Blog: Girls Diplomatic Academy 1.0: a unique project about diplomacy for Ukrainian girls who do not study international relations opens its virtual doors for the first time
January 16, 2023

Blog: Girls Diplomatic Academy 1.0: a unique project about diplomacy for Ukrainian girls who do not study international relations opens its virtual doors for the first time

Thanks to the European Union, in particular the EU4Youth Alumni Network, an amazing new project for young Ukrainians will be implemented in 2023 – the ‘Girls Diplomatic Academy 1.0’. The project is quite unique as it was developed specifically for girls who are interested in diplomacy but who do not study international relations as a part of their formal education. Are you eager to find out more? Read on, and don’t delay – the deadline for applications is 22 January!

In this blog, Karolina Rybchanivska, a Young European Ambassador from Ukraine, interviews the team in charge of implementing the project to learn more about it and the operation of the EU4Youth Alumni Network, thanks to which it all became possible. Her guests are:

  • Liliia Antoniuk, Young European Ambassadors in Ukraine National Coordinator, Executive Director of the NGO ‘Women’s League’, EU4Youth Alumna, and Founder and Leader of the ‘Girls Diplomatic Academy 1.0’ project
  • Yuliia Vaida, Young European Ambassador, EU4Youth Alumna, and Project Manager of the ‘Girls Diplomatic Academy 1.0’ project
  • Anna Savelieva, EU4Youth Alumna and Project Assistant of the ‘Girls Diplomatic Academy 1.0’ project

Karolina: Liliia, you are a Founder and Leader of the ‘Girls Diplomatic Academy 1.0‘ project, could you tell us how you came up with the idea?

Liliia: I’ve been working in the area of womens’ and girls’ rights and gender equality promotion and protection since 2015 and in the field of European integration and youth empowerment since 2019. For the last couple of years, I have worked closely with young people from different backgrounds: some of them are quite privileged, they have received a good education, traveled a lot, and participated in many national and international projects; the others are less privileged due to many reasons, most of which do not depend on them but mainly on their circumstances. I was born in a small village far away from the capital city and I know the role that ‘circumstances’ can play in a person’s development and life. 

Thus, I always try to do my best to help young people who are less privileged to develop their potential and become better versions of themselves. In 2020, as an Executive Director of the NGO ‘Women’s League’ and an EU4Youth Alumna, I launched the ‘Girls Leadership Academy’ for girls aged 14-16 from regions of Ukraine to help them to develop their leadership potential and broaden their vision of the world. We have already successfully implemented two Academies (in 2020/20221 and 2021/2022) and in 2023 it will be conducted with the support of the Ministry of Youth and Sports of Ukraine which has recognised its importance.

The 2023 year was a very challenging year for all of us. Among others, it has proven the necessity for all Ukrainians to have some basic knowledge and understanding of international relations and diplomacy so as not to become victims of manipulations or disinformation. Unfortunately, international relations and diplomacy have for centuries been very very much a ‘men’s club’. But with the rise of feminist movements, the development of human and women’s rights, and increased rights and freedoms for women, some changes have begun to happen in terms of gender equality and women’s representation in different areas. However, due to the peculiarities of the field of diplomacy, which has always been a bit conservative, changes in this area take place more slowly than in other spheres.

This problem is of particular concern for societies with a strong patriarchal tradition and a big gender gap in women’s access to politics and decision-making. Unfortunately, Ukraine is just such a society. According to data from the Global Gender Gap Report 2022, our country was ranked 81st out of 146 countries, the worst result in the past three years. At the same time, of the four indicators that were studied (economic opportunities, health, education and politics), the position of our country is the lowest with regard to women’s access to politics and decision-making – 100th out of 146.

International relations is a form of politics that takes place not at the national, but at the international level. If we look at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine in terms of its leadership, we will find that during the entire period of its existence, no woman has headed the ministry, and among the heads of Ukrainian embassies abroad, as of January 2023, there are only 15 women out of 87 people, just 17%.

Thus, in these challenging times, when due to the full-scale war so many Ukrainian girls and women had to leave their homes and move to other countries seeking refuge and representing Ukraine, it is more important than ever to make sure that Ukrainian girls and women are empowered and skilled in the areas of international relations, despite all the structural barriers that have existed previously. 

Thanks to the support of our mentor from the EU4Youth Alumni Network, together with my team I have come up with an idea to create a project for girls that will help them to develop their competencies in the areas of international relations and diplomacy, even if they do not study it as a part of their formal education or do not work in this field. That’s how the ‘Girls Diplomatic Academy 1.0’ came to life. 

Karolina: Wow! It sounds so impressive! Yuliia and Anna, how did you find out about the project and why did you decide to join the team?

Yuliia: I’m an active young person and I like to engage in different initiatives and projects, especially if they deal with international relations and diplomacy, which is the field of my formal education and the area where I would like to work in the future. For more than a year I have been a member of the ‘Young European Ambassadors’ initiative in Ukraine. In the autumn of 2022, I joined the NGO ‘Women’s League’ as an author of a series of articles on women in international relations and diplomacy (I have already produced two articles: about Lana Zerkal and Madeleine Albright). At some point, we started discussing with Liliia the idea of having an event on women in diplomacy and came up with the idea to deliver an open lecture called ‘Men’s Club or Is There a Place for Women in Diplomacy’. While working on the event, Liliia shared with me information about the EU4Youth Alumni Network and proposed to join the team working on the ‘Girls Diplomatic Academy 1.0’ project. I accepted without any hesitation as I felt it was an amazing opportunity to make this world a bit better and to empower girls to pursue their dreams.

Anna: Ever since I was a child, I have been engaged in volunteering and working with children and women’s rights. A year ago, I met Liliia at one of the events dedicated to volunteering and non-formal education. That was when I learned about the work of the ‘Women’s League’ and the ‘Girls Leadership Academy’ that they were implementing at the time. I asked Liliia if there were any opportunities for me to join her organisation and assist in implementing their projects. Unfortunately, a few months later the full-scale invasion happened and all Ukrainians had to change their plans and priorities. However, sometime later, Liliia texted me with information about the new call for the EU4Youth Alumni Network and the project she was going to implement as part of the Network in 2023 – ‘Girls Diplomatic Academy 1.0’. I got very excited about her proposal to join the team, applied to become a member of the EU4Youth Alumni Network in 2022/2023, and started working on this amazing project. So, I must say that in my case it was all about being proactive and reaching out to people by myself. And it is a piece of advice that I would like to give to all young people: don’t be shy, if you want something – act on it.

Karolina: Liliia, can you tell us more about the targeted audience of the project: why did you decide to work with girls aged 17-21 who do not study international relations if your project is all about international relations?

Liliia: Many people ask us this question. Usually in Ukraine when people are 17-21 years old they are at their Bachelor’s level of education. There are many reasons why young people choose one path or another in their life, which depends a lot on the circumstances. It might have happened that a person wanted to study international relations but was born in a small village far away from the big city and the people who surrounded that person did not encourage them to follow their dream. It might have resulted in the fact that now a person is studying, for instance, history or psychology as it seemed an easier and more realistic option. With our project, we want to help people to test the sphere of diplomacy, and to motivate them to go for it if they feel that it is what they are really interested in. Maybe when deciding on their Master’s studies, they will change their mind, or maybe they will understand that in fact international relations is not what they imagined and they will never regret the fact that they did not enroll on an international relations programme, who knows? In any case, we want to help people to understand themselves and the world around them better and to make more conscious decisions on their future choices, be it about education or work.

Karolina: Indeed, it is always better when you can test something and make a decision based on your practical experience. Yuliia, what is the structure of the project: what is the implementing period and how are you going to organise the work of the participants?

Yuliia: Our project consists of two parts: online and offline. The first part takes place from February to June 2023. In these five months, we will have 10 online meetings. The meetings will take place every two weeks starting from 11 February. Between the meetings, the participants will receive some creative tasks which they have to deliver. For instance, they may be given a task to watch some video or movie and reflect on it in the form of a short essay, to choose some country and present interesting facts related to its diplomatic protocol, etc. 

The second part of the project will take place in June-July 2023. It consists of a study visit to Kyiv and an official graduation ceremony. The study visit includes meetings with the representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the UN agencies, the Young European Ambassadors, the beneficiaries of different Erasmus+ programmes, etc. 

To facilitate communication with the participants, an internal working chat will be created where there will be 24/7 support available from team members. We strive to build a community of like-minded people who will stay in touch with us and each other for many years after the end of the project. 

Karolina: I see it is quite a complex project! You mentioned that you are going to deliver 10 online meetings. Anna, what are you going to talk about at this event? What exciting agenda do you offer to encourage everyone to join it? 

Anna: The topics are quite diverse, but, of course, they are all connected to international relations and diplomacy. Among others, we will talk about the history and achievements of Ukrainian diplomacy, the gender perspective of this field, emotional intelligence and diplomatic protocol, youth and cultural diplomacy. Moreover, we will look in detail into the operation of such organisations as the Council of Europe, the United Nations, NATO, and the European Union. Among our speakers are recognised Ukrainian and foreign experts – representatives of the respective organisations. Thus, I strongly encourage you to apply if you have not done so yet. The deadline for applications is 22 January. 

Karolina: Are you the only people who work on the project or do you have other team members who assist you? From what I  hear there is a lot of work.

Yuliia: We have a big and amazing team which consists of 7 people. Together with Liliia, me and Anna, who are EU4Youth Alumni, there are a few more volunteers who make the project happen: Polina Makhomiet, Eva Lysyk, and Dariia Ujazdovska who are the Project Assistants, and Anastasiia Nardied, who is a Partnership Manager. An interesting fact is that Polina Makhomiet and Eva Lysyk are graduates of the ‘Girls Leadership Academy 1.0’ project, which was implemented by the NGO ‘Women’s League’ in 2020/2021, and Dariia Ujazdovska joined the team after she participated in one of the public events that the organisations carried out in autumn 2022. I really enjoy our teamwork and every week I look forward to our team meetings.

Karolina: I already regret that I am not part of your team. Anna, do you have any advice for prospective participants before they apply? 

Anna: I would tell girls to get rid of any insecurities regarding their abilities. You should keep in mind that the aim of the project is to create a safe space for you to learn and improve. I believe that participation in the ‘Girls Diplomatic Academy 1.0‘ will provide you not only with the opportunity to gain new essential knowledge, but might also become a first step in your future career. ​​While there is a full-scale war going on in Ukraine, everyone has their own frontline. Let’s fight for our rights and let’s become better versions of ourselves. 

Karolina: It all sounds so impressive! I feel so bad that I do not meet the selection criteria as I am not yet 17… Liliia, you mentioned that the ‘Girls Diplomatic Academy 1.0’ project is implemented by the NGO ‘Women’s League’ thanks to the EU4Youth Alumni Network. Tell us more about the Network and the benefits it offers.

Liliia: You know, I am a big fan of the EU4Youth Alumni Network, and I am very loyal to this initiative as I was one of the first Alumni who joined it in 2020. It was another challenging year because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the restrictions that it caused. However, despite all the challenges, we made the ‘Girls Leadership Academy 1.0’ happen back then, and we will make the ‘Girls Diplomatic Academy 1.0’ happen now.

The EU4Youth Alumni Network for the Eastern Partnership brings together former beneficiaries of EU-funded youth programmes to apply their skills and the experience they have gained to support disadvantaged youth in their communities. The aim of the Network is to sustain and mobilise the enthusiasm and voluntary spirit generated during young people’s participation in EU projects and programmes (such as Erasmus+ Youth in Action, European Solidarity Corps/ European Voluntary Service, EU4Youth, Young European Ambassadors, Civil Society Fellowships or other regional or national programmes relevant to youth and youth work). 

The Alumni Network offers its members the opportunity to connect with disadvantaged young people in their countries and help them to develop their skills and confidence to become more active in their communities and to participate in future EU mobility programmes. Through the 10-month programme, the Alumni work with a mentor to create and implement their own initiatives on the ground, allowing them to gain new tools, skills and experience in working with young people.

The Alumni volunteer their time to be part of the network (non-remunerated). However, they receive financial support (up to €500) to cover the necessary costs of implementing the initiative in the community, with 10 beneficiaries. As Alumni, we receive ongoing regular mentorship from an experienced youth worker. They guide us in our learning and support the development of your initiative to meet the needs and aims identified. You can find out more information about the EU4Youth Alumni Network here
Karolina: Girls, your project and approach are really amazing and so important! I am looking forward to meeting you all in July 2023 after you complete the project to follow up on it and find out more about its results.

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