This is a story about a girl. A very special girl, named Tijana Mijalković.
Tijana is a trainer, activist, tango dancer, professional translator, and professor of Spanish language. Twelve years ago, she was one of the group of young people who founded the youth organization Center E8, and she has been collaborating with our team ever since. When we started to work on the “Be a Man” project, she liked the idea of the program that tackles a range of youth issues through the use of a gender perspective. Unlike most of the other gender-related projects, this one focused mainly on working with young men. Tijana was fine with that… for a while!
After a few months, she began to realize that our project is not complete without girls’ participation in it. She was the first person who voiced the idea of a gender project that involves boys and girls, together. “I started to be known not so much as the girl who likes tango and traveling, as much as the girl who was always complaining about the fact that, apart from sporadic episodes, there wasn’t any continuous work done with young women,” she said.
“My frustration started growing – I understood why it was important to focus on young men, but it felt as if I was witnessing the well-known scenario which we were actually fighting against: boys were getting all the attention, opportunities, travel and fun, while the girls were watching on the side-lines, only to be included from time to time as support. Whenever it seemed that we were moving forward, things would stop – we still didn’t have OUR project.”
After eight years, Tijana finally succeeded. When she came to a meeting where we presented the idea of “THE GREAT” project, she was the happiest person on our team: “I felt just GREAT!”, she explained, “I felt extremely happy and triumphant that I got my way, but more than anything, I felt that it was not a negligible thing for young women in Serbia.”
Tijana and her colleague from the region received an assignment to adapt the manual Working with Young Women: Empowerment, Rights and Health, originally developed by Equimundo in Brazil, and she started to facilitate a regional training of female trainers to work with young women.
“With just one training completed, I could confidently say that I was right – the reactions from the participants were overwhelming. Even though I appreciate the emotions they shared with us, I am aware that our scope is limited and that this project cannot solve all of the problems that girls in our region are facing. Nevertheless, we have definitely made an important step, and I am grateful to be a part of it.”
Asked to explain what she expects from this project, Tijana said that she hopes that her work with young women will continue, even when this project finishes.
“I also hope that there won’t be any girl in Serbia feeling like she does not have at least some basic information about her body and rights, as well as access to knowledge and skills needed to be a fulfilled and independent young woman. Lastly, deriving from my own convictions, I hope and advise young people to do the things they believe matter, and never stop trying to expand their own worlds in every possible, healthy way. I am looking forward to women being included more, not just in projects, but in all parts of society.”