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Supporting Catalyst of Change: Partner Spotlight | Institute 8th of March Slovenia

03 June 2024

Against the backdrop of concerning shrinking civic space trends in the European Union, the Netherlands Helsinki Committee has teamed up with the European Center for Not-for-Profit Law Stichting (ECNL) to support grassroots partners in Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Slovenia and Portugal, working in areas of women’s rights, environmental justice, and anti-corruption, in creating an enabling environment for civil society. Within the scope of our project “Catalyst of Change: Supporting a Vibrant Civil Society in Europe”, we are focusing on enhancing civil society’s response to new trends affecting democratic and civic space and civil society, strengthening effectiveness, accountability and sustainability of grassroots CSOs, and enhancing visibility and understanding of the work of grassroots CSOs supported by the project. Find out more here.

Institute 8th of March

We started as this core feminist organisation. Over time, our topics got broader. But the way we at the Institute understand it, a feminist organisation is fighting for a better life for all and for equality and basic human rights across the board. For us, the feminist fight is a fight for equality, and it includes the environment, worker’s rights, women’s rights, and so much more. – Maja Koražija Jereb

One such grassroots partner in Slovenia is Institute 8th of March; a feminist organization dedicated to achieving systemic change through impactful storytelling, civil initiatives and campaigns that foster solidarity.

We sat down with Maja Koražija Jereb from the Institute to get the full story on the inspiring work that they do.

Established in 2016, the Institute 8th of March is not only known for its fights for women’s rights, workers’ rights, the environment, and social justice, but also for its approach to each of these topics – the Institute works with a focus on community building and connecting people. Led by young women, the collective initiated Slovenia’s #MeToo movement and through it achieved the redefinition of rape in accordance with the “yes means yes” principle.

The story of the Institute is interesting because we started really small, just a few friends, addressing different feminist issues and topics. Almost at the same time, the #MeToo movement happened. And this changed everything for us. We decided that we wanted to be the initiators of #MeToo in Slovenia, because we were seeing that this bubble of silence surrounding sexual violence and rape did not burst naturally in Slovenia.

The organisation coordinated two successful national referendums (for the politically independent public broadcaster, against harmful changes to the Water Act) and in 2022 ran a “Go out and vote” campaign that helped increase parliamentary elections turnout by 37%.

We wanted to do something concrete. We decided we would not just do awareness-raising and collect testimonies, but that we would try to actually change the law. In Slovenia, we have this possibility of citizens’ initiatives, which means that you can write up your own law proposal. If you manage to collect 5,000 signatures, you can submit it for review to the National Assembly. We did this for the ‘Yes means Yes’ campaign, resulting in the redefinition of rape.

The support was incredible – so many people, volunteers from all over the country, joined the movement and were on the streets collecting signatures. This really big community was created, of people from different social backgrounds, from different ages. It was something really beautiful, because this topic united so many people, and not unimportantly, we were successful. The proposal was accepted in the National Assembly. Following this model, we have successfully managed to change 15 laws in Slovenia, on different topics, since 2016.

Protecting human rights at first workplace: #WomenWorkSafe

As part of the “Catalyst of Change” initiative, Institute 8th of March will carry out the transformative “WomenWorkSafe” project, designed to confront the pervasive issue of sexual harassment and exploitation experienced by young women in their student jobs. The exploitation of young women not only violates their rights but also undermines fundamental democratic principles of equality and justice, necessitating a comprehensive and collaborative response. The project will focus on increased collaboration among non-governmental organizations and serves as a catalyst for sharing experiences and expertise, fostering a united front against workplace misconduct affecting young individuals.

The project that we are doing with ‘Catalyst of Change’ is exactly about this – finding new ways of communication, finding new platforms, and giving the younger generation the space that they need to focus on the topics that they see as the most important. We firmly believe in giving space to younger generation and letting them teach us how to do things, within the framework of these important feminist topics.

Affecting structural change on a European level: My Voice My Choice

Institute 8th of March is also one of the original initiators of Europe’s fastest growing citizens’ initiative in history, on safe & accessible abortion for all Europeans: My Voice My Choice.

As Maja explains:

We decided we want to go beyond borders, to expand the community we created in Slovenia even further. We started connecting with other organizations in the EU, and found common ground in our fight for the right to abortion.

Working off the model that had been successful in Slovenia many times before, the Institute and their partners created the My Voice My Choice Campaign.

We decided to demand something really concrete, a systemic solution & a tangible change, so we focused on preparing our own European Citizens’ initiative – a legal proposal that would help advance and protect reproductive rights on the EU level through an opt-in financial mechanism funded by the EU.

The European Citizens’ Initiative, My Voice, My Choice: For Safe and Accessible Abortion, launched at the end of April 2024. While the initiative has 1 year to gather the necessary 1 million signatures required, the organisers are determined to reach this threshold in just 6 weeks – in time for the European Union parliamentary elections on 06 June.

This is the first time we are involved with an ECI, and we are very proud it is already the fastest growing ECI in history. We already have more than 230,000 signatures, and more than 200 organizations have joined across the EU. I think this is amazing, because it shows how much solidarity there exists, and how important this fight is in in all countries.

But more than that, we want this campaign to be ‘spark of hope’, showing the possibility of a different future and a better life.

Join Europe’s fastest growing citizen initiative and ensure safe & accessible abortion for all Europeans: sign the petition: