The opening ceremony of the Women’s Networking Zone felt like a tremendous celebration of women’s achievements across continents. Shari from Canada, Eugenia from Mexico, Sabine from Austria and Naina from the US stood up in a row, all of them past, current or future key lynchpins in the organisation of the Women’s Networking Zones around the world. The sense of passing on the baton between continents and cultures created a huge sense of sistership, solidarity and shared humanity amongst the packed audience. They are all terrific women, spoke beautifully and passionately about the women’s rights agenda that they have all brought to Vienna and they wowed the audience with their brief but highly articulate contributions.
These conferences are quite extraordinary. Shari from Canada and I last saw each other in Mexico two years ago, but have been in regular contact over the past few months through skype calls as we prepared for this event. Tyler would be waking at 6.30, a large latte firmly in her reach – well she does live in Seattle – before the school run; Shari would be in Toronto, somewhere mid-day-ish; whilst we, in scattered points of the compass in England, or in Cologne or Vienna, would be at various stages of Kaffee und Kuchen – or cooking dinner with a glass of wine to hand. Together we would be struggling through the next logistical challenges of pulling off such an event. That extraordinary sense of multiple nationalities, ethnicities, languages and cultures is something that sometimes we take for granted, but it’s also part of what makes this work so exhilaratingly enriching.
Between us in our organising group, we have Tyler living on the West Coast, of Dutch extraction; myself with dual British and Irish nationality, Amandine who is half West African and half French, who also speaks fluent Spanish and Mandarin (as one does), Luisa who is Italian, who also speaks German, used to live in Vienna and lives in England, Harriet who is German and Sabine who is Austrian, who also speak great English, Grace who is from one African country, grew up in another, speaks fluent German and English and a couple of African languages also ….. and so it goes on. It is the most wonderful rich melée of strikingly attractive, dynamic and inspiring women whom I am lucky enough to work with.
We laugh at “lost in translation” moments, when we discover that “shelving” an idea doesn’t mean forgetting about it, as we would assume in England, but rather “putting it on the back burner” – a phrase they don’t use in Seattle. We do quiet battle over whether it’s the “WNZeee” or the WNZed”, each sticking stubbornly to our own. All in all, however we create an amazing programme of events about which we feel full of excitement and anticipation.
Then suddenly we are all there and greeting each other face to face again. Huge embraces all round – but no room for relaxing. A crisis has developed. There we all are on Friday afternoon, presentation-writing abandoned, frantically wielding screwdrivers to construct eight large flatpack bookshelves which we have been lent for the week. Grace springs into action as the flatpack queen, explaining patiently to the rest of us the critical sequence to construction without tears.
Forty eight hours, several buckets of sweat (it has been 35°C) and many blisters later the Zone takes shape and looks terrific – pinks and oranges, reflecting our great graphics, adorn the sofas, and stools. The panty line waves aloft – of which more anon. It’s 6pm, Maria is on the publications desk the Zone is opening. All sign of screwdrivers, cardboard boxes and other debris have vanished. The man in the booth opposite strikes up his own call to action. Maria strides across and instructs him firmly to lower his PA volume. He obeys. Wiltrut cuts the cord. We greet our supporters, welcome and thank our donors, the line-up of women all say their piece. The frantic week has begun. Will it all be worth it? Watch this space.