The recently-launched Network of Young Women Leaders is ready to take discussions on women’s rights in Malta by storm.
Insite speaks to the Network’s Public Relations Coordinator and co-founder Naomi Cachia all about what they have planned in the future, just in time for International Women’s Day.
Am I right in saying that the creation of this Network has been in the making for quite some time? How did it all start, and what sparked the need for it to be created?
The idea behind the creation of the Network was a result of co-founder Samantha Pace Gasan’s dissertation, titled ‘Young Women’s Perspectives and Experiences of Political Participation’. Samantha’s dissertation had the underlying aim of being the catalyst for the development of a formal network to empower young female activists, whom she had interviewed for this same dissertation.
This was around the time that I got to know Samantha better; we bonded over discussions about politics and female participation. It was during the Commonwealth Youth Forum (2015), that during a rather heated debate with friends about different perceptions of a young woman’s struggle to truly establish herself in the political arena that I realised that the importance of the Network was pertinent, and we set out to create this NGO from scratch. It’s taken so long because we were very careful not to rush into it; we wanted to create an entity that was long-lasting in its endeavors.
Establishing yourself in an all-boys club such as politics is not easy, and most of the time, no one but you can see the hurdles in your way.
I was once accused of playing the victim when discussing women’s rights; and that this is doing more harm than good. At the time, this criticism made me stop and re-evaluate my position, but I have since learnt that this is indeed another obstacle for a young woman to overcome. Why is my direct, personal experience being questioned by an older, male figure? Am I just not good enough to make it?
I hope that NYWL manages to reach younger girls who are made to doubt themselves just like I have a million times before. Establishing yourself in an all-boys club such as politics is not easy, and most of the time, no one but you can see the hurdles in your way. It is very competitive and not a lot of people will stop to selflessly give you a helping hand.
I am lucky to have been offered many different opportunities to establish myself further (after working hard to earn them), but countless are the times that I felt too intimidated to speak up in a room full of men, or that I had to shout twice as much for my voice to be heard. I could have easily given up and been just another case of untapped potential. Nowadays, I’ve learnt to command respect amongst my peers and I hope I can pass this on to at least one other potential young women leader.
What are some of the main goals and objectives of your team? What makes you different from other awareness-raising entities emerging from the Maltese Islands?
We’ve created a ‘mutually supportive’ network for young female activists. What I realised from the very beginning is that getting together with other young women, sharing your experiences and listening to theirs, is already empowering within itself. These 6 other young women, practically strangers, have taught me so much and I already feel more empowered than I’ve ever felt before, and I want other young women to experience this too. While there are other youth based entities, and other women’s organisations, we’ve merged the two elements and created what I believe has the potential to be a very powerful Network.
We’re uniting strong women, and empowering them further!
So I expect a two-fold result: individual empowerment and a collective entity of young women who will speak up for women’s rights. The latter is a very important element to our objectives – it is useless to have women leaders and policymakers who will not fight for women’s rights when the power is in their hands.
Another important facet is being independent and non-partisan. I am all too familiar with the latter. Obviously, those who know me know that my background in activism so far is almost totally partisan. There is a dangerous notion that a young person involved in party politics cannot detach themselves when discussing policy without covertly pushing forward their party agenda. This may be true in some cases, I can’t speak for everyone. But speaking for myself, its hurtful when you’re trying to establish yourself as an activist in your own right and other young people discredit you because of party politics.
Our political parties are amongst the most important entities in our country; and we need to push young women to continue to play an important role and make their way up the ranks. I believe NYWL can bridge this gap between young women like me who already have a foot in a party structure, and those who are sceptical of party politics.
Finally, one does not have to be a political activist to be a leader; we hope to have women from other spheres in our Network, from science to sports, to entrepreneurs. We can all learn a lot from each other.
Can you tell us who the heading members are, and what roles you are currently occupying?
We’ve opted for a flat organisational structure; No president, all equals.
Samantha Pace Gasan – strategic coordinator and co-founder
Graduated from University of Malta with a B. A. (Hons.) in Social Policy in 2016. Samantha started her activism from the Malta Girl Guides, where she took various roles such as leading a group of 10-13 year old girls, giving training and advocating on diversity, gender issues and violence against women, as well as representing young members on the National Board. In March 2015, Samantha was elected as an Executive Member for the National Youth Council. As part of her work there, she led a team to work on a report titled “Age of Sexual Consent: Sexual Health & Education”.
Naomi Cachia – Public relations coordinator and co-founder
Bachelor of Laws (Hons) graduate, currently furthering her studies in Advocacy within the Faculty of Laws. Political coordinator of the Labour Youth Forum (Forum Zghazagh Laburisti) for the last three years, where she actively researched and proposed policy reforms in different areas such as in IVF legislation, domestic violence and LGBTI+ blood donation. Previously served as deputy secretary general of GWU Youths. An avid activist for the promotion of sexual and reproductive health and rights, she was recently chosen to speak about the situation in Malta in a conference organised by the S&D Group titled ‘All of Us: My Body My Rights’.
Sara Ezabe – Policy coordinator and co-founder
Currently a law student at the University of Malta and holds the position of Public Policy and Rights Commissioner in National Youth Council (KNZ). In 2016 she was awarded the Queens’ Young leader Award for advocating for social inclusion in Malta and co-founding the campaign. As part of this award she also completed a course in leadership at the University of Cambridge.
Solange Bonello – Administrative coordinator
Furthering her studies in Youth and Community work within the University of Malta, taking a particular interest within the disability and gender equality sectors. Solange started her activism work within the NGO Breaking Limits which is run by and works for persons with disability. She was elected General Secretary and later also served as CEO. Solange has now moved on to work more directly within the gender equality sector and has recently attended a feminist training camp in Brussels organised by The European Women’s Lobby which brought together over 50 young feminists from all across Europe
Maria Farrugia – Projects coordinator
Law student, Having formed part of the Malta Girl Guides was an empowering turning point in her life which helped her recognise the importance of being active in a community and making your voice heard.
Jennifer Polidano – Finance coordinatorLaw student, and a new face in activism who has truly untapped her potential during her months working to set-up NYWL.
Martina Caruana – Events coordinator
Law graduate with a view to graduate with a Doctor of Laws degree in 2018. In 2012, Martina started working with Agenzija Appogg where she worked with women experiencing stigma, violence, and difficulties to achieve work and life balance. Today, Martina works directly with the European Women’s Lobby, advocating for the Elimination of Violence against Women and Girls, monitoring publications and lobbying materials on various aspects of violence against women in Europe.
How has the reception and feedback been so far? We know that H.E. The President is a already huge supporter of your network.
We’ve been positively surprised by the reaction. We were expecting a slower start, but the feedback we’re getting confirms that this initiative needed to happen, and I’m surprised no one got there before us. Our message, that of empowering young women, may seem almost obvious and trivial, but more often than not we forget that young women experience different struggles than older, established women. This differentiation is what has truly distinguished us.
Obviously, since this is an issue of female empowerment, you will always be met with a small degree of scepticism, but we are no strangers to this and have learnt to brush it aside. We are too focused on our objectives to be brought down by them.
The moment H.E. The President reached out to us, was when it truly came together for us after months of hard work. I’m not surprised by her support, but I must say that we were not expecting the extent of support that she’s shown us. We are very grateful, as she has truly helped catapult us into the spotlight. The platform she us provided during the President’s Foundation event last Monday introduced us to the public in a forum of already established women; the women we look up to and whose encouragement meant the world to us.
Are there any specific projects or initiatives you are taking on right now or which you plan to work on carrying out in the near future, and how can the public get involved?
Our first order of business is to expand the Network; we are building a database of young women and we will get in touch with them shortly. The membership form is on our Facebook page. Last year we organised a couple of meetings for young women we already knew; totally unstructured debates through which we discussed the potential aims of the Network. This was a safe and confidential space for us to truly vent our frustrations with any obstacles we’ve faced, and give each other support and feedback.
We now have to think on a larger scale but we’d like to reproduce the same type of environment: a comfortable forum for young women to discuss pertinent issues and get to know each other. The fruit of these discussions will be what shapes our next few months. We want to know what they think should be our priorities and campaigns. This is not mine and six other young women’s Network; it belongs to all young women in Malta, today and tomorrow’s leaders.
Johann Agius is a fourth year law student who is currently the CEO of Insite after fulfilling the roles of Public Relations Officer and External Relations Officer in previous years. He joined Insite as a writer and photographer in 2013 and was elected in the executive for the first time a year later.