WHO ARE WE?
The Rogers Park Young Women’s Action Team (YWAT) grew out of the efforts of young women who expressed concern about the rampant street violence and harassment in their neighborhood in 2003. This group of young women between the ages of 12-22 from the Rogers Park Community is committed to researching issues of violence against women and girls, raising awareness of the problem, and working to reduce its prevalence and impact.
The YWAT is a youth-led, adult-supported social change project that empowers women to take action on issues that affect their lives (particularly issues of violence against girls and young women). The YWAT believes that girls and young women should be free from violence. We believe that through collective action, consciousness-raising, and organizing we can end violence against girls and young women.
- To educate men and women about issues of violence and sexism.
- To break down the barriers between men and women so that they can better understand each other, create alliances, and develop strategies for dealing with issues of violence and sexism.
- To organize against violence by relying on consciousness-raising, community education and collective action.
- To nurture leadership among young women.
- To create a safe space for girls and young women to examine and explore issues in our lives and support each other as women.
WHAT DO WE DO?
Our work focuses on four major categories.
1. Youth-Led Participatory Action Research – Using Research to Support Informed Community Action
YWAT members play lead roles in identifying information that could serve to change or initiate a program, community initiative, organizing campaign, or policy that affects them and their peers. They then frame the questions, design and use methods to collect data, analyze the information, make recommendations, and work with others to follow through to action (Youth in Focus, 2002). Youth-led participatory action research represents a profound political and social statement about making research relevant, empowering, and capable of effecting significant changes to policy and communities. Over the past seven years, YWAT has undertaken six youth-led action research projects. Topics included: street harassment, teen dating violence, involving young men as allies in the anti-violence against women’s movement, the impact of stress in young women’s lives and sexual violence on the Chicago Public Transit system. Each of these projects culminated in the creation of research reports as well as in some form of community action (ranging from public awareness campaigns, community marches, lobbying elected officials for improved lighting, self-care/spa days, conferences, producing films, etc…). We are currently addressing the impact of harsh disciplinary policies in funneling youth into the school to prison pipeline.
2. Leadership Development — Developing a cadre of current and future leaders.
This is at the core of all of YWAT’s work. We accomplish this goal through offering training and mentorship to our associate and core members. One of the ways that we build the skills of our members and other interested young women is through our Girl Leadership U (GLU) program. GLU is a youth-coordinated and organized initiative for young women ages 14-19. It is designed to guide young women through a process to help them understand the importance of building a specific set of skills that can be applied to taking action and making change. Through GLU, participants:
- Build self-awareness and confidence;
- Deepen their understanding of the nature of leadership
- Develop participants’ leadership skills, including public speaking, advocacy, and organizing
- Provide young women with a meaningful opportunity to connect and network with other emerging leaders
- Increase participants’ critical thinking and analysis
3. Community and Peer Education
YWAT members provide workshops to youth and adults across Chicagoland and beyond. Over the past seven years, YWAT members have presented more than 100 workshops to youth and adults across Illinois and beyond. Workshop topics include “Teen Dating Violence 101,” “Healthy Relationships for Teens,” “Street Harassment 101,” “Mobilizing Youth for Social Change,” “Developing a Positive Body Image”etc…
4. Community Action
The YWAT has continued its organizing work through launching the Citywide Day of Action against Street Harassment Campaign In the first year, on May 4th 2006, the YWAT organized a highly visible and well-attended community march and encouraged everyone in Chicago to host their own “action” as well. Over 140 individual and collective actions took place and some of these were documented through a zine and DVD project. In May 4th 2007, YWAT sponsored the 2nd annual Day of Action which also engaged hundreds of people across Chicago. We have also launched a Girls for Safe Transit organizing campaign that we have been working on for the past two years.
For more detail about YWAT’s Leadership Development Philosophy, click here.