Off the Wall

The Women’s Boul­der­ing Festival

Gripped - - CONTENTS - Story Zofia Reych Zofia Reych is the founder and or­ga­nizer of the festival.

by Zofia Reych

We want the event to be in­clu­sive and di­verse. Of course, some peo­ple still raise their eye­brows ask­ing how a “women’s festival” can be in­clu­sive, but we don’t want to close our doors to any­body, re­gard­less of their gen­der. What we want to create is a safe space – not safe from any par­tic­u­lar group, but safe from at­ti­tudes that don’t align with our val­ues of treat­ing ev­ery­body with the same re­spect and giv­ing ev­ery­one the same op­por­tu­ni­ties. And again, there’s this sen­ti­ment that no­body’s ban­ning any­body from go­ing out­doors and climb­ing, and at least within our cul­ture that’s true.

At the same time, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t sys­temic, cul­tural bar­ri­ers pre­vent­ing peo­ple from do­ing cer­tain things. Out­door recre­ation is in­cred­i­bly em­pow­er­ing; there are count­less stud­ies talk­ing about its ben­e­fits on an in­di­vid­ual’s life be­yond the ac­tiv­ity. And yet we see few women, and even fewer women of colour, trans or non-bi­nary folk in the out­doors. As one of those peo­ple, I can tell you that it is not be­cause we don’t like fresh air. So, our event aims to make it a lit­tle eas­ier for those who might face some bar­ri­ers to ex­press them­selves and feel wel­come within the boul­der­ing com­mu­nity.

We’re pas­sion­ate about boul­der­ing, and we’re pas­sion­ate about the for­est of Fon­tainebleau, but what we’re try­ing to do goes be­yond that. These are our me­dia of choice to push so­ci­ety to­ward the val­ues at the core of it all: so­cial equal­ity and en­vi­ron­men­tal­ism. To give a more con­crete ex­am­ple, when peo­ple recre­ate in the out­doors, they start car­ing for their nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment in a new way. And if they care for the for­est in their back­yard or their beloved boul­der­ing hol­i­day des­ti­na­tion, they will think more glob­ally too. They might

al­ready have a con­scious­ness of en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues, but en­gag­ing in ac­tiv­i­ties that have a di­rect im­pact, even on a very small scale, is em­pow­er­ing and gives us hope for the fu­ture.

The two most im­por­tant facets of the festival are so­cial equal­ity and en­vi­ron­men­tal­ism. We started out only with the first in mind, but when we had to col­lab­o­rate with the lo­cal forestry of­fice to get the event off the ground, and we be­came aware of the is­sues faced by the Fon­tainebleau For­est. Even though these is­sues might be unique, at the same time they’re symp­to­matic of greater en­vi­ron­men­tal prob­lems.

If you create an out­door event, what­ever its fo­cus, you can’t ig­nore the en­vi­ron­men­tal cri­sis these days. It’s the small things that count, most of all aware­ness. We help our par­tic­i­pants to or­ga­nize car­pool­ing and we try to min­i­mize our waste. Then there’s the con­ser­va­tion work­shop or­ga­nized with the Na­tional For­est Of­fice. Af­ter the main event, we spend a day learn­ing about the for­est and do­ing man­ual labour to pre­vent soil ero­sion and pro­tect veg­e­ta­tion. Ero­sion is a huge prob­lem in Font and much if it is caused by hu­man ac­tiv­ity. When we or­ga­nized the first festival in 2018, I re­ally wasn’t sure if any­body would come. An English-lan­guage event in Fon­tainebleau put to­gether by an out­sider, that didn’t bode very well, to be hon­est. But the re­sponse from the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity was amaz­ing and last year in 2019 we had over 120 climbers from all over the world come to­gether. What is im­por­tant to me is that we’re also in­creas­ingly ap­peal­ing to the lo­cals, we’re gain­ing cred­i­bil­ity. If we want to work to­gether for the pro­tec­tion of the Fon­tainebleau For­est, it’s es­sen­tial to build bridges be­tween the French climb­ing com­mu­nity and for­eign vis­i­tors. And now we’ve got a foot in both camps.

Mie Kastet

Jo Soithong­suk

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