11 Mar Diversity & Inclusion
Interview with Carolina Sandeman & Teresa Sandeman
Diversity and Inclusion are key values of the European Youth Parliament (EYP) and it represents one of the six pillars in the 2021-2025 International Strategy of the EYP.
Organisations that intend to remain relevant today and long into the future recognize the strategic importance of diversity and inclusion in their practices.
In recent years, Inclusion has become a topic of discussion within the EYP, and the need to prioritise it has become increasingly clear. Although the EYP largely fosters an open and accepting social environment, there remain many structural barriers both to initial participation and to the development within the organisation.
Having in mind the relevance of this topic, we interviewed Carolina Sandeman – the EYP Portugal’s National Safe Person – and Teresa Sandeman – President of EYP Portugal – to understand the needs of our association and how to improve our practices to be more inclusive.
Question – Eduarda:
It is crucial for EYP Portugal to ensure that it provides equal opportunities to all its participants despite their gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, where they live and socioeconomic status. Are there any measures or practices in place to create a more welcoming and less discriminatory environment in EYP Portugal’s events? What more can be done?
Answer – Carolina:
The measures that are currently in place are the two policies that we have: Welfare Policy and Policy on Safeguarding Safety and Dignity. These two policies are the main tools we have to safeguard the welfare and ensure people’s safety within all EYP events. These are the policies by which, for example, the code of conduct that we have to sign at the beginning of the sessions, are annexed to. These documents that are obligatory to be signed are part of a structural mechanism to ensure the safety and enjoyment of everyone to their fullest potential. The policy on safeguarding safety and dignity is also the one that lays out the working mechanisms for National Safe persons, Event Safe Persons and Safe Core Team and the reporting mechanism that we have in EYP. The safe core team has only been around for two years if I’m not mistaken, so it’s still in the beginning stages but of course, more can be done regarding a more welcoming and less discriminatory environment. It’s a process like anything else but, as part of the Safe Core Team, I can say that we are learning as we go.
Q – Eduarda:
Do you want to highlight any practice involving the Safe Team within the International setting and/or the Nacional Setting? What do you do at events that are specifically important to ensure a safe environment?
A – Carolina:
I think it’s important that people understand their behaviour in sessions, especially if you are an official since you are viewed as a role model. It is crucial to make sure that people are aware of what their attitudes can portray and then obviously understand the policies in place that state that there is no tolerance for discrimination, harassment, bullying and any sort of misconduct, and that these have consequences. Depending on the level of seriousness, we will have appropriate measures to match their actions.
Q – Eduarda:
Do you feel that EYP Portugal is prepared to hold events where people with disabilities, such as motor or hearing ones, for example, can safely attend?
A – Carolina:
I think we are working towards being inclusive and we have done so in the past, I believe that in the International Forum of Coimbra 2019 we had a motor disabled delegate and from what I understand we managed to successfully host him and everything went well. I think this is something we are mindful of. In terms of how this can be protected, we are currently developing an Accessibility Document and part of the NC is responsible for ensuring that events are fully prepared to meet this standard to guarantee that our events are safe and accommodating for everyone.
Q – Eduarda:
EYP Portugal is integrated into a network of 40 national committees. Diversity is not a foreign word in the EYP context. Our events feature lively but respectful dialogues and serve as grounds for different opinions to be heard. With the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement and LGBT rights movement and others that have been brought to the world’s agenda, do you feel that now more than ever these subjects should be debated and feel present in sessions? In what ways?
A – Carolina:
I definitely think these topics are important to be discussed and sessions provide a great space to debate them because they are environments where you have a guided discussion and, since they happened to be very emotional topics, it’s definitely a good way to prevent this from getting out of hand. I think that they should be discussed in constructive ways obviously, and in ways that we also address issues of our own organisation that are already being addressed on an international level with the Anti Racism task force that we have now. I believe this is very much the approach that we should have because I think it is important that we realize that EYP, as much as we do preach diversity and inclusion, sometimes if we look around, there might not be the most diverse environment, unfortunately. But it should be a very open and constructive debate and I think sessions are a very good environment for that.
Q – Eduarda:
Do you think these themes should be included in the portfolio of the committees or is it more in a module type of way where we highlight diversity and inclusion as important topics that the safe team should ensure in events?
A – Carolina:
Both. I believe sessions would be a good use to discuss this but I can’t say that they should strictly be discussed like that. Obviously, any situation in which there is an open and respectful setting is a good way to discuss topics like this. I would say that besides this, it is important for everyone to do their own research and learn from the right sources.
Q – Eduarda:
An active effort is required to transcend regional, social and cultural barriers, within our activities which may limit the development of our organisation and participants. The EYP guide for outreach and inclusion states one of the practises to reinforce these values is to ensure regional representation at your events within the country. We have noticed a change in the last years in better distributing the place where sessions take place. Why do you think that this distributed approach has a positive impact on the association? What potential problems worry you the most by regional disparity?
A – Teresa:
In recent years that has definitely been a bigger effort to distribute events more evenly. For example, in 2018 we had a Regional Session in the north and one in the centre, so then our National session was in the south. This is mainly because the schools around the place of the session take part in it and, this way, we make sure that we cover every part of the country. What we used to have, and what we still have to a certain degree, was a lot of people from the north. This is also because our headquarters are here [Porto], most of the teachers involved are here and over 50% of people in the EYP Portugal community are from Porto. Obviously, we have been trying to combat it with the Regional Development Working Group, which has done a great job going to schools or, as of now, doing zoom meetings to reach schools from different parts of the country and choosing places on the interior, which we have the recent example of the Covilhã Regional Session. In general, one of EYP values is inclusion, but it is also something that hasn’t been done well, ever. One of our biggest worries is not abiding by this value and not having an accurate representation of Portuguese youth in our association and losing a very big point of view from the interior of Portugal.
Q – Eduarda:
Although travelling to other parts of Europe is an integral part of the educational experience that the EYP offers, taking part in events abroad remains prohibitively expensive for many who join the organisation.
Having in mind that inclusion extends to social-economic factors, how can EYP Portugal help students to have the full international experience by going abroad? Is it possible to help these students by giving them some financial support, mainly in cases where students are selected to attend an international session abroad?
How does EYP Portugal plan to reach students in less privileged economic situations?
A – Teresa:
I think that a lot of people believe that to join EYP you need to have a lot of money to go abroad or to participate in sessions, or even for train rides between cities, but fortunately, there have been some structures put in place, mainly regarding International Sessions. Most of these have funds that delegates can apply to have money for their travels and other expenses. As of right now, the Board is discussing setting up a fund to help delegates with their participation fees and to fund their travels to the National or International Sessions if they are selected. We also discussed having our Fundraising Department actually help students get funding because sometimes if you ask your municipality or a company to sponsor you, they will, and I know a lot of people that went to International Sessions by doing that. I think that these structures are important to give everyone a fair opportunity to experience EYP to the fullest, but also I do think that that is not enough. In my first year on the Board, a student e-mailed us saying that he could not attend the National Session because he couldn’t pay the participation fee. At that time, we covered part of his fee and since then I have been trying to get a fund set up and it just hasn’t worked out, for a lot of reasons, but mainly because we don’t have enough funds in EYP Portugal to have that extra money. However I believe that this is the best year to do it because digital sessions don’t need that much money. Right now, we are making sure that we create this fund to help delegates and make sure that everyone has an equal opportunity.
Q – Eduarda:
Some of the practises brought by EYP’s guide to inclusion and outreach were integrating vocational schools in the NC’s reach and to reconsider the dress-code since some people might not own fancy formal clothing. How do you feel that these changes would impact the diversity and inclusion discipline in EYP Portugal? Would you want to highlight some practises that EYP Portugal is already doing to promote inclusion in events?
A – Teresa:
In terms of this suggestion in particular I wouldn’t mind. In our Welcome Booklets, we still include a dress code but this is something that could be reassessed. One thing is asking someone to wear a dress shirt since most people must own one, but another thing is asking people to wear a full suit, which is something more expensive and less accessible for everyone. I think that financial accessibility is also something that we need to discuss. Like I said before, EYP does have inclusion as a main value but it doesn’t actively break the lack of accessibility or make palpable new measures in place to make sure that everyone can fully attend an EYP session. What I’m doing now is writing an Accessibility Document. I met with Leonor Amaral, who used to be a member of EYP Portugal, and since she’s disabled, she told me how she felt in sessions and what we could do better. Something that I actually realized is that even though digital sessions are not ideal, they are definitely more inclusive because people can actually know and control when they take breaks and what they wear because people will only see their top-half. I think a lot of the time we don’t make a bigger effort regarding this, and I’m including financial inclusivity, as in ‘if we don’t have dress codes and aren’t formal in GA, then it’s not the same thing’, and those are self-imposed values that can make people feel uncomfortable with participating because they don’t have the right clothing or experience. This is something we need to consider and maybe change if we see that this is something that will affect a lot of people because it is more important to have a more diverse group of people participating then having everyone wear suits, for example.
Regarding vocational schools, right now the way we reach schools is that we have a call for them where teachers can apply and say how many delegates they will bring and the selection is made so we can have at least two schools from each region of the country. So far, we contact schools about the call to all of those that have participated in our events, but we should probably expand that and look at more schools. Actually, this year, we were worried about not having enough delegates so we made a massive list of schools in Portugal to send the call to. Because it is so easy to include other schools and students, we should make a bigger effort to include vocational schools, because it doesn’t matter where you come from, as long as you match the age gap that we need.
Qualitative growth and equity in the way we debate, play, think, organise and form relationships, is essential for the organisation, its participants, and the wider context of the world we all live in. EYP Portugal has the opportunity to engage actively in the informal education of our participants and bring to the table these very important values that all young Europeans must learn to be active and empowered citizens.
Active engagement with and active implementation of inclusive measures are needed if we want to create an inclusive environment in our organisation.
Read more about diversity and Inclusion here:
International Strategy 2016-2020 – Vision for an inclusive EYP (Page 10)
Guide on outreach and inclusion jan_2017:
State of outreach and Inclusion – Results of the survey 2015
International Strategy 2021-2025 – (page 07 and 09)
Thank you for reading!