Editor’s note: The “Sisters of Europe” project was created two years ago to tell the story of women in post-#metoo Europe and the impact on gender equality 100 years after the suffragette movement. The full set of stories can be found at sistersofeurope.eu. Award-winning journalist and co-creator of the project Prune Antoine explains the thinking behind the project, as well as the learnings as it comes to an end this month.
My daughter was only six weeks old, my father was in a coma, and I was proofreading my first novel. To say that I was in a difficult place when I started working on Sisters of Europe would be an understatement.
Two years on, amidst a global pandemic and a revolution in Belarus, this hybrid project is coming to an end. Across two seasons it mobilised over 70 reporters, photographers, graphic designers and others to tell the story of women in today’s Europe through 27 interviews with 27 women from 27 countries, four debates in four capitals and an online summer campaign.
Maybe believing there are new ways to do journalism can keep you going. Maybe documenting the lives of women in Europe post #MeToo is galvanising. Maybe feminism is a remedy for women burning out, for women going through postpartum, for those of us struggling with all the shit that life throws our way.
Thought up in 2017, Sisters of Europe focuses on one central question: what consequences did the #MeToo movement have on European societies? Where do we stand on gender equality, a century after the “suffragettes”?
Today, three women lead Europe. Ursula von der Leyen may be President of the European Commission, but the EU still hasn’t ratified the Istanbul Convention on domestic violence. Christine Lagarde may be the head of the European Central Bank, but in France women still earns on average 15.5% less than men. Angela Merkel may be Chancellor of Germany, but abortion is still not legal.
Can things really change? The media “crisis” and the rise of populism stem from a feeling of collective powerlessness. With Sisters of Europe, we have chosen to re-empower the audience, focusing on women.
Feminism is experiencing its fourth historic wave. It’s a time of exuberance, of claims and of excesses, too. There is eco-feminism, egalitarianism, radical feminism, intersectionality, queer feminism, and the process of de-colonising feminism.
Grouped together, these positions make for a strong wave, and bring an extraordinary diversity to European feminism. But that diversity can be both a strength and an Achilles heel. After all, what do Greta Thunberg, Ukranian miner Elena Maslova and the first female Imam in Demark, Sherin Khankhan, all have in common?
Above all, Sisters of Europe was an opportunity to get back to the basics of journalism: asking questions (not answering them) and opening discussions (without judgment).
We refused to go down the typical path of profiling “role models”. We wanted to give a voice to women of all ages, all backgrounds, famous or not, feminist or not. We also didn’t want to fall into the same old trap and only speak to “invisible” women or “overexposed” women or “victims” or “fantasies”.
In recounting their dreams, challenges and struggles we allowed our interviewees to re-appropriate their image and their unique stories, each set against the backdrop of their home countries.
Thinking global doesn’t mean denying local specificities. European feminism has its own geography. Our interviewees came from Kosovo, Switzerland, Russia and Turkey too, because we believe that the future of the EU isn’t only defined by its member states.
During the four major debates we organised in Paris, Warsaw, Berlin and Athens – symbolic capitals and four cardinal points in the south, north, east and west of Europe – a spectrum of issues European women are grappling with – region by region – have been tackled: from domestic violences to gender pay gap or reproductive rights.
This summer, when we were all stuck at home, we tried dreaming once again. We launched an online campaign asking anonymous people, high-profile individuals and NGOs, to answer one question: “What law, what idea could improve the lives of women in Europe?”
The dozens of answers were posted on Instagram and Facebook. They spoke about extending mandatory paternity leave, about a universal right to abortion, and even about creating a feminist European political party.
Our platform sistersofeurope.eu serves as an archive of sorts. It’s a time capsule with striking interviews, strong photographs and high-quality design. It is thanks to that ambition and quality that we earned a collective nomination for the Franco-German Journalism Prize in 2020.
Both as an editor and as a woman, I felt an immense sense of freedom sifting through the photos and the drafts. For once, it wasn’t about how women looked but about what they had to say.
In an industry that is collapsing and grasping on to the question of business models, non-profit financing seemed to be one of the last bastions of innovation to us. It was the only way to cover stories, projects or people without framing them in a national, gendered or generational way. We greatly appreciate the support of the Advocate Europe programme and the European Cultural Foundation.
What have I learnt as co-founder and editor-in-chief?
It is possible for media to set the agenda, give voice to the invisible and get out of the hysteria of national debates or social network driven discourse.
It is possible to work with a pop-up newsroom made up of freelancers, to create a one-shot project that prioritises long-form reporting.
It is possible to tackle major social issues through cross-border stories, mobilising a community of readers and partners.
It is possible to adopt a circular and sustainable approach to reporting, one that mixes journalism, civil society and activism; to use this “journactivism” / solutions journalism hybrid to tell stories online that lead to real life discussions.
It is possible for those discussions to become collective reflections, which can be translated into demands for change.