“What makes us tick is togetherness”.
In this interview, Vani Veyel talks in detail about the work of the Girls’ Advisory Council – and also gives very personal insights into life as a genderqueer person in a heteronormative society. Parts of the interview were published in the Stuttgarter Nachrichten, you can read the unabridged text here.
filia: Vani, can you start by telling us a little bit about yourself?
Vani: I’m 20 years old, I am from Mannheim and I am in my second semester of studying social work in Wiesbaden. Since my early adolescence (13/14 years) I have taken on tasks for the community. Starting as a class speaker or school speaker up to the commitment as an altar server in the church. Early on, I also began volunteering in open children and youth ministry settings. In 2018 I started with regular openings in a youth center and as a companion of multiple disabled people at recreational activities. In September 2019, I then began my 18-month federal voluntary service in a youth center in Mannheim. Before that, I earned my advanced technical college entrance qualification at a Mannheim high school, majoring in education and psychology.
How did you become a member of filia’s Girls’ Advisory Board (GAB)?
In the fall of 2017, a social worker from a youth center that I regularly visited at the time approached me and told me about an email from filia advertising for new members for the GAB. I read up a bit on what filia and especially the GAB were doing and then applied to the MB using the online form. An additional incentive for me was the fact that the whole thing takes place in Hamburg and I can be there for a couple of days, because Hamburg is the most beautiful city for me next to my home Mannheim. In the application for the GAB, I had to answer various questions, e.g. what I would change if I were chancellor of Germany. I can no longer say exactly what I answered, but it was along the lines of eliminating inequalities in the world in general and, above all, creating equality between men and women.
“In the Girls’ Advisory Council, girls and young women with different discrimination characteristics become decision-makers*”, it says on the homepage – which discrimination experiences have you had and why?
Because of my sexuality, which is not hetero, and my queerness, I’ve always been and still am inconvenienced. I don’t fit into a heteronormative society. I was born a woman, but have never really felt comfortable with my biological sex and today describe myself as genderqueer. When I was about 14 I came out as a lesbian, which on the whole didn’t cause much of a stir in my immediate environment, but I did get the odd unpleasant comment from outsiders when they found out I was into women. When I had my first steady girlfriend, we had to fight again and again with the unpleasant looks of other people. Through my very masculine appearance, I think, these experiences were still within limits. But I experience resistance every time I go to a public toilet. I’m always asked if I know that it’s the ladies’ room and I’m directly yelled at to get out immediately or I’m not even allowed in the toilet, e.g. by the cleaning staff. This is part of my everyday life as a non-heterosexual, genderqueer person.
“Because of my sexuality, which is not hetero, and my queerness, I’ve always been and still am inconvenienced”
What specific perspective do you want to bring to the Girls’ Advisory Council?
Through my own experiences as a queer biologically female person, I have made experiences that other people with a similar background unfortunately also have to make and I always have them in focus and advocate that these injustices, discriminations and hostilities come to an end at some point and that there are good offers for people who have to make these experiences until then. In addition, I have a lot of practical experience in working with children and young people and know the structures of municipal facilities for open child and youth work.
Can you tell a little bit about who the others are on the Girls’ Advisory Board?
We sine a wildly diverse group of 11 people, ages 14-26, who have been part of the GAB for between one and five years. Among them are people who still go to school, others study law or often represent psychology. Not only that we go professionally in different directions, so we all live in other places in Germany and also in the UK. I come from the southernmost city and I think Kiel is the northernmost hometown. So each person also brings different perspectives, because someone who grew up in the capital has a very different experience than someone who comes from a rather smaller town like Fürth. So again, a completely different view from a person who originally comes from Hamburg, but is studying in London. Not only do our places of residence differ, but so do our religions, roots, and social and societal backgrounds.
What makes us different is the togetherness. In no other committee, association or group have I felt as welcome and comfortable as in the GAB. We are all sensitive in dealing with each other, because each person of us had to gather other difficult experiences in life and not every person can relate to this, and yet we all support each other. We have an extremely strong connection that goes beyond the GAB. Friendships have developed that would never have happened otherwise, as these people would never have met without the filia context. When I tell others about the council, I describe our weekends together as living in a bubble, where things are peaceful, respectful and loving – very different from the actual everyday life of many of us. A safer space than many other spaces we use. And for me also a space of learning, apart from the work of the council I have already learned so much from the other councilors and also learned many new things about myself, got a much greater awareness of my privileges and a better understanding about diversity in any direction.
What is the practical procedure?
The associations apply in writing to filia with their projects, and first we as the advisory board receive a brief description of each project, which we then use to make a preliminary selection using a points system. For example, each person has 15 points to award and can award up to 3 points per project. After the pre-selection has been made, we all receive the entire applications for review. We then all read through these in advance of the actual meeting, make notes, research the clubs, etc….
“We have an extremely strong connection that goes beyond the GAB”
Then in the spring of each year, there is the advisory board weekend, where we discuss the projects together from Friday to Sunday. Saturday is actually the most intensive day, because we talk through every application and there can sometimes be very different opinions on individual projects or we find that clubs do not meet the ideas that we want to promote. And at the end of this intensive, long and exciting day, the ranking takes place: with the same point system as in the pre-selection, the votes for the projects are then assigned undercover and a ranking list is created. And depending on how much money is available for the projects for girls and young women in Germany, the projects from place one to XY will be funded.
How can you apply for project funding – or do the members of the advisory board also propose projects themselves?
Any association registered in Germany can apply to filia with a project for girls and young women. In fact, it has already happened that advisory board members were part of a project that applied this year or they came to the advisory board through the participation of a filia-funded project. However, if there is a bias, i.e. that an advisory board member is part of a project that has currently applied, the person has no voting rights.
What do you look for when selecting projects to fund?
The focus is on the multiple forms of discriminations the addressees face and that the idea came from the people concerned themselves and, ideally, that the application was also co-written or written by the people themselves. It is also important that there is a clear thread in the project and also in the financial plan and that everything is as transparent as possible for us. The association submitting the application should also be in line with the values and standards that filia represents. For example, we pay attention to how diverse a team is or where else the association gets funds from. If possible, we also try to support projects in rural areas, because often the applications come from big cities like Leipzig, Berlin or Hamburg and we think it’s important that we support projects throughout Germany and also in cities that basically already have fewer offers for girls and young women.
“The focus is on the multiple forms of discriminations the adressees face”
Do you also visit the projects personally?
Every year we visit at least one filia-funded project, and if we can and there are several projects in one city, we try to combine these visits. For example, on one weekend in 2018, we managed to visit three projects in Leipzig at once. This year, there was even an online project visit, with simultaneous exchanges of three different funded projects.
Can you give two projects as examples that are particularly close to your heart?
One project from Munich, which we had also visited in 2019, is particularly memorable to me. A group of lesbian African women wrote and performed their own play, reflecting their traumatic and painful experiences. They performed a scene from the play for us and to this day I have goosebumps when I think about it.
Another project that I found particularly good was from 2018 and took place in Leipzig. There, a DJane* workshop for girls and young women was offered by a well-known DJane from the Leipzig club scene and in the end, a party was organized, where the participants could show of the skills they had learnt during the different workshops. For example, one workshop had concentrated on self-defense and at the party there were role plays where the women could apply their newly learned skills.
What do you get out of working for filia?
That my voice is heard and that I can make life at least a little bit better for girls and young women with my work. And that my own learning process is always being pushed forward. So I get more and more knowledge about the structures in foundations and different committees and can be part of it when something is done for girls and women in this world.
What distinguishes filia from other foundations for you?
Since I only know filia as a foundation as an active member, it’s difficult for me to answer that. But what makes filia unique is the participatory approach through the girls’ advisory council as part of the girls’ empowerment program, as well as the foundation’s funding priorities, which not only focus on Germany, but also support women worldwide in leading a better and, above all, equal life.
Thank you, Vani, for the interview and your openness!
For a while we used the asterisk after girls* and women* because we wanted to show that we meant all people who position themselves as female. However, we were made aware that this spelling is perceived as discriminatory because it implies that there are ‘real’ women and women who need to be marked with asterisks. Therefore, we have decided to stop using the asterisk in this case. In texts that we receive from our project partners, we do not change the spelling of girl* or woman*.