It’s now been four years since Athina Marmorat decided to take on the fight against social inequality at her own level by founding Rêv’Elles. This association supports and mentors young women from deprived areas and helps them tap into their potential.
“I don’t think they realise just how life changing this experience can be”, said 15-year-old Tatia, still overwhelmed with emotion at the impact that Rêv’Elles has had on her. The young woman, who once lacked self-confidence, was on the verge of dropping out of school before joining Rev’Elles. Now, after her time in the programme, she has a well-planned life project and is able to, in her own words, “see further and project into the future.” When Athina Marmorat founded the association on December 25, 2013, she set out to offer young girls – often unemployed, unoccupied and lacking direction - the chance to find themselves and realise their full potential.
The idea came to Marmorat while she was working with students in the Parisian suburbs. She realised that the kind of ambitions they expressed for the future were worryingly monotonous, which left her feeling bitter. Limited by their social milieu and confining themselves to the neighborhood they lived in, “they weren’t seeing the wider world”, “they weren’t aiming high enough nor dreaming big enough”, Marmorat remarked, in her then job as a careers advisor. The type of jobs they talked about; “childcare worker, secretary, personal assistant, medical secretary…”, felt like a series of dull blows that gradually turned into a call to action. “No one ever wants to become a doctor or an architect”, she lamented at the time. She blamed French society, undermined by socio-cultural inequality. Marmorat decided to put all of her energy into “giving these girls confidence in themselves”, as she found these 14 to 22 year olds, “too often paralysed by fear.” Her aim was to see them “dare to go out into the world.”
Women of very different backgrounds
During the first intensive week of mentoring, the participants gain access to a “discussion space where they can talk about their dreams, what they have in common and the difficulties they are experiencing,” Athina Marmorat explained. Four programmes are set up, a dynamic starts to take hold within the group, and bonds start to form. Among the activities on offer, the “Rêv’Elles Café” is a slot dedicated to encouraging the girls to debate the kind of problems that are unique to women when it comes to “feeling empowered to take action,” while “Rêv’Elles-Moi ton entreprise” (Dream me your business) is a complete immersion experience of the workplace. But the uniquely distinguishing feature of Marmorat’s association is the skillful way in which it brings together women of all different backgrounds and social classes. As the founder explains, “There’s real diversity in terms of age and geographical background, all of these women have had a very different path in life.” Each candidate receives individual support from a mentor, or ‘role model’, as the association calls them, until her prejudices and fears give way to a more concrete understanding of the career that interests her. Samira Ibrahim, a journalist for French public national television channel France2 and Rêv’Elles ‘role model’, confirms that these young women effectively become immersed in a world that “they didn’t know before”, and that they experience “discovery after discovery.” The journalist brought her own mentee to work with her, introducing the young woman to both her editor and colleagues. In this setting, she was able to mix with professionals and realise that she had within herself the potential to fulfil her new ambitions.
“A turning point”
Four years after its creation, Rêv’Elles now counts more than 230 members and over 2,365 Facebook subscribers, and is continuing to gain ground. According to Athina Marmorat, more than half of the participants came to Rêv’Elles because it was recommended by a friend. According to data from the association’s website 97 percent of participants report being satisfied at the end of the programme, certain graduates have even gone onto top French universities, whilst others have found vocational or educational courses better aligned with their aspirations. 19-year-old Aude-Emeline from Noisy Le Sec, a Parisian suburb, falls into this group. She said that for her the experience has been a “key moment, a turning point”, and that through Rêv’Elles, she has “found her path”. Sawsane, an 11th grade student from Gagny, another Parisian suburb, signed up to the association aged 15, feeling disorientated. However, by the end of the programme, having visited the firm Dow Chemicals, she had chosen her vocation: that of chemical engineer. “I was unsure of my plans for the future, but now I know what I want to do.”
Athina Marmorat nevertheless stressed the impossibility, or complexity of capturing this experience in words. 16-year-old Mégane agreed, adding that she still felt emotional about having undergone this “necessary rite of passage” in life.