Stand Up tall and break the Taboo of Menstruation in Africa.

By Nelly Lukale, YWCA of Kenya

Unlike many believe, menstrual health is not just a ‘women’s issue’. We need to get people – boys and girls, men and women – to talk openly about menstrual health in every part of the world. Female hygiene should be at the top of each government’s list of priorities. In 2012, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said that ‘the greatest return comes from investing in girls and women. When they are educated, they drive development in their families, communities and nations. ‘Without access to toilets, sanitation facilities, menstrual pads and information, girls and women are unable to be the drivers of development they have the potential to be.nelly

While many governments and non-governmental organizations support several issues affecting girls and women in developing countries, menstrual hygiene management often gets overlooked. Millions of girls in sub-Saharan Africa do not attend school due to taboos and stigma related to menstruation. They do not have access to proper sanitary pads and instead they have to improvise with mattresses, blankets, newspaper, rugs or feathers. Using these devices instead of proper hygienic pads can cause severe health risks, such as infections in girls’ genitalia – but these devices are also ineffective and humiliating, often resulting in blood-stained uniforms leading to bullying from particularly male peers and even teachers. Many girls end up missing considerable amount of school, or at worst even dropping out, due to humiliation and stigma related to menstruation. In some cases, girls engage in transactional sex so that they can raise the money they need to buy sanitary towels, putting them at the risk of HIV and STI infection. Alternatively, young girls are forced to skip school during the time they experience monthly periods to avoid both the cost of pads or use of cloths. A girl absent from school due to menstruation for four days in a month loses 13 learning days, equivalent to two weeks of learning, in every school term.

With this high rate of school absenteeism, a girl literally becomes a “school dropout” while she is still attending school and in addition has to deal with emotional and psychological stress associated with menstruation.

Menstruation has become like a curse not only to African women and girls, but also to entire societies on the continent. Since menstruation is largely a private issue, the social damage is often hidden and rarely makes the news headlines. There are also cultural and social attitudes that render discussion of menstruation almost impossible especially between parents and their daughters. The need for affordable sanitary products for women and girls in Africa is a major public health issue that governments need to prioritize in their planning. They need to work together with civil society organizations and others to ensure that the appropriate services are made available, accessible and affordable.

Menstruation hygiene management is an urgent priority among women and girls, and essential products need to be made affordable also to the poorest, most marginalized and most remote girls and women.

Some African governments have made notable progress in the area of menstrual hygiene. For example, in Kenya the government dropped its import tax on female sanitary products in 2011 to help reduce costs by 18 per cent. African civil society organizations, NGOs and some UN bodies such as UNICEF and the World Health Organization have all publicly acknowledged that there is a significant link between the poor provision of menstrual hygiene solutions and low female participation in education. However, much more still remains to be done. Governments need to recognize that ensuring women’s and girls’ access to sanitary wear has not only positive public health implications, but implications on girls’ education and well-being on a much broader level. Educating girls also remains the single best policy for reducing fertility.

Prioritizing women’s and girls’ health in Africa, so girls can remain healthy, attend school and enter the work force, makes economic sense. Every woman and girl should be able to have access to the right products that enable them to take control over their menstruation. Access to water and sanitation is an internationally recognized human right, essential for protecting and realizing other basic rights – but yet this issue still receives far too little attention on both national and global levels. Improving girls’ access to proper menstruation products could lead to improved education, improved health and improve overall well-being of girls and women – but menstrual hygiene is not merely a women’s and girls’ issue. It’s an issue that can impact entire families, societies and countries, because when girls and women thrive, everyone benefits. It’s time to give this issue the attention it deserves.

Originally published by Huffington Post

Change is Possible

By Estefania Renzi and Silvina Gerbaldo, YWCA of Argentina

We Estefania Renzi and Silvina Gerbaldo are volunteers of YWCA Carlos Paz and Cordoba. We would like to thank YWCA of Argentina and former world president Mónica Zetzsche, for the opportunity argentinato participate in a training in the city of Buenos Aires, 800km from our city. This training made ​​us reflects on how to grow as committed people with our dreams, giving our best and also benefiting the YWCA with our future leadership.

Some of the things we learnt were:·

  • “The pursuit of happiness is within ourselves and we must learn to make the impossible possible.”·
  • “Our growth has cost but we can see the results along these days.”·
  • “To give of ourselves, however minimally, to another person can work miracles for those in need.”·
  • “We understand that happiness is achieved with the simplest and simple things and opportunities we face, we need to grasp them.”

We also thank Accionar Entrenamiento de Argentina for having taught us that one can leave their limitations and achieve their fondest dreams. With our message we want to encourage all those young girls who are daily struggling to find themselves, that you are not alone and that there is a movement that can support and sustain the achievement of your dearest dreams. Having shared this experience together, it has strengthened our friendship as YWCA sisters and made intergenerational leadership possible.

We look forward to sharing many more experiences together.


Palestine 12.8. – 10.10.14 – The first week in a foreign country

Elena Policante, young woman volunteer from Horyzon Switzerland (YMCA/YWCA Switzerland). Elena comes from Switzerland and is volunteering with the YWCA and YMCA movement in Palestine as part of a three month programme.

I think the first week in a foreign country is always special. You have to get used to many things like: language, culture, driving habits, temperatures and of course a lot of new people.

My first week was really diversified and interesting (maybe a little bit too much), which ended in a bad headache in the middle of the second week. But this is a luxury problem and I don’t want to complain about.

Except from a few questions and vicious looks, we didn’t have any problems at the airport. The flat was small but really comfortable. Who could complain if the supermarket, which is open until 1 pm., is right next to his house? ;) We were recognized as the “new neighbours” at our first walk through Beit Sahour.

Beit Sahour13.8

Ibrahim from the Joint Advocacy Initiative (JAI) showed us the office and drove us through Beit Sahour afterwards. He showed us the Alternative International Centre (AIC), the Alternative Tourist Group (ATG) and a house that got hit by a bomb from the Hamas.



We had already made the most important purchases in the evening and could thus enjoy a good breakfast on the second morning already. We walked to the JAI office, where we discussed our plans with Nidal. After that I went with Ibrahim to the YMCA, where I was scheduled throughout the week at the Rehabilitation Programme (REHAB). They introduced me to many different people and I could already accompany one of the field workers to four different clients. It was the first time I saw an Israeli watchtower and smelled the stink of the chemical water.

aida camo


At 8.30 am I started my day at the YMCA. I was able to accompany another field worker. It was my second time at the Aida Camp and I saw a black watchtower. Tower

It was burnt and destroyed by children from the camp. Afterwards we went do the Deheishah Camp. My head was totally full with new pictures and impressions. In the evening we went to the AIC and watched “Tears of Gaza”, a really impressive film!


Today, we did a little bit of tourism. At 9am we took the Taxi and drove to the Herodium, Salomons Pools and the Gate of Saint George. Afterwards we walked through Bethlehem and tasted some local delights including an array of various types of Hummus, Olives, Pita bread, Salad and other things. We also went to the Stars&Bucks, which is an amusing and delicious imitation of the well-known Starbucks. At the evening we went to the Sports Center to watch the final of a family soccer tournament. There were a lot of people around and even though we didn’t understand everything, it was really funny.


Today, I accompanied another field worker we went to a family in which the 14 year old son got shot by an Israeli soldier. Even though I didn’t understand a word, all the feelings in the room were really intense.

At the evening Markus and I went to the Singer Café in Beit Sahour and drank a Chai Latte and a Lemon Mint Juice. This is a really recommendable place; a good spot to debrief and reflect on the days events. The first week in Beit Sahour had already passed by.


I tried to sleep in but it didn’t work. I woke up at 8am because of the traffic and the sun. I went to the office. A driver brought us to the YWCA of Palestine in East-Jerusalem. We had a meeting with Mira, GS of the YWCA and Mayadah, Office Manager about the UNSCR 1325 conference in the end of September. After three hours of talking we went to the old city of Jerusalem. In the evening we went to the AIC, there was a lecture from Nurit Peled-Elhanan on the topic of “Palestinians in Israeli school books”. My head almost exploded with all the information and the realization of the level of propaganda but it was really interesting.


In the afternoon I accompanied one of the field workers into a village, which lies in between three settlements. Afterwards we went to the Al Azza Camp (the third Camp in one week). At the evening I got a bad headache. I wrote letters and lay around, hoping the headache would disappear. The next few days I spent in my bed, because of the headache.
I already saw a lot of things in those two weeks. There will still be a lot more to see in the next three months. Next week we will go to Jericho with the JAI office. A bit vacation =)

I think it’s important to take sufficient time to digest the information and always debrief with someone close.


Planting the Seeds of Social Change to End Child Marriage.

By Vanessa R. Anyoti. YWCA of Tanzania

“What is so scary about smart girls? Why are we so afraid to educate our girls? Is it because these educated girls will change the power structures of society?” Stavros Lambrinidis, EU Special Representative for Human Rights.

World YWCA, along with the AU Goodwill Ambassador on the campaign to End Child Marriage, attended a Taking Action to End Child Marriage Breakfast, organised by the Ford Foundation onvanessa September 22nd 2014, during the 69th UN General Assembly.

Child marriage is a horrendous violation of human rights. Darren Walker, the President of the Ford Foundation puts it this way, “Child marriage is a serious public health epidemic and human crisis.” It is estimated that, each year, 15 million girls are married before the age of 18; that is, everyday 39,000 of our sisters and daughters are married off.  The unfortunate reality is that girls who are married young, drop out of school and end poorly educated.  Additionally, these girls are most likely to die during child birth and are at a higher risk of abuse, violence and rape due to their lack of education, low status and ‘powerlessness’.

Guest of honour Garca Machel stated that her education allowed for her to be where she is right now and that “child marriage cuts every opportunity for the future for all women.” Hence, it is important to keep child marriage high on the global agenda and have a stand-alone target on child marriage in the Post 2015 Development Agenda. According to Garca Machel, “in order to break the cycle of discrimination that occurs, a girl child ought to have the same value and rights as a male child, thus the same opportunities.”

Garca Machel suggested what role Civil Society Organisations (CSO’s) can play to ensure that child marriage is ended in the next one to two generations. She stated that CSOs can translate and frame messages from the international, regional and national policies into understandable and relatable language for the community. Policies need to reach communities, through the training of people that work in these said communities; otherwise little impact will be made. In order to address child marriage, CSOs need to change the mind-sets of communities and often challenge cultural norms. Once the mind-set of the community is changed then we can begin to remind families of the value of every child. With that being said, sustained investment, to end child marriage, is needed as it is a difficult task to change mind-sets.

Suggestions on how to create a world without child marriage from Princes Mabel of the Netherlands are:

  1. To create an integrated approach to addressing child marriage – combining all social, political and economic aspects to tackle child marriage
  2. All stakeholders at every level working together to address child marriage
  3. A long term commitment, not less than a generation, to address child marriage
  4. A response equal to the magnitude of the problem needs to be provided
  5. And including child marriage in the post 2015 development agenda as a stand-alone goal and trickled down to the community level; focusing on those working in the communities.

The World YWCA commits to ending child marriage within the next generation. The World YWCA aims to mobilise young women to act for Post 2015, particularly to ensure that a human rights based approach is implemented and included in sustainable development, and to ensure that young women have control over and decide freely and responsibly on matters related to their sexuality including sexual and reproductive health and rights through comprehensive information, education and services.

Although the task to end child marriage seems overwhelming, we should approach the task as a challenge that can indeed be addressed with collective and sustained effort. In the words of Garca Machel, while we continue in this fight, let us remember that we are “planting the seeds of social change.”

The things that make for peace in the Post 2015 Agenda

By: Kgothatso  Mokoena  of YWCA South Africa

The World YWCA had the opportunity to attend the United Methodist women Peace Symposium in the margins of UNGAS in New York this week. The event had many interesting speakers and amongst them, Bill McKibben, Author and Environmentalist, Otilia Lux de Coti from Guatemala and Cora Weiss Human activists.

The Symposium aimed to underscore the importance of people-centred and rights-based policies, and brought the global policies, grassroots advocacy, and implementation. The symposium had two parts, speeches and interactive workshops which integrated traditionally and separated developmental sectors under a human rights framework which both reinforced the “Rights of peoples to Peace”

1. Food Workshop: this session introduced critical issues regarding food, development and peace. There was a focused on food as one of the basic elements of sustainable development. The right of food is recognized in international law and not only do all people in conflict situations experience vulnerability and risk with respect to food, but near 900 million people worldwide also confront chronic malnutrition, an millions more experience food insecurity every year. Participants on this workshop were able to make recommendations for advocacy with respect to international policy.

2. The water workshop: The second workshop was more of a dialogue between U.N. experts and those frontline communities struggling to clean, accessible, affordable water. Gender concerns, climate change and violence were incorporated into dynamics of accessibility, affordability and implementation to the Right to water. The Communities of Detroit, Tennesse, Malaysia and Mapuche people ling in Chile shared the on the ground situation and what they see as necessary to implement the Right to water.

3. The Health Workshop had a more rooted discussion and synthesized the various intersections of health with peace and security and development which were based from the concrete experiences from the ground. The workshop also formulated policy and programmatic recommendations that promote people’s right to health and how such rights intersects with peace, security and development in the context of the ongoing global policy discussions on the new Sustainable Development Goals, Security Council High Level of UNSCR1325 on Women, Peace and Security.

Harriett Jane Olson from the United Methodist Women Organisation said peace for her is providing educating children and helping them realize their dreams, that people in the world today lack information so much that they allow issues of no substance divides and cause so much havoc which leads to violence and killings in our regions. Harriet urged Faith Based Organizations to not only pray but actively part in ensuring that governments delivers on their promise on access to education for all.

Lakshimi Puri, assistant Secretary –General of the United Nations and deputy Executive Director of UN Women described peace as an ongoing process which begins with self to human security. She mentioned how the majority of people today suffer from different issues relating to mental health, poverty, inequality social injustices. Ms Puri brought to context, issue of Palestine and Israel to context, relating it to what we see happening in most places around the world today. The matter between the two countries and perhaps others, poses a threat to achieving MDG and leaves many in doubt, whether governments has what it takes to protect, support and nurture kgits people. Policies are made to guide people, but it’s up to us as citizens to own and be gatekeepers for our wellbeing, Ms Puri added.

Nyaradzayi Gumbondvanda, World YWCA Secretary- General said for her, peace is Educating a girl child, peace is ending child marriage within a generation, Peace is made by realizing gender equality to both men and women, most importantly peace is made when parents, communities , governments and all citizen play their part in ending violence against women and children…….. She added that understanding peace, we first need to define war and injustice, 39 000 girls are forced into marriages each day, and as long as we don’t see this as crime or wrong, then we are a careless society.

So much said about peace and its fruits, but can the world really be in Peace? When human beings always want what someone else has.  Whether it is land, materials, or natural resources that you have, someone out there wants it, and they are willing to take it from you.  This can even occur when one of the resources that are lacking are people, or a low number of a certain sex of a population.

How can we find peace when we keep imposing people’s beliefs or ideologies upon another group of people that believe differently?  We don’t have to look far, either historically or geographically, to find a war of ideology.  The war of ideology has moved thru history from before the crusades, to present day.  Just look at the Middle East.  People are willing to kill their own family members should they fall from the ideals of the ideals of their religion.  For many humans, the War of Ideals is the single, best reason to kill or die.

The third reason is the one that makes the least amount of sense to me.  Power and domination is the single reason why large-scale war has occurred.  When a country, or many times a single individual covets power and domination, war is usually the only resolution that can occur.  Again history to the present day has shown this to be true.  What does not make sense to me is why people choose to follow such leaders, when they will obviously lead to war, destruction, and death?

The future is young, and the future is female- Plan, Engage, Account, Collaborate and Educate

Everyone Counts

By Gloria Falefata Scanlan. YWCA of Samoa. 

“When I was a little girl I have this “motto” I called it my greatest mission which is to study hard, graduate and become a great successful person, then I can go anywhere I want to go. With United Nationals Small Island Developing States Conference (UNSIDs), and being a member of Young Women Christian Association (YWCA) that great mission is almost accomplished. I’ve always dreamed of being involved in something big like this and get the chance to meet people from different countries.gloria 2

On the 27th – 29th August I participated in the UN SIDS Youth Forum, where so many different topics were raised. They were divided into four (4) different Stations; Station 1: Climate Change and Biodiversity, Station 2: Water and Sustainable Energy, Station 3: Education, Entrepreneurship and Employment and Station 4: Health & Non- Communicable Diseases, Social Development of SIDS Youth for Sustainable Development including Disability.

 I chose to attend station 4 and I learned so much from it. How we as young people qualify to voice our opinions globally. The main issues I learnt about included: young women who give birth do have the chance to be educated again if they still have the passion to learn and study, that they have rights to education and the right to protect herself as a mother and seek protection of her child, how we stay healthy leads to a healthy environment, for example (exercise, eating healthy and living healthy). How we can prevent ourselves from spreading diseases by promoting Sexual Reproductive Health Service and finally, that EVERYONE IS EQUAL.

On the 1st – 4th September, I went as an UN Volunteer promoting online UN volunteers services. My job was to approach someone, ask them about which country, organisation they are from and what difficulties they have (Do they have little time to develop a project? Do they need someone to design a logo for them or a leaflet but do not have relevant programmes? They may want someone to edit / proofread their materials or to translate their communication materials but they don’t have money to hire anyone for the job. Staff training is another possible requirement.

 UN Volunteers have the solution for that.  Through the Online Volunteering Service they can provide these services for free. Moreover both the organisation and Online Volunteer benefit from it.

It was overwhelming; promoting the Online Volunteering Service with my beautiful smile makes each day counts. In addition, what makes me and one of my young volunteer, 17 year old Sujina Vaimagalo excited and proud to be  a volunteer. “It’s good to see some young volunteers from Samoa, let’s take a picture” “SMILE”…!! is what they all said.

On the 3rd of September, from 7pm to 8.30, I was part of the YWCA side event with our YWCA members, hearing young people from different countries sharing about their life journey, standing on that stage performing in front of people from other countries, the feeling of joy filled my heart.

 Most of all, I learned that no one is perfect and so everyone counts. Moreover, my YWCA membership has lead to this experience because if it wasn’t for YWCA I wouldn’t be a participant in the Youth Forum, through which I also became a UN Volunteer and especially being involved with UNSIDS. This year with UNSIDS held in Samoa, it was an unforgettable moment and part of my journey, as a young strong woman representative for YWCA of Samoa. “

Can a girl change the world?

By Marcia Banasko, Communications Officer, World YWCA.

Throughout history we have witnessed social and political transformations achieved through the collective actions of others and often led by the vision of an individual. As stated by Margaret Mead, American cultural anthropologist,

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, concerned citizens can change world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.”

The version of history we are taught in school would have us believe that all important change makers were men and that women had very little to do with the advancement of civilisation. However, we know this is completely false.mar

Women have changed the course of history in all realms of humanity. All across technology, economics, health, the arts, social and civil change, sports, education, science and religion, you will find female pioneers leading the way.  Women have affirmed an enduring place in history as a result of the diligent commitment of our fore mothers such as Emmeline Pankhurst – Suffragette leader, Angela Davis – political civil rights activist, Emilia Earhart – first female aviator to fly across the Atlantic, Maria Montessori – physician and educator, Alice Walker- author, Babe Didrikson Zaharias – athlete and Mother Teresa – religious humanitarian leader. Historical female political change makers include but are not limited to Cleopatra, Empress Toshi-ko of Japan, Catherine the Great, Mary Queen of Scots, Joan of Arc, Queen Nanny of Jamaica, Queen Nzingha of Angola in addition to contemporary leaders such as Presidents Isabel Peron, Joyce Banda, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf or Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher, Mary Robinson, Indira Gandhi, Pratibha Patil, Benazir Bhutto. The list is endless.

Today, women and girls continue to make history around the world. Take Malala Yousafzai, the 16-year-old Pakistani education activist who, in 2012, was shot by the Taliban on her school bus for speaking out about the importance of girls’ equal access to education. Malala survived the attack and, as a result, sparked an international campaign to ensure girls’ equal access to affordable and quality education. Through her small act of writing a blog for the BBC, Malala shared with the world the realities faced by thousands of girls in rural Pakistan. Today, Malala is hailed as a champion of girls’ rights to education and was recently nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. However, Malala is not the only girl making her mark in the history books.

In the global effort to end child marriage, various civil society groups, governments, NGOs, women, girls, men and boys are writing a new history with women and girls at the centre.  A group of Bangladeshi teenagers known as Wedding Busters are taking positive action to change the minds of parents in their community with the aim of making their region a child marriage free zone. In Bangladesh, 66% of girls are married before they reach the age of 18, often depriving them of a chance for an education and condemning them to ill health and economic hardship.

Wedding Busters is comprised of both girls and boys; girls who were at risk of child marriage act as advocates for other girls. In a video produced by Plan International, Sonhita, a 13-year-old girl who was married three years prior and now has a six month old baby, aspires to provide a better future for her daughter. Sonhita shares that she will ensure her daughter stays in school so as not to deny her of her dreams. Girls like Sonhita are the real game changers and history makers.



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