Interview with Andrea
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You are the only one here who has lived in the house since the very beginning of the project. Can you tell us how you came up with the idea of this project and how you started it off?
The actual idea for this project predates its realization by about three years. Some time was needed to arrive little by little at the materialization of these ideas. Two women, in similar situations, who knew each other and were alone with their children, expressed the wish to live together. They organized a summer holiday and invited all kinds of women with their children in a house they had rented, so they could spend some time together. Most of us didn’t know each other. During the two weeks of vacation, all of us together formulated the idea of the project, and when we came back we continued to meet, discuss and work on the project. We needed to think about the form, the structure, the aims and the purpose. We needed to formulate all sort of things, to discuss also purely pragmatic questions, such as how much money we had at our disposal and whether we would manage to buy something together or whether we would have to look for a house that we could rent together. And we started looking for a place sufficiently big to fit us all, which corresponded to our ideas for the project and at the same time provided good conditions for raising our children. When our choice fell on this place, the house was almost empty, because the owners, a cooperative, wanted to renovate it. This meant that all of us could move in at the same time. Eight years ago, in the summer, we moved in with our children, and this was in a sense the actual beginning of the project. At the moment, there are nine women participating in the project, but we are not the same group of women as in the beginning. At the beginning, we were seven women, and there was more coming and going. In fact I am the only one remaining of the founders.
Why did the others leave?
That’s a hard question! Don’t you want to eat your soup first?
Were there intrigues? I have myself taken part in a artist women’s group, and behind the seemingly feminist platform you would find a heap of commercial and personal careerist interests. Discord and intrigues were the constant background to our “purely artistic” work and activities. This stood in the way of communication within the group, and I also felt personally hurt by it. By this I don’t want to imply that I do not believe there can be real solidarity, trust… between women.
Oh, there are! There are intrigues! When I arrived, you were already talking to Cecilia. She was speaking quite highly and positively of the project, and this is how she feels about things. Of course now the situation in the house is rather different from what it was at the beginning of the project, much more positive for the community. Things evolve, and I was speaking about the beginning. Then, there was a lot of tension. For instance, at the beginning of the project two women left, saying they could not live in this way any longer, here together with the others, and another two had driven them to making that decision to leave.
You had problems with hierarchies within the community?
The beginning was very emotional, and there were various reasons for conflict. It was not so much the hierarchy in the group. Two of the women were commenting on the way the two others were raising their children, which is a sensitive topic for a mother.
Are there any direct links between the project and some political movements or women’s organizations?
In the generation of the founders, we were more politically involved and were fighting for women’s rights. At the beginning we were thinking that we could spread the idea, and that other projects could evolve in similar ways, benefiting from our experience. Such efforts are no longer being made. The project has no followers. We are looked upon as strong women, and people wonder how we manage. One generation ago it was harder, now it’s easier, the situation has changed, and even this is not of prime importance any more, since our goals have also changed. The main goal we set in this project is to create a good environment for raising our children. Everything else has become of secondary importance.
Doesn’t this change the form of the project? Does the lack of clearly expressed political activity and of a link to women’s movements not have a negative impact on the community?
No, because from the outset the idea and the form have been sufficiently stable, and in the course of the project evolving, the idea and form have remained. To this day, since the inception of the project we have made only one single slight amendment to the statutes: It is now allowed for a single father to join the project. In any event, none has yet shown up. In a sense we do have some followers, but this is neither a group nor an organization, but two other women who have joined us. They do not live in the house, because there are no more free apartments here. But they have rented apartments in other buildings nearby and otherwise have joined the activities. But that was the end of our efforts to make the project grow.
Given that it is the only such project in Switzerland and it has evolved so successfully and lastingly, I’m surprised that to this day nobody has taken professional interest in the community. How is the media’s interest in the project?
At the beginning we were an object of interest to the media. We were much more often in contact with them, although this was mostly due to the problems we initially had with the building, and the conflict with the owners. We were under pressure from them because of the overall renovation of the house, with which we did not agree. We ended up in court and contacted the media in an attempt to have the problem solved more to our advantage. In the course of time, the problems we had with the cooperative that owns the building evened out. As women who are trying to actively build something, we gradually won their sympathies, with the help of some people from the Social-Democratic Party. For the past three years, we have even received a solidarity donation from the cooperative. It covers our electricity and phone bill, furniture for the common apartment and material for the children to draw and be busy with (basteln). Some part of the cleaning of the common apartment is remunerated, and we are not paying rent for the common apartment any longer, in which we meet, talk, celebrate, raise our children together, etc.
You mentioned that you have statutes. What type of questions do the statutes of the project cover? How is the community, how life in the house structured?
Everything is very democratic. There is no hierarchy whatsoever in the community. Our statutes rather deal with the way in which a given question is to be solved. We hold meetings every two or three weeks, or more often if there are urgent questions to be solved. We discuss all sorts of questions in regards to how we organize our common life. We have a good documentation, with minutes of all the meetings. At the moment there are very few questions pertaining to tension between the women, next to none. That’s how when a new woman wishes to join the project, not only does she have to get to know everyone, but the others all need to get to know her well. This can happen little by little, as she comes to the house for a few hours every day in the beginning and gradually joins in with the life and work in the community. After a time, all need to decide unanimously whether they want her as a member of the community. If one of us opposes this decision, we have to refuse her candidacy. One of the principles of the project is that all the women have to work equally much. For instance if one mother’s children are old enough so they do not need special care, she has to join in with raising the smaller ones who do. If any one of us wishes to change the principles of the project in this way, it means that she has already half left the project. What is important is that there is work to be done and distributed, and there must be no privileges with regard to this.