Meet the four women challenging Europe to change

Interviews turn up the volume on voices that should be better heard. Four powerful interviews with women who may just change history were recommended to Newsmavens this week. Here’s what they made us think about.

Zuzanna Ziomecka
Zuzanna Ziomecka Gazeta Wyborcza, Poland
Meet the four women challenging Europe to change  - NewsMavens
Wonder woman still By ABC Television via Wikimedia Commons

Priorities - Zuzana Hlávkova, a 27 year old Slovakian whistleblower

In 2015 Zuzana Hlávková got back from her studies in Great Britian and started her first real job at the Slovakian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. As she worked on planning cultural campaigns and events, she and her colleague Pavol Szalai discovered that the presidency campaigns were not managed transparently and cost much more than they should. She was young and at the start of her career. Despite this, she and Pavol quit the ministry and took their findings to Transparency International Slovakia. Soon after Hlávková made her discoveries public in a blog post – she was 26 and making accusations of top government officials. Pavol followed in her footsteps shortly after.

In an interview with 'Dennik N', Hlávková told readers, “I didn’t fear for my life, but maybe for more subtle problems with my career, my family etc. The government’s reaction was that we’re attacking Slovakia’s EU Council Presidency.”  Indeed. Today, Zuzana Hlávková is accused of defamation by an official who helped prepare the Slovak Presidency at the Ministry.

But she is also a hero – a role model for young people who come back to Slovakia instead of leaving for an easier life in the West. And for the rest of us, she is an example of prioritizing high professional standards over the easy road of complacency.

Trust -- Nicola Werdenigg who outed Austrian pro skiing as rife with sexual violence

Nicola Werdenigg is a celebrated sports champion whose life seemed lined with the roses of success. As a teenager in the 1970s she made it to the Ski World Cup and came in fourth in the Winter Olympics in 1976. This week, however, she broke a lifetime of silence and revealed that she was raped by a teammate and his accomplice at the delicate age of 16.

In an interview with 'Der Standard', the Austrian downhill champion described rape and pedophilia that she witnessed during her time in competitive sports and which she says is still a reality in professional skiing. It took Werdenigg 43 years to tell her story. She talks about the shame that kept her quiet and says that now, "I can talk about the experience. More than that, I have to. To give young people the strength to speak up if it happens to them. Victims must be able to trust society to defend them.”  

This trust that Werdenigg describes reveals something new about the world -- that in a post #MeToo reality the truth can be safely let out of hiding and justice will be served without further hurting the victims of sexual abuse. Finally!

Manipulation -- Janne Teller, the author and activist who understands what makes us turn on each other

Janne Teller is one of those women who has done and lived in ways that have never occurred to the rest of us. Before becoming an internationally acclaimed fiction writer and essayist, she worked for the UN in humanitarian assistance and conflict resolution. This background equips Teller to find patterns in politics and events while her gift for storytelling makes her especially good at explaining the relevance of what she sees. It is small wonder that 'Nepszava' dove in to interview her when she went to Hungary this past week.

In the ensuing conversation, Teller talked about the War in the Balkans, which she followed closely while with the UN. “I try to understand the mechanisms of civil war -- when neighbors start killing each other. How can this happen among people who went to school together? Ultimately, I realized there are always leaders manipulating people’s feelings,” she explained.

In this age of Russian interference in foreign politics via social media and illiberal governments’ use of public media to spread divisive propaganda, Tellers words ring particularly true. We would all do well to think about who is driving the conflicts in our relative countries and why.

Change -- Angela McRobbie on how the system is rigged to make us adversaries

Angela McRobbie is a cultural scientist widely renown in the UK for her thinking on the situation of women. In her most recent work, she looks at the narrative of success that we are fed in western cultures (you can do anything! You can have the perfect life!) which actually pits people in different economic classes against one another. “This discourse not only makes the middle class look down on poor people, it also creates conflicts and hinders solidarity,” she explains in an interview with 'Der Standard.'

There is something, she implies, in the very DNA of our socio-economic system that prompts us all to compete against one another. One person succeeds when/if another person fails. If we look at stories of how most of the world’s top 1% initially accumulated thier wealth, it becomes clear that McRobbie is right. At the beginning of many fortunes, there is someone amassing value at the cost of someone else losing theirs. Whether it’s slavery, exploitation of resources, or musicians (ahem -- Robert Branson!), capitalism requires us to compete and take from each other in order to move up the ladder.

What Angela McRobbie suggests is that we don’t have to play along. As she advocates that we work towards solidarity across class and ethnic borders, she is essentially calling for radical change to the current open market democratic system. She may look and sound like a harmless academic, but this lady is a revolutionary!

Find the full recommendations of these interviews and links to the original articles below.

women's issues, violence, conflict

Meet the women whose voices are changing the old continent

Project #Femfacts co-financed by European Commission Directorate-General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology as part of the Pilot Project – Media Literacy For All

The information and views set out on this website are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of the European Union. Neither the European Union institutions and bodies nor any person acting on their behalf may be held responsible for the use which may be made of the information contained therein.

NewsMavens is a media start-up within Gazeta Wyborcza, Poland's largest liberal broadsheet published by Agora S.A. NewsMavens is currently financed by Gazeta Wyborcza and Google DNI Fund.
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