Writer: Mariia Lysikova
Editor: Gabrielė Malūkaitė
Photographer: Vira Kondratyuk
Sisters, mothers, grandmothers, teachers, mentors, family members, friends.
This is a small list of role models that more than twenty girls have mentioned when discussing what brought them to the first meeting of the Lean In Circle - a project that focuses on female empowerment and gender equality.
Initially started by Yuliia Rusianovska and her friends, Arilda Lleshi, Gabrielė Siriūnaitė, Vita Klimaitė, in 2018 as a book discussion, this initiative has grown tremendously by transforming into a community of LCC students passionate about social change and female leadership.
Three years later, Viktoriia Shvaher and Yana Ustymenko, now leaders of the club, invited active members and newcomers to discuss the plans for the future, recap on the progress done so far, and share their personal stories.
The two major directions of the educational efforts this year are International Relations and the global context of gender equality, as well as women’s role in art and visual media.
Viktoriia Shvaher and Yana Ustymenko encourage everyone interested in organizing the events mentioned above to reach out and submit their applications for participation by Wednesday.
Yana Ustymenko: Naming the Elephant in the Room
Yana, one of the two leaders of Lean In Circle this year, shared that she was privileged enough not to notice sexism until early adulthood. She felt little gender-based pressure compared to other people in the world who are targeted because of their gender and suffer from abuse and overt discrimination. However, what made her realize the global scale of the issue was her experience in traveling.
“I like to travel alone, but that posed a lot of questions for many people from my surrounding. I would often hear them say, "Don't travel alone to that country. It's unsafe for women." It is just another small reminder of how much work has to be done when it comes to gender equality,” said Yana.
From that point on, Yana started to piece together all the minuscule yet unfair things she never noticed in childhood - such as the fact that a woman had to know how to cook how to find a husband, girls are not allowed to have short haircuts because it is for boys, and that they cannot smoke since it is not nice for a lady - and it came together in a bigger picture.
Now, Yana identifies as a feminist and an active supporter of gender equality. Yana shared that for her, this status means seeing the world as an equal place for all genders.
“Many people who oppose feminism base their judgment on radical individuals who do not necessarily represent the whole community. Gender equality does not mean having an equal amount of female and male construction workers, soldiers, or firefighters, but allowing people to pursue their passions and career choices regardless of their gender,” said Yana.
“I can say that we have made tremendous progress in recent years: I can make a list of actions that have changed the women’s role in politics, workplaces, and culture for the better. Women now feel much freer than before.”
“However, it does not mean that we achieved equality as a finished product. From personal experience and all the stories that we hear, there is so much place for growth. LCC International University is an incredible and safe place for change-making since.” shared Yana.
Girls here are free to raise their voices for all of those who cannot
Lean In Circle and Its Impact
During the discussion, Viktoriia has mentioned that she was unsure of what impact her initiative made on the world full of inequality and injustice at some point in her activist experience. However, a closer look at the actions done by Lean In members so far makes it apparent that their role in educating and empowering the LCC community is prominent.
Between 2018 and 2019, Lean In hosted a number of discussions on varying topics. One of them was an event of family, relationships, gender roles in different cultures where both students and staff, and faculty shared their perspectives and came together to share ideas that others did not have a chance to hear before.
Furthermore, one of the team’s most defining projects is establishing a full scholarship for female leaders.
"Inspired by Sheryl Sandberg's movement "Lean In" we are working towards creating a platform that financially aids female leaders in the region. More specifically, we aim at gathering donations that add up to 25 000€ in order to create an endowment fund for a scholarship that would exist as long as our university does," states the official Lean In website.
Leaders of the project acknowledge that these events and projects made a change, but this year, they want to focus on educating the community and encouraging more awareness and participation from newcomers rather than merely bringing like-minded people together.