Her Time: Empowering Romanian Girls to Lead
From her high school experience at United World College Changshu China to her current studies at Bennington College, a global academic perspective has informed the way Andreea Coscai ’22 now reflects on growing up in Bucharest, Romania.
“Ever since I left Romania for high school, I have felt the need to give back in some way,” said Coscai. “I’ve had some opportunities that not all Romanian teenagers have, and I’ve felt that if everybody knew about as many opportunities as possible, then they would take advantage of them and of their full potential, as well.”
At Bennington, Coscai studies Media, Communications, and Chinese. She uses her academic pursuits to further issues like gender equality, creating podcasts and videos that explore topics such as sexual harassment, abortion rights, and victim blaming in Romania. Her work and personal projects can be explored on her website.
For one of her Field Work Term experiences, Coscai interned with Romanian Member of Parliament Oana Bîzgan, who as a Vital Voices Fellow has advocated globally for women’s rights, children’s rights, and social justice.
“Between my academic Plan and my Field Work Term with Oana Bîzgan, I was inspired to do something to support girls and women, specifically,” said Coscai.
The work I’ve done at Bennington in media, with podcasts and videos, and what I’ve done over Field Work Term, particularly with MP Oana Bîzgan, has inspired me to find my voice and become more active in speaking out about gender issues.
Andreea Coscai '22
In April 2020, Coscai began a project called Her Time Romania, which utilizes social media to guide young Romanian women toward leadership through networking.
“My first step was to build a community of young women who would support each other, share resources and opportunities, have conversations, and collaborate,” said Coscai. “So I invited my friends, my friends invited their friends, and that’s how it started.”
Through these peer-to-peer connections, the Her Time Romania leadership and networking Facebook group has grown to 1,500 members. On Instagram, the nascent organization boasts over 4,600 followers.
Sensing a thirst for more opportunities to learn and connect, shortly after launching the group, Coscai began planning a series of free webinars online. She solicited volunteers from the Facebook group, and together they established Her Webinars Summer 2020, a series of nine webinars that spanned topics from female representation in politics to entrepreneurship to studying abroad.
“We tried to encapsulate a lot of different topics, and we had over 170 girls and women sign up,” said Coscai. “This happened just two months after I launched the project. I’ve learned there’s really a need for it. Every day, women and girls are met with toxic messages—that we’re not good enough, we don’t look the right way, we have to fit specific beauty standards (that further perpetuate dynamics of power)—and meeting other young women who are trying to grow their self-esteem and counter these messages is really helpful.”
After hosting the webinar series, Her Time received an outpouring of support from various NGOs, feminist organizations, and media in Romania.
“This project was something that people were excited about, because it didn’t really exist in Romania before,” said Coscai. “In Eastern Europe, there are not many youth organizations that focus on gender. So I started a team—now we have 25 volunteers—and we are working with NGOs and the feminist network to apply for grants and conduct projects aligning with our mission. We are trying to be intersectional in our work, so we have also worked with NGOs that deal with Romani women, specifically.”
These partnerships include informational campaigns, including a sex education social media campaign offered as part of the United Nations’ 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.
“Independent organizations have been invited to contribute to the UN’s educational campaigns, so we took the opportunity for more visibility and to become part of their network,” said Coscai. “Around that time, we were also featured in a popular Romanian publication’s newsletter, so that was also great for getting more people on board.”
Inspired by Her Time’s webinars and community connections, group members have begun branching out to begin their own projects, in fields ranging from creative writing to environmental justice.
Though COVID-19 has presented a challenge to many organizations and businesses, Her Time was well positioned to embrace the global transition to digital outlets amid social distancing.
“The moment was actually good for us, in terms of getting people to sign up for the webinars, join our mission through our social media presence, and create accessible opportunities for personal and professional development in trying times” said Coscai.
Her Time’s digital platforms have also provided comfort to participants, and the events have been an inspiration as viewers plan their next moves after their quarantine’s eventual end.
“One of our webinars in English is about entrepreneurship and project management, which featured a team of three people who started a project called When It’s Over on Instagram,” said Coscai. “They asked their followers to send messages about what they will do when quarantine is over. When we invited them as guests on the webinar, they had a useful three-step exercise for people to consider what they want to do, who they want to do it with, and what they each would bring to the table. It made you feel like you already had everything you needed to start planning for the future.”
For both her own future and that of her new organization, Coscai has ambitious plans.
“The work I’ve done at Bennington in media, with podcasts and videos, and what I’ve done over Field Work Term, particularly with MP Oana Bîzgan, has inspired me to find my voice and become more active in speaking out about gender issues,” said Coscai. “Before, I didn’t have a chance to explore these topics, but I’ve noticed my patterns academically at Bennington, and now I want to implement that work in Her Time.”
This upcoming Field Work Term, through Her Time, Coscai hopes to host an entrepreneurial competition for girls. Competitors would develop an entrepreneurial project that includes an analysis of strategies and potential social impact, and the winning team would be awarded $500 to invest in or implement their venture.
Her Time is also working with a Romanian therapist and coach to develop personal development courses that will empower girls and women to manage their emotions and strengthen teamwork and relationships with other people. Coscai is also planning on offering a second Her Webinars series over winter 2020.
“We want to explore different topics while supporting authentic Romanian brands and initiatives,” said Coscai. “One will be a panel with young entrepreneurs who are college and university students, which will be cool because they have started businesses online at a young age, and it’s inspiring. We’re trying to keep the webinars accessible and this opportunity free for everyone.”
Further afield, Coscai would like to offer a Her Time summer camp for Romani girls, with a focus on digital storytelling and public action.
“It would be exciting to bring in mentors in podcasting, video, and digital media, so the girls can connect with them,” said Coscai. “The camp would be an opportunity for young women to learn these practical and conceptual skills, and then use them to amplify their own voices and feel empowered to bring change to their communities—and at a larger scale, too.”
Going forward from Bennington, Coscai is interested in a number of routes, from pursuing a masters in gender studies to bringing Her Time into other countries and ultimately to an international platform.
The resources, mentorship, and opportunities to study and independently explore at Bennington have helped Coscai dream big while also implementing her ideas with faculty guidance and support.
“It is so amazing that Bennington has these resources and gives students the opportunity to do independent work, and be supported by the College,” said Coscai, who credits Director of CAPA Susan Sgorbati as an early supporter of Her Time and an ongoing mentor. “Everything has come together really well, and the resources that we are provided with at Bennington have been helpful in finding my path along the way.”
By Natalie Redmond, Associate Writer