This year, GENDER.ED and the Edinburgh University Students Association (EUSA) came together for the launch of the Undergraduate Feminist Trailblazers Awards and Blog Series. The Awards seek to recognise and celebrate the contribution of undergraduate students from the University of Edinburgh who are furthering the cause of feminism through important and impactful work. This year, the judges were GENDER.ED Steering Group member and ‘Understanding Gender in the Contemporary World’ course convenor, Dr Meryl Kenny, EUSA Vice President Education, Tara Gold and GENDER.ED’s Interim Director, Dr Radhika Govinda.
The third-place winner for this year’s Undergraduate Feminist Trailblazers Awards is Shy Zvouloun, a 4th year LLB in Law with Honours student at the University of Edinburgh. The judges were impressed with Shy’s year-long commitment to GENDER.ED, as Undergraduate Communications and Events Intern and thought that this, along with her array of other experience, demonstrated Shy’s dedication to promoting, sustaining, and engaging with feminism. Radhika Govinda, Fiona Mackay, and Meryl Kenny, on behalf of GENDER.ED, noted how Shy became ‘the lifeblood of the network’ during her internship, bringing ‘phenomenal energy, creativity and initiative’ which has been instrumental in showcasing gender and sexualities studies research at the University of Edinburgh. From updating the networks Directory to organising the Annual Research Showcase, Shy has consistently demonstrated fervour in her collaborative and inclusive promotion of gender and sexuality studies. Alongside her work at GENDER.ED, Shy has shown a fierce dedication to gender justice and inclusion through her roles as Director of Speakers and Events at the Women in Law Society, and the Director of the Edinburgh International Justice Initiative. On top of these achievements, Shy also won first prize in the Women in Law Society and Black Chambers legal writing competition, a true testament to her ability and initiative. The judges commended the work that Shy does to sustain feminism both outside of and within the University, including behind the scenes at GENDER.ED.
Here’s what Shy had to say in response to some questions posed to her by GENDER.ED’s Undergraduate Communications and Events intern, Lauren Galligan:
What motivates you in your work to further the cause of feminism?
I’m heavily motivated by the transformative potential that feminism, as a social movement, has. Feminism has fuelled the fights for some of the progress made towards the growing women’s rights movement, from the right to vote to the right to maternity leave. It has allowed us to identify, and consequently challenge, the harmful social norms held in place, and legitimated, by the patriarchal, hetero- and cis-normative, white supremacist structures governing the societies in which we exist. I strongly believe that every small act, every contribution, no matter how small, counts in the feminist struggle. I hope that through my work I can play even the smallest part in the struggle for women’s liberation.
What would be your advice to any other students and non-students wanting to get involved in similar work to you?
Not to doubt themselves! In 2021, I had almost stopped myself from applying for my internship at GENDER.ED because I hadn’t formally engaged in feminist, gender, or queer studies in my degree, save for electing to approach my assessments through queer and/or feminist lenses. I would’ve missed out on multiple exceptional experiences and opportunities to contribute to the feminist cause had I let my self-doubt win. Every individual has something to contribute to the movement, regardless of the background they come from, so I advise students not to let their self-doubt about their place in the movement win.
Who else, outside of yourself, do you consider an inspirational ‘Feminist Trailblazer’, and why?
There are so many people I view as inspirational feminist trailblazers, but if I had to choose one, it would be author, historian, and activist Rebecca Solnit. While her work extends well beyond feminism, I have found great comfort, and great enlightenment, in her writing. I read her book Men Explain Things to Me at 14 when it had just come out, and while I was already passionate about women’s rights, her writing about violence against women, marriage equality, and of the ‘mansplaining’ that is all too familiar to women played a pivotal role in the development of my own passions and interests. Additionally, while not feminism-specific, her book Hope in the Dark (an essay version of which may be found here) has been instrumental in recovering from the sense of existential disappointment and dread I feel when considering the state of the world today. I recently bought a new copy and picked it up again following the recent repeal of Roe v Wade by the Supreme Court of the United States, and one quote I have clung to for years struck me anew. It goes:
“… hope is not like a lottery ticket you can sit on the sofa and clutch, feeling lucky … hope is an ax you break down doors with in an emergency; because hope should shove you out the door, because it will take everything you have to steer the future away from endless war, from the annihilation of the earth’s treasures and the grinding down of the poor and marginal. Hope just means another world might be possible, not promised, not guaranteed. Hope calls for action; action is impossible without hope.”
In my view, nothing quite encompasses the hope we tap into as part of the feminist struggle the way Solnit’s quote does.
This is the third blog post in our series profiling the winners of the Undergraduate Feminist Trailblazer Awards 2021-2022, organised by GENDER.ED and EUSA. Look out for four more blog posts in this series!