'You are not alone. Your problems are our problems. We are all in this together and together we can overcome many obstacles.’ Francesca Fenech Conti, Founder – Women for Women.
In 2020 it’s easy to assume that the fight for equality has been won. That women’s voices have been heard. That it’s all plain sailing. But the truth is very different.
As we celebrate International Women’s Day, it’s important to reflect on how the battle for gender equality and women’s rights at home, at work and in public life still goes on.
Whilst progress has been made, domestic violence remains the third most common crime in the country. It is estimated that equal pay is still many generations away. There are still only a small percentage of female politicians. And many women still feel helpless, either forced into situations beyond their control or compelled to stay in positions that they know will end up costing them dearly in the long run.
Where does a woman turn to for advice? For guidance, encouragement and support?
Meet Francesca Fenech Conti. Feminist. Activist. Visionary. Modern day suffragette. Friend. Mother. Whatever words you want to use to describe Francesca, her honest, passionate demeanour coupled with her unrivalled energy to help women in Malta makes her a gem to be prized like no other.
She is a woman on a mission to help other women in Malta find stronger, better, happier and more equal futures: Francesca is our inspirational woman of the month.
Women for Women is a Facebook Group founded by Francesca, that was specifically set up to provide women with a safe place where they can discuss a wealth of topics without fear of judgement or prejudice. Created in May 2015, the group has grown over the last five years to over 32,000 members. The premise is simple. A forum to create awareness, shape the debate for equality, to drive change and to give women the opportunity to help one another.
This is a subject which is closely connected to the Mvintage brand purpose. Krystle Penza, Founder and Jewellery Designer at Mvintage explains: ‘As a female entrepreneur, I know how hard it is to find the courage to fight the many obstacles I’ve had to face along my journey to create the Mvintage brand. I often turned to my own support network, female role models and friends who encouraged me to never give up on my dreams. And that, in turn, is what I want Mvintage to be for women. We design meaningful jewellery that can help to inspire women to work towards their ambitions. To celebrate their life stories. Their love. Their uniqueness. Their relationships with other women. Together I know we can be so much more, do so much more. And that’s something I will never stop pushing for.’
We had the opportunity to have a chat with Francesca and discuss how Women for Women all began.
1. How did the idea for Women for Women begin?
I felt the need to connect with other women in a safe space online. I needed other women’s support and to share and discuss my own personal internal struggles and insecurities. I needed to hear other women’s thoughts and opinions. That was the start of the Women for Women Group.
2. What are the main objectives for the Group?
The Women for Women Facebook group and the Women for Women Foundation is all about empowering, helping and supporting other women. Through our women only online community, we promote the importance of sisterhood, financial independence, gender equality and the removal of gender stereotypes. We believe that when women support women great things happen.
3. What are the problems, that women reach out for help with?
We discuss everything from finances to infertility, but many also reach out for help to get out of abusive and toxic relationships. Many mothers also reach out for financial help and support while struggling financially - either due to personal illness or that of their loved ones, after a difficult separation or due to a sudden death in the family.
4. Tell us about the community aspect of 'Women for Women'?
The feeling of belonging and sisterhood in the group is what makes it such an amazing space. Women from all walks of life helping each other and sharing their experiences, knowledge and skills for the benefit of other women. One of my favourite examples is that of one woman who first reached out anonymously to connect with me and the group whilst pregnant and living in a shelter for victims of domestic violence. We became friends and as a group we helped and supported her with basic needs once she left the shelter.
Aside from emotional support, we also provided clothing for her and her children and even furniture for their new home. I am very proud to say that she went on to study and graduate from MCAST. She now works with an NGO helping other women to escape domestic violence. I can easily say she’s one of my heroes and I’m so proud of her. She is also a great inspiration to other women.
5. What are the hardest obstacles that women in the organisation face?
Challenging current traditional patriarchal mindsets and the old ways of doing things. Malta as a society is changing rapidly and our policies, laws and institutions need to recognise this and cater for the new Malta. We can no longer expect women to do all the caring and child rearing alone, especially since there are many single parents and most women need to work to survive financially.
There is a need for the structures to be in place to reflect this evolving new reality. Through Women for Women we want to make this journey for women a smoother one and to push for policies that will allow for this.
6. What do you think are the hardest issues women face nowadays in our society?
I would say it is still very much a man’s world, although its changing rapidly, we have still not achieved full gender equality. Today many women in Malta work and have careers and professions - however once we have children, we are still expected to either stop working or to reduce our hours to look after our homes, partners and our children.
This creates barriers to career progress, instigates financial dependence and many women lack personal time for hobbies and pastimes, so we end up neglecting our own personal well-being. Women with children can’t be expected to go out to work, without the support of our partners. Nor without also having the necessary structures in place to allow us to feel safe in the knowledge that our children are being looked after and are being well taken care of.
I find that many women are ending up exhausted, depressed and struggling to keep it all together. Malta needs to recognise the value of its women who are doing so much of the unpaid work; caring for children plus, in many situations, looking after elderly parents whilst also running a household, holding a job or even running a business.
7. Has there been any progress for equality since you started Women For Women?
Yes! I have seen many women find their voices and many have started to realise that, as women, we do have a say in our own lives. That we can change our life course and start over at any age. Age is no longer a barrier and women are no longer forced to stay in unhealthy relationships. Women are waking up to the fact that staying in an unhappy marriage for the children, can sometimes be more detrimental to their children’s well-being.
I think other women are starting to believe it too. That being a happy, independent, confident woman whether single, in a marriage or relationship is the best example for our children. Many women are being open about their own personal situations and also feel safe to express their opinions.
8. How can members of the public help you make the change happen? What support does 'Women for Women' organisation really need?
We are currently applying to become a Foundation and NGO. This will enable us to officially provide more support and opportunities for women. It also means we need funding because, so far, we have always done everything for free but now we want to take it to the next level whereby we offer training, financial aid and opportunities for women and their children. We need the help from the public through donations and collaborations with commercial partners. We will be launching our new website shortly whereby the public can follow our work and support our vision.
9. Finally, what would be your advice for women that have problems but are afraid to share and ask for advice/help?
You are not alone your problems are our problems. We are all in this together and together we can overcome many obstacles. Many women have also gone through what you are going through, all you need to do is reach out with an open mind and open heart and you too can find peace and happiness.
10. We would love to know what is your favourite Mvintage piece and why?
This is the most difficult question of the whole interview. I love so many pieces but mostly I love the Munita collection. I am a big fan of Mvintage and I say this genuinely and honestly. I am totally impressed with the beautiful jewellery but also most especially impressed by the fact that this is a Maltese brand, created by a woman with vision and determination.
I know it is no easy feat creating something so professional and on such a large scale and must have involved a great deal of personal sacrifice. I love what the brand represents. I feel it is inspiring and empowering to see successful women accomplish so much - it makes us feel that we also can achieve our dreams. We really need more successful female role models in Malta and Krystle is definitely one of them.
Using Francesca’s own words, at Mvintage we also believe ‘that when women support women great things happen.’
And there’s never been a better time than right now.
Happy International Women’s Day ❤