Next weekend, on Nov. 2, web magazine Feministeerium is to host its first Feminist Forum, TALFF. The event will offer a space for people to gather, listen to debates, and meet like-minded people. ERR News caught up with two of the web magazine's founders Aet Kuusik and Nele Laos, to discuss Feministeerium, feminism in Estonia, and equality.
"The aim was to give feminists, women, and minority groups a voice," says Aet Kuusik sitting beneath the website's logo of three lions holding pens, in the group's Telliskivi street office. Launched in 2015, the independent website wanted to offer Estonians a chance to engage with these issues in the Estonian language but also plug the debate into the global picture.
While feminist voices existed in the media at the time, Nele Laos says they were not consistent and would rise and fall. The majority of opinion pieces in general were also written by men, and Feministeerium was a place where women could put forward their opinions. The website then tries to publish them with other mainstream media outlets.
The pair say that feminism is not a popular subject in Estonia, adding there are a lot of misconceptions around what the term really means, and stereotypes of men and women are ingrained in society. They both think the image of feminism may have been tainted by the ideology of the Soviet Union and its statement that all people were equal ‒ although, in reality, this wasn't true. "The word comes with a lot of baggage," says Kuusik. "Saying out loud that you're a feminist is almost an activist act," says Laos. "It's on that kind of level."
Neither Kuusik or Laos could recall a time when they suddenly realixed they were feminists, but having lived outside of mainstream Estonian society, with Kuusik coming to identify as queer and Laos moving to Spain to volunteer, both started to question the way Estonian society was structured. This brought them both to the conclusion that their society was unequal and plagued by structural inequality. When Laos moved back to Estonia she sought out other people who felt like she did and found Kuusik, who had already organised feminist festival, Ladyfest Tallinn.
Both believe the Feministeerium space is needed to create discussion, although they would like to move off the internet and start doing more things in real life. Meeting like-minded people in person is more inspiring and actually makes change happen, they said.
With two conservative and right-wing parties in the current governing coalition, and right-wing parties growing in popularity throughout Europe, the web magazine seeks to bring people together are dissatisfied with this situation. A need to work and live in the "feminist bubble" is paramount, for Kuusik.
"If I read the news, if I see the rise of this authoritarianism and this wish to get rid of everyone who is different from the real nationalist conservative norm, it is just exhausting. And the stupidity that I see, this is exhausting too. It gets too much to live in Estonia sometimes," Kuusik says.
Laos agreed: "It's been a bit difficult being publically feminist in that sense. It's not the easiest thing to do, to do this work. But I want to carve-out this space because I know there are others who need it too."
But, if nothing else, at least these events mean Feministeerium is not short of topics to write about. Issues which receive a lot of attention include close relationship or domestic violence, the gender pay gap, abortion, and localizing the global MeToo movement. Kuusik says articles which explain what feminism is and what is meant by gender equality are also popular.
Laos says: "We try to raise topics and show them through a feminist lens and perspective, that you can write about a lot of things through feminism such as city planning and street lighting. We always have more ideas than we have the capacity to fulfil because we are working in a small collective."
She added that it was also a point to keep articles humorous and empowering. Articles are published in Estonian and translated into Russian and English to make the magazine as inclusive as possible.
The theme of next weekend's forum is movement, and the ideas for speakers, panels, and workshops were crowdsourced. The website asked followers this summer what topics people wanted to hear about and then built the program around the theme. In this case, movement means social movements and how to make campaigning for causes sustainable. Speakers are coming from Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Scandinavia and talks will be held in Estonian and English.
The forum's aim is to get people to come together, to discuss important issues and have fun, and it will be held at the Estonian Academy of Arts (EKA) in Tallinn.
Sustainability is a big issue, Kuusik and Laos say, because it is exhausting to fight for these causes by yourself. Speakers will talk about how to support each other and how not to suffer from burnout. Other discussions and workshops on the program include how to create inclusive spaces, anti-racist activism, leadership and how to make it more progressive, how to organise marches and protests, how to make politics more feminist, and how to become involved in political activism if you're disabled.
The group have also launched a crowd-funding appeal to help make the event happen and support the magazine. They are aiming to raise €2,600, and still need €300 to reach the target.
Kuusik says: "We want to create the feeling of doing it together and not that we are doing it for someone, and crowdfunding is the easiest way to do that. If you don't have time then you can still contribute."
"We don't offer a service, and that is something we want to emphasise, this is growing together as a community," says Laos. "With this funding, we will be able to create some light on a dark November day."
The crowdfunding campaign ends on Tuesday, Oct. 29 and can be found here.
Editor: Andrew Whyte