Imagine calling up 130 of your best feminist lady-friends from across the nation and heading off to Southern Ontario for a weekend of growth, learning, and sharing. Recently I had the pleasure of doing just that at the first YWCA Canada National Young Women’s Leadership Summit in Muskoka, Ontario, on traditional Rama Territory.

As one of our charming hosts said at the opening of the summit, it was a validating feminist space where one could jump up and say, “we need to smash the capitalist patriarchy” and everyone in the room enthusiastically responded, “YES!”

Over the four-day summit, I was surrounded by bold and brilliant women from all corners of Canada, each with a vision for their home community. My fellow delegates represented all provinces and territories; bringing their wealth of lived experiences to the summit.

Many of us felt that our voices and experiences had been marginalized but the summit was a different place. It was a safe space for all of our voices to be heard and to explore our ideas and leadership styles. During an Open Space Session we created the spaces to safely talk about what we wanted. Topics including indigenous feminism, eco-feminism, sexual assault & consent, bodies, self-love, and self-care.

We fleshed out our thoughts and ideas on our topic of choice and learned from the diverse women at our tables. Immersed in conversations at these tables, or mid-sentence over dinner, or trekking through the pristine snow together, I listened, learned, and shared with my fellow delegates. Near the end of our weekend, our indigenous sisters led us in a powerful traditional Circle Dance, representing the new sisterhood that we had formed.

The weekend featured a packed agenda of workshops, panels, and round-table discussions led by women leaders from YWCA Canada or women in politics, business, or community; all of who had me bursting with inspiration as they shared their stories with us. I struggle to find words to truly capture how incredible my experience at the summit was but I will try anyway by summarizing a few lessons that these brilliant women shared with us:

1. Kim Katrin Milan (twitter: @KimKatrinMilan) artist, activist, and community educator and our first explosive speaker who shared the importance of intersectional feminism. Citing examples of her own life as a woman of colour, she noted that while we might be oppressed because of our gender, race, sex, sexuality, ability, or class; one is not worse or better than another. Our liberation intersects across all of these lines and one cannot be overcome without working to deconstruct the other.

2. Another lesson from Kim that resonated with me was the way we dress as women should not take away from our skill and brilliance. She showed us an image of a group of women hugging and celebrating, all dressed in bright and colourful saris, hair adorned with flowers. What were these women doing? They were celebrating the success of the Indian Space Research Organization’s first mission to Mars! The way we dress should be celebrated and respected because it does not take away from our intelligence and cunning.

3. Our lived experiences matter. As our second-wave sisters affirmed, the personal is political! Most often we hear people quoting one expert or another when discussing social and political issues, or interpreting history and culture. Our own lived experiences have equipped each of us, and our peers, with experiences and it is important that we join these conversations, adding our diverse voices.

4. As a young woman of Pacific Islander heritage, I struggle to find role models in the media or positions of power who simply look like me. When I was younger, I thought I was foolish to dream about becoming a politician because the only images I ever saw of politicians were of middle-aged white men. This still rings true today. We need to create diversity in these leadership positions to better represent the intricacies of our society and give our youth better futures to dream about.

5. Self-care, self-care, self-care! Being a feminist can be exhausting work when sexism and oppressive structures seem to shroud every single aspect of our lives. Taking care of ourselves needs to come first. When we are young, society tells us to take every opportunity and say no to nothing. We really do need to practice saying “no” when we are on the verge of collapse. It can be difficult, but we need to be honest with ourselves about how much we can handle and take care of ourselves to prevent premature burn-out. There is a lot of feminist work to be done.

I am thankful to have had this experience with my feminist sisters and I look forward to seeing what actions we will take in our widespread, but now connected communities on the second annual Day of Big Change on March 1, 2015. I walked away from this weekend feeling recharged to keep working towards leadership positions, to celebrate my womanhood, and to continue breaking down the oppressive structures in my life.

Thank you to the YWCA Canada for bringing young women together. I cannot wait to keep building this network and continuing our feminist work!

For more on the summit, check out the #YWNLS twitter feed or click link