WOMEN'S NETWORK, EUROPE
Via del Serraglio, 10 - 06073 Corciano - PG - Italy
Tel./Fax: (+39) 075 506 8006
by Anna Garcia,
OWN Board member, Spain
In the evolution of western societies it is often apparent that there is not only a separation between the roles of men and women but also a division into groups: students, workers, pensioners, etc. Perhaps this is due to the type of society that we come from, one based on economic performance, an overriding factor that helps consolidate such situations.
But our type of society is changing, and these changes affect us all, men and women. One of the characteristics of today's society is a greater life expectancy. The traditional family model on which the relationships between generations were based is now different, and therefore the way we relate to each other must also be different and as I said earlier it is based on equality and not dependency.
As I have mentioned it is increasingly true that people are living longer all over the country, and it is also true that while men have a life expectancy of around 70 years, women can expect to live until they are 80 or more.
While for a start this is good news for women, it also means we must ponder how we can live this stage of our lives as fully as possible, and of course a major factor in anything involving quality of life is the way we relate to our immediate surroundings as well as the family.
We all know that older people can pass on the wealth of their life experience in their relationships with other generations. The historical moments they have lived through, their personal experience, the changes they have seen take place in society - these are values worth passing on to the younger generations, because we also run the risk that these memories will be forgotten since they are not part of official history.
In former times these relationships took place in public spaces: squares, market places, social occasions, and so on. The most commonplace events gave rise to these interactions within the community.
But over time these spaces have been transformed and organised into thematic spaces, such as Retirement homes, Residents’ associations, Women’s or Students’ groups, and so on, in an attempt to respond to the needs of society and allow us to develop our abilities.
While this is very important, we can also see that there is a growing gap between the various social groups, and this impoverishes their knowledge. What is needed is an exchange of experiences.
Relationships across generations, our subject today, is not something I wish to approach from a scientific angle but rather from the practical viewpoint of the ongoing work of the association ‘Xarxa de dones de 50 i més’, (Fifty-Plus Women's Network). This is a group of women who believed in solidarity and committed themselves to working together, placing themselves in the position of other women in order to share their interests, their feelings and their concerns.
The Network was started in 1993, the European Year of the Older Persons, developing out of a European initiative of setting up communications networks linking womenís groups in order to boost the debate on equality. This also allowed us to advance the scheme that had grown out of a number of self-help groups set up by Anna Garcia, the current chairwoman, based on the needs she saw around the neighbourhood where she lived in the District of Sant Marti, Barcelona.
She began this work as a volunteer, at that time with the parish - this was in 1971 - after realising that one of the many problems in the area was loneliness, especially among women who had always been kept busy looking after the family, but when they were no longer needed they were left with nothing to fill their lives.
They set up groups which were in principle open to everybody, but strangely enough only women came. The main aim was to make them realise that their work for others was very important but that they too existed and had rights and duties which they needed to know about, and that they had to take part in everything around them with a critical yet positive attitude.
The most important thing was for them to learn to appreciate their own worth, to see that all the work that a woman does is in fact a great contribution that she is making to society and that society neither recognises this nor gives anything back in the form of services. Let us not forget that the Welfare Society has been propped up by women for many years and still is, until we make the leap to the Welfare State.
Having gained their personal autonomy, the women’s groups were then able to start pressing for their basic needs.
Women today have a lot to contribute to society as a whole; speaking out and making their presence felt, and telling children and young people of their experiences can be a major step in raising their self-esteem.
These self-help groups are now well-established and are able to share their experiences with the younger members of society. Now every year all the Friendship groups get together, and various different subjects are worked on for these meetings:
Major feast days and all their variants: many are still celebrated but obviously very differently now; comparing the two types of experience is highly educational. A cookery workshop was held to teach how to prepare a traditional dessert, or make ring doughnuts. Pastry-making is one of a housewife’s skills.
Traditional housekeeping methods: how to knead dough, how soap was made, how women went to the river or public wash-house to do the washing -these are a few examples of things that can be taught to others.
Those elderly women who for a few hours become the teachers passing on all these traditions tell their audiences how easy it is to get everything today: bread is baked in electric ovens, our houses have showers, and we have bottles full of shower gel.
The end-of-meeting party was celebrated with a traditional-style snack, without pastries, but with bread, oil and sugar and a little chocolate, although it was pointed out that chocolate was not always on the menu.
Grandma goes to school is another shared experience. This was an effort to collect school materials kept by some of the older women together with photographs of their time at school in order to put together an exhibition comparing those times with the new technology used in the classroom today. The exchange of experiences is highly gratifying for both generations involved.
The compilation of the history of the last one hundred years was one of the most important projects that have been carried out because of its scope. This project, which the women worked on with the support of the Historical Archives of Barcelona City, District of Sant Marti, involved collecting photographs from family albums, selected by the women themselves. Once they had been organised an exhibition was set up on the history of a District of Barcelona, which a hundred years earlier had not yet been absorbed by the city but was a separate town.
These memories that emerge from private lives are also part of a countryís history, but because of their everyday nature they are not part of the history one finds written in books.
This exhibition, together with a series of talks by the women who took part in it, is offered to schools.
Boys and girls have been captivated by all these experiences. Even the youngest pay close attention, fascinated, joining in when they are told stories and sung songs, and everybody is touched to see how lovingly they welcome these older women, who could be their own grandmothers.
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