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European Diary - One Woman's Chronicle

Lynn Ross, Ms


T
his diary highlights my journey of a decade through Europe personally and professionally and how the experience transformed my beliefs and expectations about what might be possible for women in the 21st century.

From 1994 to 2003 I was a Scottish delegate in a number of initiatives funded by the European Union. The purpose was to bring women together from various countries to discuss their priorities and make recommendations to the European Parliament as to what women themselves thought should be done to improve opportunities for health, prosperity and well-being.

This diary highlights my journey of a decade through Europe personally and professionally and how the experience transformed my beliefs and expectations about what might be possible for women in the 21st century.

My own involvement came about from my work on Arran where I had set up an intergenerational weaving project, bringing older women together to teach traditional textile skills to school pupils on the island as part of the school curriculum.


Handwoven Scottish Flag from the Arran Weaving Project


There has been a subtle shift in governmental attitudes since this project work began, and some countries in Europe are farther ahead than others in providing the financial and social support systems women need.

There is still much work to be done so that our daughters and granddaughters can benefit by what our generation and the women before us struggled to achieve.

I hope my experience will inform that work and that I can properly represent the enthusiasm, energy and joy of those meetings with other European women determined to change the system and create new opportunities.

ITALY BY MISTAKE

In 1994 I went to Italy the first time by mistake. I don't mean I was supposed to go to France or Switzerland.

I'd asked my assistant to phone for a report on a rural programme in Wales, similar to the one I was managing on Arran and handed her the phone number for the very urban Equalities Unit in Lewisham Council in south London.


Lynn showing off the Scottish Flag at the Conference in Perugia with Maria Teresa Marziali and interpreter


Once the confusion was cleared up I found myself with an invitation from the European Older Women's Network to the closing conference in Perugia in Italy of a 3-year New Opportunities for Women programme. This project partnered women's groups in Italy, Germany and England. The discussions were about the local programmes for providing employment opportunities which had been set up with NOW funding, how they had progressed and what the future would hold when the funding came to an end.

The most pressing problems discussed then are the same today, lack of appropriate childcare programmes, lack of confidence and self-belief in women who are still not encouraged to make the most of their lives.

This was to be a recurring theme over the next few years as I travelled and met women all over Europe to document our shared experience.

The trip to Italy was unforgettable for me, professionally and personally thanks to Maria Teresa Marziali, head of the Older Women's Network chapter in Umbria. I stayed with Maria Teresa and her husband Ricardo in the village of Corciano just outside Perugia with it's roots in ancient history, wonderful stone buildings and a view of the wide valley and the highway to Florence below.

At the conference I was the only Scot, the only island dweller and in the minority as far as language was concerned.


The meeting was conducted via earphones, my first experience of listening to an interpreter and giving me great respect for their attention to detail, which otherwise could have caused breakdown in international communication.

The conclusions were echoed many times in meetings throughout Europe and the recommendations were always the same.


The Way Forward

The first step in the development of any programme is to acknowledge and encourage the ambitions in other women, realising that if we do this we boost ourselves as well, and everyone gains.

We can't be as naieve as to think that women aren't competitive, but we can make the effort to create an environment where everyone will prosper and we will prosper too.

We can encourage other women of all generations to be themselves and use their experience and wisdom in their own best interests and make sure that we do not engage in backbiting or backstabbing.


NEW PERSONAL INSIGHTS

As part of my good fortune during my few days in Italy, Ricardo took me to the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi. He grew up in Assisi, so he was able to give me a unique tour of the town, explaining the history of the building of the basilica.

He could point out the houses where the masons had lived, recognisable by the Masonic symbol incorporated into the wall in each house, not always easily spotted.

Ricardo's extensive knowledge and love of the frescoes in the basilica, especially those of Giotto on the life of St. Francis made that visit unforgettable for me.

They were painted at the beginning of the fourteenth century and it was especially poignant in 1997 to hear about the earthquake and imagine the devastation to that impressive space.

With my Presbyterian upbringing, I was no expert on the lives of the saints, so it was awesome hearing about St. Francis and Santa Clara first hand in the place which still brings so much healing and peace to the world.

I came away from Italy at the end of that visit inspired by the determination of the women at the conference to make a difference to all our lives.

The artist in me was thrilled to the core by my visit to the Basilica in Assisi to see what has been done in the past and what I could achieve with my weaving in the future.

At the end of the visit, I arrived at the airport in Rome to find that there was a wildcat one-day strike and managed to transfer my ticket to the last seat on the last British Airways plane leaving Rome that day.

I found myself unexpectedly flying over the Alps and spending the afternoon in Lyon.

So I did go to France after all!






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