contributed by Elizabeth Hoody
The Tbilisi Young Women’s Dialogue kicked off on Monday with a welcome reception and open-mic night. The Dialogue is bringing together 36 young women under the age of 30 from across Southeast Europe, Central Eastern Europe, and Commonwealth of Independent States to talk about young women’s and feminist issues, as well as resource mobilization for young women’s rights. This is one of the first meetings of its kind in this region – and I have been bouncing off of my chair with excitement about it over the past month. At the same time, in a region as linguistically and culturally diverse as SEE/CEE/CIS, I was uncertain about how we would establish common ground and communication within the dialogue. I can count at least 15 different native languages among participants, not to mention the fact that we have participants working across the spectrum of women’s human rights – everything from gender-based violence to LGBT rights to women’s political participation to sex education to feminist research production.
Well, last night we found common language in a tradition that is indeed shared and strong through the region: poetry. Over 15 participants signed up to read during the open-mic session, sharing both their own poetry and the writing of women who have inspired their activism. We heard poetry in English, Russian, Bulgarian, and Serbian. We heard excerpts from Sylvia Plath, Judith Butler, Maya Angelou, and from feminist writers across the region. We heard young women subverting the tradition of poetry recitation in order to talk about issues of sexuality, violence against women, and freedom of expression. My favorite line of the night came from a young woman from Slovakia who, sitting down with Eve Ensler’s writing in her hands, announced: “And now, we are going to talk about vaginas.” Throughout the night, there was laughter, some tears, and lots of applause. As a poet and as someone who learned Russian language through traditional poetry recitation, I left the open-mic session feeling inspired both by the breadth of creative work and the incredibly supportive environment.
Today the real work starts – we have two days to tackle a very full agenda. Having set the tone of fun and freedom of expression last night, I am excited to begin!