From Melbourne to Brasil: pursuing my gender justice goals through an internship of a lifetime

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My story began very unremarkably: I applied for a last minute internship opportunity with Oxfam’s gender justice unit that had been created as a result of the Oxfam-Monash partnership. I emailed back with my CV within a few minutes (thank you email notifications!), and was eventually shortlisted for an interview with Kim Henderson, Oxfam’s gender justice lead.

I was pretty nervous, but the interview ended up being a casual chat over a coffee in a café across from the Oxfam office. I say casual chat but, in retrospect, there was still a huge amount of information to absorb! It was exciting though; I felt that even if I was not successful in securing the internship, I was still doing something hugely proactive for my future. I was even more excited when I found out I had secured the position!

Things moved fairly quickly after that. I enrolled in the internship subject, completed online Oxfam inductions, and arranged my first day with Kim for a general orientation. It was only then that I discovered a major perk of this internship: Brazil.

Let me backtrack. My internship title was International Feminist Forum Delegation Coordinator, and my role involved assisting with the preparation and coordination of Oxfam’s presence at the 2016 Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) forum in Brazil.

AWID is an international feminist organisation committed to achieving gender justice by supporting and resourcing the collective action and impact of global women’s rights advocates, organisations and movements. AWID hosts a global forum every three to four years that is attended by about 2,000 feminist activists from around the world. These forums provide a platform for activists to collectively strategize and mobilise, share feminist knowledge and information that can support women’s rights movements, and develop a more just development agenda.

AWID hosted its 13th international forum between the 8th and the 11th of September 2016, in Costa do Sauípe, Brazil. After applying for this internship, I was asked whether I could potentially go to Brazil in September (my answer of course was a quick and absolute ‘yes’). This had not been raised in my interview so I was thrilled about the opportunity. Forwarding back to my first day on the job, I found out that not only would I be able to attend the AWID forum, my attendance would be funded by the Oxfam-Monash partnership!

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Once I was set up and ready to start working, my first task was helping with the logistical coordination of Oxfam’s presence at the forum. Oxfam took care to send only a small delegation of employees, so as to not crowd out the space at the forum. Instead, they invested in the attendance of activists from partner organisations. These forums offer opportunities for smaller organisations and for activists from all walks of life to have a voice, and it is very important for international non-governmental organisations like Oxfam to enhance these opportunities instead of dominating them.

My role also involved helping with the preparation of the event strategy, policy positions and key messages that were used to ensure that Oxfam had a coordinated presence at the forum. I performed a lot of this work independently from home and worked about once a week from the Oxfam office. I was extremely fortunate to work directly with two inspiring, engaging, and very down to earth women, as I felt very comfortable to just jump in and get my hands dirty.

Participation at the forum itself was educational and motivational. Each day started with a plenary session (attended by all participants) that covered a broad scope of feminist issues. The remainder of the day was filled with a variety of experiences: from other participant-led sessions, to well-being activities and cultural events.

I divided my time between helping to staff the Oxfam display booth and performing general coordination, and participating in as many sessions as I possibly could. To name a few, I attended sessions on feminist resource mobilisation, intersex issues, and religious fundamentalism. Through this experience, I developed a deeper understanding of current feminist discourses and issues faced by women and the LGBTQI community across the world. I also learnt about current strategies, tools, and methodologies that activists are using to combat gender injustice globally.

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Upon returning to Australia, I spent several weeks preparing some follow-up work for Oxfam, including advice to improve the logistical coordination for the next AWID forum, an evaluation of the extent to which Oxfam achieved its goals at the forum, and an analysis of how Oxfam could improve its partnerships with women’s rights organisations and become a better ally in the fight for gender justice.

I also worked on my assignments for Monash, including a short presentation, a reflective journal, and an end of mission report that outlined my goals and achievements throughout the internship. These papers required a fair bit of work and critical reflection on my experience, including some soul-searching regarding my career goals, strengths and weaknesses, and they acted as a nice bookend to the internship process.

My Oxfam and AWID experience has cemented my desire to work in women’s rights and to further my academic study by pursuing a thesis on gender. I have improved my networking skills significantly (though it is still a work in progress!), and I have built friendships with women’s rights activists from around the world.

This internship has also continued to open doors for me. I presented about my experiences at the forum in a Gender and Development class, I have kept in contact with Oxfam’s Gender Justice team and other feminist activists, and I managed to secure a second internship with Oxfam’s Humanitarian Advocacy Team performing policy mapping and research on humanitarian issues.

My advice to you would be that, if you have the opportunity to do an internship as part of your studies, do not hesitate to go for it. Even if, like me, you tend to feel nervous about networking, it could be a game changer. Putting yourself out there for opportunities is never as scary as you think it might be, and it could be a step in the right direction for your career and gaining practical experience in the field.

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