Maker Women / Warsaw (Poland)
Maker Women (https://fablabtwarda.pl/makerwoman/) is a project that was started in 2017 by Robisz.to, an association that runs a fablab in Warsaw. The aim of the project is to close the gender gap in making – and more generally in manufacturing – by offering training courses to women. Since 2017 five editions of the maker women classes have been organised with 12 women each. The classes cover topics like 3D modelling, CNC laser cutting, programming, etc. and run for three to four months. Next to the classes each participant has to work on their personal project. This personal project is supposed to be “yours, just yours … Maybe you want to create like a special toy for your kids, or a new care or bike it; could be anything, but it needs to be yours” (Interviewee, MakerWomen). Thus participants have to run through the whole production process, from the initial idea generation to the final presentation at the end of the course. So far 60 women participated in the five editions of Maker Women.
From the 60 participating women, more than 60% apply their newly gained skills in a professional context. Some women have successfully applied for more grants to further work on their projects and/or create start-ups based on their ideas. Others use some of the skills in their professional work – either to find new professions or extend the activities in their existing professions. The interviewee herself started to earn money with 3D modelling after the 3D modelling classes of Maker Women. But next to these hard-skills participants also gain other benefits. There are a number of soft facts that are important outcomes of the initiative, which our interviewee describes as “mind-opening” and “empowering” (more on that below).
Gender and other inequalities
Maker Women involves women in making. While the fablab follows an inclusive approach, which involves makers with a diverse set of gender backgrounds, the project itself addresses women only. Our interviewee states that there are still strong stereotypes in Poland with regard to what a woman should do and what not. And although Warsaw is certainly the most liberal region in Poland, jobs related to technology, technological positions and positions in manufacturing are mostly occupied by men. This inequality is addressed by Maker Women.
Next to Maker Women Robisz.to organises an Open Womens’ Day every week, where women can choose to participate depending on their interest and availability more freely.
Best practices and challenges
Our interviewee herself participated in the Maker Women classes and being asked about the effect of having only women participating in these classes she states: “It was amazing and empowering and also the atmosphere that is created among girls. That they are feeling: “It’s for us!” … It was a lot of great friendships between girls and until now some of them are best friends. The atmosphere was very caring. I think what I saw is something we as women try to avoid which is like calling ourselves weak or dependent or caring. We don’t want to be called like this because I am a feminist.”
Most of the classes were led by male trainers as the main selection criterion for educators was excellence in technical skills. When setting up the first editions of Maker Women there were not many women specialised in making skills, but some of the women from early classes became trainers for the next editions.
The fablab offers a range of tools and courses, not only in the Maker Women project, but also in e.g. in workshops with pupils for instance. In the structure of their courses they stress the importance of free choice. Neither should girls be triggered to follow old stereotypes and be drawn into sewing to give an example. Nor should boys be forced to break with old stereotypes and be drawn into sewing neither. But all participants should have the opportunity to experiment with different tools and techniques and find out what fits them best. The interviewee reports about a project that was organised three years ago for pupils, mainly boys in this case. At the start of the project pupils had to experiment with different techniques and could then choose freely where to deepen their knowledge and experiences. In the beginning the boys didn’t want to do any sewing, but they started getting into it and loved it, and finally presented their self-made trousers and blouses during a small fashion show in the final event. It became natural for them to say, “Hey, I can sew!” as it became natural for the women of Maker Women to say, “Hey, I can do 3D modelling.”
A strong trigger to participate in making and to break with traditional stereotypes was the communication via pictures and videos. Audio-visual material that shows women collecting hands-on experiences with technology and making is not only used on the fablab website but also for the project introduction, as well as the communication to the wider network in social media. The general website shows even more pictures of women of all ages being involved in making than men.
The decoration of the fablab itself was less inspired by gender-issues but rather emerges through individual creativity. An example provided during the interview is one maker woman, who became responsible for the prototyping zone and expressed her love for Harry Potter and unicorns in a number of 3D printed funny decoration elements and safety regulations for the prototyping zone written with Harry Potter letters. “Nobody of us is caring about this, because it’s so funny. … And maybe for people coming they just think: “Oh, this is such a fun team!” …. Maybe this is attracting girls as well” (Interviewee, Maker Women).
During COVID-19 some of the activities were organised online, but Maker Women has already been completed successfully at the time of the Corona breakout. Workshops were for instance organised with kids online. The trainers had to be very creative and think about making activities that are based on everything that participants could potentially have at home. And they tried to focus on aspects like programming and open source, which required less hands-on making experiences. But the interviewee states that “This is not what making is all about.” So they try to offer courses with smaller groups in the fablab again and come back to normality.
“It was amazing and empowering and also the atmosphere that is created among girls. That they are feeling: “It’s for us!“