Category Archives: Youth

Has Emma Watson just revived feminism?

I myself have never been able to find out what feminism is; I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat or a prostitute. (Rebecca West)

I’ve been thinking about writing about feminism for a while.  Since I arrived in Australia, there have been a few moments, such as the whole #frightbat incident, or the Women Against Feminism tumblr, that have made me realise that  women generally seem to get more radical about feminism as they get older, and I can really understand why. As a young woman I was aware of the importance of equality and the fact that women couldn’t take that equality for granted. As I have got older, and experienced things in my career and my life, that has become clearer and clearer. I am not a man-hater. I don’t think women are better than men. Such a view would, it seems to me, to be incompatible with feminism, which is all about rejecting the idea that people should be defined by their gender. I just don’t want my map-reading skills or love of sport to be called into question because I am of the “wrong gender” for those things.

I think I entered my early womanhood aware that there had been and continued to be issues but hoping that I wouldn’t see them, because I was lucky enough to be born in the post-war, post-bra burning era and in the Western world. And yet, I experienced so many of the things that the #YesAllWoman hashtag talked about – being expected to take the note or pour the tea at the meeting, even if you are a senior participant; being kerb-crawled, even when dressed in jeans and DMs; being accused by a colleague of only getting promoted because I was a woman; watching my incredibly beautiful and accomplished colleague being talked about behind her back, suggesting she was only getting ahead because she was sleeping with the right people, rather than because she was bloody excellent at her job. There’s only so long you can watch this happen again and again and not think there is something bigger going on.

In May this year, a friend and I went to listen to Laura Bates of the Everyday Sexism project talking about what propelled her to start that work, and it was pretty hard to listen to.  I have to admit I felt quite despairing leaving the Wheeler Centre that day. I’m the age now my mother was when I left university and I would never have imagined that we would still be having these discussions all these years later, that young women entering the world of work now would still have to be prepared to face those struggles. Or that ads like this would air, for example.

And then, when it all seemed quite bleak, along came Emma Watson. A young woman articulating beautifully why feminism matters, not just for women, but for the men that want to spend time with their children, or not be defined by their work or reach out for help without being called soft.

“Why has the word [feminism] become such an uncomfortable one? I think it is right I am paid the same as my male counterparts. I think it is right that I should make decisions about my own body. I think it is right that women be involved on my behalf in the policies and decisions that will affect my life. I think it is right that socially, I am afforded the same respect as men.”

I really hope that young people of both genders will listen to the Emmas and Malalas and many others like them. I really hope that a young woman leaving university this year will be able to get on with being the best she can, on her own terms and in her own way, and be judged on nothing more than that.

Playing the simulation game

In September of this year, I attended a workshop organised by UACES/BACES on ‘Teaching and Learning with Impact’, looking at how European studies courses could be building in elements that enhance the employability of their students. Or put more simply, how will doing European studies help me get a job?

At the time I mentioned the Mock Council that we do every year with sixth formers and wondered aloud whether this might be an activity that could be adapted for universities. A little while later I got a call from John FitzGibbon who had attended the workshop, picking me up on the idea and suggesting trying it out at his university, Canterbury Christ Church.

So today I got up way earlier than usual to get a train to Canterbury. The first session was a briefing session for interested students taking part in the simulation, at which I was also invited to talk about about what it is like working for the EU. I then spoke to another group about the same thing. Then, after lunch in the staff canteen with John and his colleagues, it was into the simulation exercise.

John had decided to use the EU budget as the subject for the debate. It’s one that works well because it highlights just how many different opinions there are that have to be reconciled to reach an agreement, depending on whether you are a net recipient or contributor, how agricultural your economy is, how global your outlook, your domestic economic or political situation. And it’s decided under unanimity! The pre-event banter on Twitter had been very competitive, so I stressed that this wasn’t an exercise where there would be a winner, but that we were trying to find an agreement that we could all live with.

I was very impressed with the way the students flung themselves into it. They had clearly done the research about the countries they were allocated and played their roles with conviction. I dare to hope that it brought home to them in a concrete way the complexity of negotiations among 28 very different countries. Quite apart from providing a different perspective on their learning about the EU, I think it will also have allowed them to demonstrate some of the skills that employers will be looking for – negotiation, communication, problem-solving and the difficult art of compromising. Finland cannot go unmentioned for their ability to come in with a suggestion that moved the discussion forward every time it seemed to hit a stalemate! There was lots of tweeting going on, using the hashtag #eusimgame if you’re interested in taking a look. I’ll just give you a flavour…

 

 

So as a pilot, I think it went quite well, even though it couldn’t ever be totally satisfactory, in dealing with level of detail and of course preparation time and time for the exercise to take place. I’m looking forward to hearing what comes up in the feedback session next week. My first reaction, and I think that of John as well, was that this was a valuable practical exercise for the students. I hope this is something we can work on recreating in other European Studies departments.

Teaching a lesson on social networking

I’m on holiday in Borneo at the moment, where my brother is Co-ordinator for the international secondary section of a school. I’ve had a wonderful time, Malaysia is an amazing place and there are lots of photos around on Twitter and Instagram if you’re interested in that side of the story.

I have been made to sing for my supper (or rather three weeks free accommodation) as I was asked to go in and do a lesson for the iGCSE in Global Perspectives on social networking. The course is a bit like General Studies in the UK, encouraging students to think about the world around them and how it works at local, national and global level.

I’m no kind of teacher, but prepared a Social Networking Lesson Plan and a presentation, and thought I would share them.

I was trying to get them to think about sensible use of networks, without overly emphasising negative aspects – after all, a lot of good can come from these networks. My main messages were

  • The internet never forgets, so think now how your social activities might impact your future
  • Sharing your password is a bad idea, except with your parents.
  • Don’t believe everything you read on social networks – engage your critical faculties.

It seemed to go OK, especially with the final year class. There are some differences to overcome in a classroom of different cultures and nationalities, but that makes it interesting too!

Every time I get in front of a class, for whatever reason, I am filled with admiration for teachers. Coming up with ideas to stimulate and educate, keeping the momentum up in the class, controlling unruly elements and trying to steer that energy in a positive direction; it’s like juggling fireclubs. I couldn’t do it…

A busy few weeks

Over the last few weeks I feel I have hardly had a chance to draw breath and though at various times I’ve thought “I’ll blog about that”, events always passed me by. I’ve got a bit of time now at the end of the last day before I head off on a couple of weeks leave, so I’ll try to remember some of the points I was going to make.

I was in Brussels for a few days at the start of what will be known as the March Marathon, and one of the reasons was to do a workshop (well, 2, but they were the same) on using social media for Europe Direct Information Centres. While they receive some funding from the Commission for their information activities, they are  individual organisations, and their form ranges from NGOs or Community interest companies, to library services or regional government. So their needs vary and their flexibility to act independently does too. I did a presentation, then asked Europe Direct Leeds to show what they do, then gave them some time to discuss in small groups, share their own experiences, then a few of those in the room showed what they were doing. It was interesting to see how differently they were using the same tools, but there were enough ideas to share, and I’ve already nicked one from Europe Direct Ulm, using the Timeline feature on Facebook to show EU milestones. I was a bit worried about the pedagogical side of running a workshop, but the feedback has been good, so I think I got away with it :)

I then headed back to the UK to do a careers talk at Leicester University. This was a repeat invite (always a compliment to be asked back) and this time instead of just the Modern Languages Department, it was advertised across the university. There were about 60 students there I think and after my presentation, there were lots of lively questions. I’m always slightly perplexed at these events by the weight of interest among the students on internships, rather than the full-time, long-term career prospects offered by applying for the concours. I wonder why that is. It could be that they aren’t interested in the EU as a long-term career, but see EU knowledge as important for other things. Or it could be that they are so fixated on internships as a route into work they miss the turning for the work itself. Frankly it feels a bit more like the latter, though I’d be happy to be corrected on that.

The next day was a Saturday and just to add to the madness of those few weeks, it was the second of my two Open University tutorials. I’ve enjoyed the creative writing course, but I don’t think you’ll be reading my name in the Booker Prize longlist any time soon…

Then on the Sunday it was off to Manchester for the Apeldoorn conference, which brings together Dutch and UK people from across business and society. The theme this time was Higher Education at the Heart of Growth and we had some excellent speakers, including the Universities Minister, David Willetts. Apeldoorn is really great for the people you meet, on your own “side” as much as from over the North Sea, with some really useful contacts made for the future. I also had a #technologywin: with the purchase of one little VGA adaptor I was able to present the conclusions of the workshop for which I was rapporteur direct from my iPad. Just a further example of how my iPad has become the kernel of a mobile office as far as I’m concerned.

The day after I got back from Manchester it was off to Birmingham for the Education Show. Our stall was pretty mobbed, with the Passport to the European Union and Languages Take You Further publications particularly popular. Thousands of people passed through our stall over the three days, and not one was critical or hostile in any way, in fact they were on the whole delighted with the support, particularly for the languages. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the introduction of languages in primary schools, it seems pretty clear that there are many teachers who feel a bit lost and are glad to have ideas of what to do. Obviously we provide pretty bland material, click the links to see them for yourself, and it’s completely up to teachers how they want to use them in their classrooms.

I’ve been back in London since then, but out at some really interesting events. I Storified the Westminster Media Forum event on press regulation. I chaired a fascinating afternoon linked to the European Year of Active Ageing, in which the Greater London Forum for Older People got about 120 of their members together to hear about the cooperation that Enfield over-50s Forum has been doing with twin towns in France and Germany. I was roped in the afternoon before to chair the event as the chair dropped out, and I’m very glad I did, as it was fascinating. One thing that came out very clearly was the strength of attachment to the Freedom Pass. Many older people see it as a lifeline, getting them out of the house and allowing them to have a social life, thereby keeping them healthy both physically and mentally. Mess with it at your peril, Mayor of London, whoever you end up being.

The final noteworthy events took place on the same day. I was representing the office at the British Academy event on the value of a year abroad, and you can read my tweets about it by searching the #yrabroad hashtag. There was a lot of talk about the usefulness of social media in getting students interested in a year abroad, but precious little social media going on at the event. Lizzie Fane at Third Year Abroad is an honourable exception in terms of her use of social media, but I have to admit that there was probably an age thing going on, which is as worrying in its own way. 100% of the students that took part in Lizzie’s graduate survey said their time spent abroad during their degree had been worth it, but the average age in the room of people talking about the policy aspects must have been pushing 50 plus.

While I was at the British Academy, and mainly during the lunch break, I took part in a Q&A on the Guardian Voluntary Sector Network about how charities can access EU funding. The Q&A is here and the best bits summed up here. The Guardian does these Q&As very well; I’ve previously done one on languages for careers and there was another on a similar theme this week.

Anyway, after all that and judging the UACES/ThomsonReuters Reporting Europe Prize, I think I’ve earned my two weeks away. So I’m off. Have a great Easter, everyone.

Working for a living

This week is clearly careers week. I don’t think I’ve done a single careers talk since I arrived, and I’m doing two this week. On Monday we had someone from EPSO, our recruitment service, in the Rep holding open sessions for graduates (or soon-to-be-graduates) on the new round of recruitment and the new system. I was there to give a bit of a personal view of working in the Commission, describing my career path, and of course answering questions. The experience of new aspirants to an EU career will be a bit different from mine, as they will be taking tests designed to test competence and not knowledge. So no more questions about how many traffic accidents were there in the EU, or what is the weight of printer paper (both terrifyingly examples of questions in past competitions!). I was only at the final session of the day, but it was striking how many of the people who came along were from other Member States. Apparently this was less the case earlier in the day, but it raises yet again the issue I mentioned at Abingdon about the spectre of a loss of UK influence within the EU institutions.

Tonight I’m going to City University to talk to their Sociology MA candidates about possible careers for social science students. Given that I did a social science Bachelors and am starting a Sociology MA at City in September, it seems a shoe-in for me to do!

So, if I’m having to stand up in front of people and encourage them to consider a career here, I have obviously have had to think about what makes it a career I enjoy. So here is a purely personal look at the main things:

1) I love being able to use languages on a daily basis (and so that’s something I really miss here). As a spokesperson I got to do interviews in French and English, brief journalists in those languages and German and improve my minor languages by reading the press cuttings. Really made all those years of language learning worth it.

2) I’m a bit of a butterfly (5 different posts and 4 houses during my 15 years in Brussels), so working for an organisation with such a broad range of subjects means I can imagine about a lifelong career without worrying about getting stuck in a rut.

3) Leading on from that, there’s something for everyone. If you’re a really technical type, whose life revolves around widget regulations, then you can spend your whole career on widgets. If you want to move around a lot you can. There are many jobs giving an overview of a broad policy area, and many that are highly specialised.

4) The calibre of people you work with, both within the Commission/other institutions and their broader ecosystem of trade assocations, think tanks, law firms etc is very high. So intellectually it’s an amazing environment to be in. Like university with better food…

5) There is a strong element of idealism. I came to the view when I was a teenager that it is in our continent’s best interests to work together, and I was happy to be given the chance to work daily to make that happen.

I’m sure if I sat down for a beer and talked about this, more would come up, but that’s it for the moment. If any of this strikes a chord with you, why not apply for one of the recruitment competitions coming up? If you’re on Facebook you can follow developments via the EU Careers fan page.

Doing the Boo

I was at the London Wetlands Centre this morning for the launch of a new animated series called My Friend Boo, which is designed to be both informative and entertaining, in the best tradition of children’s TV. As it was part-financed by the European Commission’s LIFE+ financing programme (though we had no influence over content and creative direction), we were invited to say a few words, alongside the project partners, which include WWF and the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts. The best bit was when a class of 7 and 8 years old came in to watch the three programmes that deal with Water (it being World Water Day and all…) The programmes clearly struck a chord with the children, who were all humming along with the theme tune by episode 2, and there was almost a riot when the project leader said they’d all get their own copy to take home!

I also got a few minutes for a bit of bird-watching over the Wetlands and in just the few moments I was there I saw cormorants, a lapwing and what I think was a Red-crested pochard, never mind many ducks, geese and moorhens. On a day like today, it was difficult not to totally fall for the place! And even better, I have discovered this fabulous widget on the RSPB site to help you identify birds you see – perfect for a novice twitcher like me. They even have a mobile version.

Domino dancing

You might have heard about the dominoes that will be toppled this evening in Berlin, which have been painted by schools. You may NOT know that one of them is from a UK school, Chosen Hill in Gloucestershire, and photos are showing that their domino is right by the Brandenburg Gate. If you click here, it’s the 5th photo down on the left, and their domino is a black wall with a red tree on it. Congrats to Chosen Hill.

20 years ago I was an au pair, living and working in Frankfurt in Germany. I had had the chance to go to Berlin, but in August 1989, when I made my choice, Berlin seemed to be a divided city, with no prospect of being otherwise in my lifetime. It’s so astonishing, even now, that just 3 short months after my arrival it was all so different. I was doing my homework in my room when Ute, my au-pair mother, came down with a glass of bubbly telling me to come upstairs and watch the television as the Wall had been opened. A few weeks later we packed all the kids into the car and drove to Erfurt in the GDR. I remember eating Gulaschsuppe in the visitors cafe at the Wartburg for a few Ostmarks. And everyone tooted when they saw a Trabi on the West German roads. I was amazingly fortunate to have had such a direct connection with the events of that year, actually living in Germany.

Last week I attended an event at the London School of Economics entitled “20 years after the collapse of the Iron Curtain: have our dreams come true” with some of the major personalities from that time, including Vaclav Havel. You can listen/watch the event from the site. What I found interesting was the fact that unanimously they felt that yes, their dreams had come true, and that many of them articulated that through their involvement in the European Union.

I think that those who see the European Union as a purely federalist project bent upon the creation of a super-state are stuck in the pre-Wall past. The collapse of the Iron Curtain changed the terms of the game.

Parlez-vous Francais?

The Commission held a briefing in Brussels yesterday entitled “Is English becoming a rare language?” It highlighted the lack of English-language interpreters and translators in the EU institutions. It might not seem logical, but as English becomes such a lingua franca in the work of the EU, the needs for interpreters and translators with English as a mother tongue goes up, not down. We risk losing a third of the current workforce in 2015 due to retirement, and the new people aren’t coming in.

If you read the blog regularly, you will know about the work we do here on languages. The two issues are of course intimately linked. If kids aren’t learning languauges at school, then they’re not studying them at uni. If there are no language graduates, there are no translators and interpreters.

Anyway, here’s a little clip showcasing the work of English-language interpreters: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MA2fWvtMPDU

Back in the saddle

It’s been a bit quiet because I was away on holiday for a week, up in the Pyrenees mountains, far (mentally if not physically) from internet connections and the world of work. I had a busy couple of days before I left, which included a breakfast meeting (I was one of many there!) with Robert Peston of the BBC and being on the judging panel for a journalism award for diversity issues. We had the architects in all day yesterday finding out what we want from our new office in Smith Square. We won’t be moving for years, so we/they have to think about making it relevant to tomorrow, not today. I admire what they do – if you’ve ever looked at my other blog, you’ll know this was something I got really interested in when I was in the US – how the design of buildings influences their use.

We have a nice event today – a model EU Council, where 16-18 year olds from schools across London and the South East take the roles of different Member States (and the Commission and Council Secretariat) to debate 3 issues – GMOs/food safety, immigration and climate change. I was out at two of the schools before I went on leave, talking them through what the Commission and Council Sec do and hopefully pointing them in the right direction to get the Commission’s position on things. I’ll head over there later – once I’ve done this interview with Russia Today (!!).

Possibly the worst thing about being in London is the commuting. Just having a 45 minute trip into work is enough of a shock to the system (it was about 15 in Brussels) but squeezing onto packed trainsadds insult to injury. Yesterday, though, Southern managed to plumb new depths. Balham has 4 platforms, 2 of which are unused. But the trains were stopping there yesterday, just no-one seemed to know which trains and when. So we’d all be standing on platform 2 waiting for the Victoria train and they’d announce that the next one would leave from platform 4, so down the stairs we all go, up the stairs ont he other side to find that the guy was blowing the whistle for the train to depart. Then they said that the next one would be from 4, so we waited there, then as it was arriving, oh no, sorry (acutally no-one said sorry as far as I can remember) it’s on platform 2… Twenty minutes it took me to get on the train, running from one platform to the other, missing the trains. Total nightmare. And of course there’s nothing you can do about it – that’s the train you have to take to get to work, and they know they can treat you like that and get away with it. Grrr…

Update: you can see some footage of today’s Mock EU Council here.