lucky enough to meet:

“Don’t ever think that because you are the wrong gender, race, age, ability, the wrong anything that you can’t do something. No matter what, you can do anything.”

Going forward I will definitely have more confidence in my ability to make a positive impact on society. I have learnt that the abilities and skills I have are enough to make a change and therefore I should use these in the most positive way possible. The trip reminded me of the importance of using the skills that we have, with the skills that others have, to make something phenomenal. I hope to connect with those I met on the trip and together continue to be the change we wish to see in the world.

Louise Machareth Silva

During the trip to the EU Parliament promoted by Gina Dowding, Green Party’ MEP, we were inspired and prepared by female leaders to fight for our values and stand as young leaders. In my opinion, the most impressive aspect of the trip was the coincidence that most of the strong women we met started their political journey during their youth years within their communities. Alice Kuhnke (SE), for instance, started to contribute to global causes in her church while Alex Philips was a member and volunteer in the Green Party. Their experiences and shares have encouraged me to work today for the changes I want to see in the future.

Moreover, the workshops “Empowering Young Women to Become Leaders” provided information and discussions about privilege, public-speaking and the role of women in prominent roles. I have understood the urgency of representing women and that I should not be afraid of speaking out, defending my values or making mistakes. Also, this trip has definitely changed my views on the importance of collective work. I did not participate in any society in the first year of my degree because I was sceptical of its outcomes. Yesterday, however, during Lancaster University Fresher’s Fair I have made contact with other young leaders from movements, societies and organisations and I am excited to be involved and work with them for all community. Thank you so much for this opportunity.

Ellen Rintoul

I have taken away a much stronger value of communication and conversation from this trip. Usually, I would never discuss some of the topics that we discussed with people I’ve known for 7 years let alone 7 minutes. The freedom to discuss and put across our own opinions was incredibly liberating!
The trip has led to me having more discussions within my sixth form and I’m in the middle of organising a presentation to both upper and lower sixth about the European Parliament, how it works and what we can do to impact political decisions. I think it has made me much more aware of the different views that exist within the same parties and exactly how much somebody’s background can impact their politics and beliefs.

Robyn Bowyer

The experience of being chosen as a young female leader of the North West. Going to European Parliament European Union to speak about women’s rights and how we can improve visibility for women in politics and the importance of the arts and culture for the working class. I had the opportunity to be inspired and hopefully impact change. The piece of Berlin Wall which was outside the parliament building is symbolic to me with Brexit looming. This made me understand the importance of our alliance with Europe that division and indifference need to be overcome for the greater good of humanity. We must stand strong and lift each other over the wall that is being built in front of our futures #EmpowerEveryVoice.

The trip has inspired me to make an active change in regard to campaigning to ensure all voices are heard. It has also helped me to understand how to find my own voice and speak out about indifference. We will be campaigning at Blackburne House #knowyourworth which will empower the voice of all young women across Liverpool to speak out.

Laura McClinton

From attending the trip, I have gained so much knowledge of how the European Parliament functions on a day-to-day basis. I found it so interesting that there are 24 official languages spoken in the Parliament, and of the importance of translation to ensure that effective communication happens. It was great to speak to the non-governmental organisations based in Brussels such as Friends of the Earth and the European Women’s Lobby, that are striving for change. It was really encouraging to hear from the inspiring young leaders on the trip that are committed to speaking out about issues they care about. 

Youth voice is the definitely way forward! The workshops gave me further understanding of the importance of collaborating with others and viewing topics from different perspectives as we all have different life experiences. I also realised the importance of acknowledging our many privileges to allow us to empathise with others. This knowledge will in no doubt help me going forward into further advocacy.

Lucy Cashman

Attending the Young Women Leaders trip to Brussels was a fantastic insight into the workings of EU parliament, a place I had limited knowledge on and only recognised from my TV screen. Meeting female MEPs and hearing their varied journeys to leadership roles has made those positions of authority appear like very realistic and a viable possibility for my own future. At 25, I was the oldest person to attend the trip and I already have a senior role at a women’s charity in Liverpool. No longer do I see roles such as MEPs, CEOs, Directors and so on, as distant dreams, I feel reassured that I am too already making an impact in my own community and will continue to do so. I feel excited about my future and know I’m on the right path to leadership. Thank you for the opportunity.