Rogers Park Young Women’s Action Team (YWAT) strives daily to end violence against women and girls. YWAT came together in 2003 to respond to the problem of street harassment in Rogers Park. The core team of high-school aged young women is determined to hold the community accountable for violence against women and girls. YWAT first took action against street harassment and then teen dating violence by conducting in-depth community-based research projects. These studies were published into reports that are used to raise awareness among community members and elected officials. In 2004, the YWAT forced broader attention to the issue of street harassment through its RESPECT campaign. The team cooperated with over 125 local businesses and other public spaces to blanket the community with signs demanding a stop to street harassment. Through this campaign, the YWAT successfully advocated for better lighting on two main streets in the Rogers Park community.
YWAT officially gained Mayor Daley’s support in 2005, when he issued a Proclamation declaring the week of October 17th “Teen Dating Violence Awareness Week in Chicago.” YWAT directly addressed the prevention of teen dating violence with students at twelve Chicago Public High Schools that week, including Sullivan High School. The issue of teen dating violence continues to affect young people’s lives. As such, in February 2007, YWAT hosted over 125 youth and adults at a youth-led conference called “Love is NOT Blind.” Workshops were presented by youth from Lane Tech, Females United for Action, YWAT and its male allies, Aqua Moon and the Young Women’s Empowerment Project.
YWAT recognizes that all community members – including young men – are responsible for confronting violence against women and girls. On May 4th 2006, YWAT organized men and women (young and old) around its mission in the first citywide Day of Action against Street Harassment. The core team hosted a highly visible march in Rogers Park emphasizing that “the streets belong to all of us” and YWAT also supported and catalyzed other local actions by groups throughout the city. In all, YWAT documented over 140 individual and collective actions on the Day of Action. Some of these actions were captured on film and in a zine that was created by YWAT members. The YWAT organized another successful citywide Day of Action against Street Harassment on May 4th 2007.
YWAT heightens visibility of often hidden or ignored issues of violence against women and girls through on-going community education workshops. YWAT members directly train both peers and adult allies. Over the past seven years, YWAT has conducted over 100 presentations and workshops across the country. In 2006 and 2007, the team also invested in the future by hosting a monthly (January-June) Girls’ Leadership Camp for middle-school aged girls at Loyola Park Field House on the last Saturday of the month. In 2008, the YWAT launched Girl Leadership U which 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. GLU provides young women with the opportunity to analyze and explore the nature of leadership as well as to gain more self-awareness.
In June 2006, the YWAT launched its “Engaging Young Men as Allies Project” by producing a documentary called “Real Talk: Engaging Young Men as Allies,” which highlights interviews of young and older men about their attitudes and experiences regarding gender violence. This documentary was created through collaboration with Beyondmedia Education. The Engaging Young Men as Allies Project also includes survey research, a discussion guide that accompanies the film, and a workshop created with the help of YWAT’s male allies.
Only a few of YWAT’s accomplishments were captured in the preceding paragraphs. In September 2010, the YWAT celebrated seven years in existence. Over these seven years, the group has said goodbye to many members and welcomed a host of new ones. As a youth-led organization, we are always experiencing transitions as our members move on to pursue post-secondary opportunities. However, we are proud to say that once someone joins YWAT, they are members for life!
Free Spirit Media worked with us to create a short video that introduces our team and our work. Special thanks to the young people of FSM for being terrific partners!
Or you can just watch the video below: