Stigma is real

By Sonia Odek, YWCA of Kenya. The 20th International AIDS Conference is currently being held in Melbourne, Australia. Below Krist shares her experience.

It was a great to be part of this delegation. I arrived a day later than the other delegates but I had the chance to learn a lot.

Sonia Odek (second from the left) with members from YWCA delegation

Sonia Odek (second from the left) with members from YWCA delegation

One of the speakers at this preconference that made an impact in my life and that I will never forget is a young woman called Cath Smith who shared her story, her journey and her challenges living positively with HIV/AIDS. She contracted the virus from a heterosexual partner who lied to her about his status. The worst part is how her parents and family treated her when they found out about her status. “GOD IS PUNISHING YOU!!!!!” that’s what they said to her.

I have learnt that young people struggle with the same things all over the world. Regardless of which continent you come from, whether white or black, rich or poor. Being young means being judged by the society and the bar raised a little higher. The struggle to live positively is harder for young people since everybody constantly assume that you contracted the virus due to bad habits like having multiple partners or having unprotected sex. This is not always the case and its time that the youth fight to live freely and enjoy their youth whether they are HIV positive or negative.

Stigma is real. It hurts and we cry. The opportunity for great, powerful and courageous young women from the different YWCAs all over the world to share with us their struggles and the amazing things they do in society must be appreciated. I have been challenged to do more in my society. To worker harder and raise awareness because I have realised that there are so many young women who are going through the same things as those shared here but who are not strong enough to share. They fear and they hold back. It takes a lot to speak out.

I am going back to Kenya to inspire, encourage and motivate young women and all youths and to make sure that they don’t suffer a lone. It is time for youths to make life better for themselves. No one can do this for us. We have strong voices, all we have to do is speak and the world will surely listen and as we always say THERE IS NOTHING FOR US WITHOUT US.


AIDS 2014 Youth Pre-Conference

By Hannah Gissane, YWCA Australia. The 20th International AIDS Conference is currently being held in Melbourne, Australia. Below Hannah shares her experience.

Youth Force

YWCA Delegates

In the days leading up to the International AIDS Conference, a group of us from the World YWCA delegation attended the International Youth Pre-Conference. In a very sobering start to the Pre-Conference, we learnt of the MH17 tragedy. With the news of 298 deaths including a number of AIDS2014 conference delegates, a dark cloud was cast over the conference. Just how profound this loss was for HIV research, activism and advocacy was encapsulated by Purnima Mane, from Pathfinder, who said “we have lost soldiers in the global fight against AIDS, but we will celebrate their legacy.” After a minute’s silence Alischa Ross, from Melbourne Youth Force, facilitated the biggest group cuddle I’ve ever been in! Around 100 delegates turned to the person on their right for a big cuddle – a soul warming start to a sad day.

The hug really set the tone for a Pre-Conference which would espouse a prevailing theme of Love. The Dove Foundation presented early on in the first day describing their four pillars of HIV action – Education, Treatment, Reform and Love. Love was present in the innate solidarity felt in a room full of people motivated to act. loveThere was something refreshing about recontextualising Love, something we associate with our private lives, and bringing it into a public health and policy discourse. Michael Kirby, a former Australian High Court Judge, reflected on this saying “I’ve always thought human rights was grounded in love for one another.”

Bill Nicholson, a Wurundjeri Elder, welcomed Pre-Conference delegates to the Kulin Nation. Bill also spoke to delegates about the devastating impacts of colonialism and land theft on Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people; providing a clear picture of the ongoing dispossession and disadvantage Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people face in Australia.

Among the many speakers we also heard from Professor Sheila Tlou, Director of the Regional Support Team for Eastern and Southern Africa for UNAIDS. Shelia’s tenacity and will as a leader was best captured when talked about her determination to bring levels of transmission down by 90% from 2010 levels; when she was appointed to this role. Sheila spoke about the fact that rates of transmission are declining across every age group except for adolescents. In saying this she reminded us that we are making progress and it is important to remember this. There was no better reminder of this than sitting in that room, full of amazing, passionate young community leaders working hard and making change. Being in that room made me feel like we could achieve anything!

There were numerous interactive training workshops and art projects throughout the two days. Greta Williams (YWCA Australia) and I attended an Advocacy Training Workshop facilitated by Results Australia. The workshop was extremely useful and ran through the EPIC principles for formulating a laser or elevator pitch. An elevator pitch is a lightning speed way of advocating to your target politicians and media when you don’t have much time. EPIC stands for Engage, Problem, Inform and Call to Action. Greta formulated a great laser pitch for the World YWCA delegation for our time at AIDS2014 with the aim of raising the profile of young women living positively. You can watch Greta’s pitch here!

The Pre-Conference was successful in creating a space where youth was a valuable qualification; our ideas were listened to and recorded for the International AIDS Conference. I’ll leave you with this from Laura John, Melbourne Youth Force Ambassador, who said “when someone tells me that young people are the future, I politely remind them that I am a leader today!”



Selfies With A Message: AIDS 2014

By Krist Angela Zicishti, YWCA of Albania. The 20th International AIDS Conference is currently being held in Melbourne, Australia. Below Krist shares her experience.

Today was the first day of the booth; this is a marketplace whereby different organisations have stalls to share their work. Today seven of us including Greta, YWCA Australia, Krist, YWCA Albania, Sonia, YWCA Kenya, CZ from YWCA India and Lukrecia from YWCA Benin were in charge of manning the booth. It was a bit nerve racking in the beginning because we wanted to represent the YWCA as best as possible and do a great job. Greta had a really good idea to use ‘selfies’ to promote the priorities of the YWCA.

Greta Williams

Greta Williams

But would the idea of Greta be successful?! Recently selfies are popular with everyone.

Selfies everywhere, Facebook, Instagram, Whatapps etc. People use it to show their personality, portrait or take a stand with a cause. So reflecting on this we decided to use selfies for supporting YWCA purposes. A bit sceptical in the beginning, people coming to the booth were different and some people actually hate photos of themselves. But our booth showed the contrary. For 2 hours, 132 people have done selfies supporting #stigmafreefutures and Support women rights.


Krist Angela Zicishti, Hendrica Okondo and others

 Guess what?! People were happy to do something so awesome and meaningful. Girls were so nice too. Our team was a total polyglot and this also made things easier. Most of the people already were familiar with YWCA, for example a nice woman from Spain said “I was searching for YWCA and I happy you guys are here.” You can imagine our happiness! Another special guest on our booth today was the winner of AIDS design, a very nice young and friendly boy who was very interested about YWCA activities. It was just the first day, and things were really perfect. I hope we will continue like this. Actually no, I am sure we will continue like this. Is there greater joy than having the opportunity to spread our message? To spread our purpose? To see people interested and wishing to help us to do that. We made sure that the following advocacy messages were heard:

  • Ensure comprehensive sexuality education for both in and out of school adolescents, through a holistic and integrated approach which involves parents, teachers and service providers.
  • Ensure the provision of affordable and quality maternal health services, both in urban and rural areas, including HIV prevention and anti-retroviral therapy to safeguard safe pregnancy and delivery.
  • Improve access to voluntary counselling and testing services for women, including young women and marginalised groups, ensuring that these services are: of high-quality, affordable, confidential, accessible without restrictions by age, marital status, and without the requirements of parental/spousal consent.
  • Guarantee women’s safety from violence against women (VAW) and girls by taking legislative and other measures to exercise due diligence in order to prevent, protect, investigate, punish and provide adequate reparations for acts of VAW/G to get a full range of legal, health, social and other related services.
  • Provide youth-friendly SRH services, where spousal/parental consent is not required. These services should be: accessible, affordable, confidential, non-judgmental and without discrimination for all women including married and unmarried women, adolescent girls, young women with disabilities and women living with HIV.

Spread this message with my YWCA sisters, so young, so smart, so fierce…. imagine, it was just the first day.

20th International AIDS Conference

By Marcie Martinez , YWCA of Belize. The 20th International AIDS Conference is currently being held in Melbourne, Australia. YWCA Australia and the World YWCA held pre-training to the conference. Below Marcie shares her experience.


YWCA Delegation

This was the first day spent in Melbourne and it was very exciting. We revised the YWCA strategic framework reminding each other of the 3 priority areas; sexual reproductive health and rights (SRHR), intergenerational leadership, and movement building.

The ladies shared different stories from their different backgrounds and the kind of work YWCA is doing in their countries. Some of the most striking interventions were for example methods of condom distribution. For discretion others hand them out with the pamphlet whilst others hand them out in target areas e.g. barbershops or salons. Salons are a place where a lot of women commonly meet. These can be used as safe spaces where women meet and discuss their issues. Women who are HIV positive or victims of sexual violation need a bio psychosocial approach in order for them to regroup and plan for their future. As such it is important to have structures in society that support these women and use a multidisciplinary approach.

We need to shift from a needs based approach to a rights based approach. This promotes the fact that young women not only need support in terms of basic needs but skills to empower them to find means of meeting those needs themselves and ability to do more.

Calling On World Leaders to do something now

By Sharon Yendevenge, World YWCA Programme Associate 

“The opportunity to see decent human beings has been robbed away.”

The Human Rights Council (HRC) has brought a wide range of thoughts to my mind. So many negotiations, voting and agreements on consensus. Again it’s all about human rights but I wonder if those countries implement what they are committed to do. No matter how good or developed a country is, one cannot say that one’s country is free from violence. The globe is all full of violence in all forms. Let me share some of my experience of the HRC, the advantages and recommendations.

Having the opportunity to attend and observe at the HRC is a great opportunity and is one of the platforms where so much is digested in a limited time. One of the interesting things was the definition of a family where so much time was spent in defining what a family is. Surely people come from different cultures, traditions, religions and it was very hard to get the family definition being agreed by consensus where it was later voted for yet the violence against women resolution is adopted by consensus. Discussions and arguments vary from places to places and so HRC is a body that all languages are spoken in the same language in terms of Human Rights issues and the laws that govern it. The whole HRC gives a fair idea of what is happening at the international level but despite all the good talks, it takes more time to be implemented and less is actually happening at the country level. The sad thing is that the world’s majority is still facing the worst at the community level.

Sharon Yendevenge

Sharon Yendevenge

People are suffering from all forms of violence and at the same time all these peace talks on high level meetings continue, one very thing that is currently disturbing is the ongoing war between the Israeli and Palestine. When will this end? Calling on the world leaders to do something now as innocent lives are destroyed every day. HRC has also brought many questions as to what my country is doing in terms of people’s rights.

Despite the frustrations, the HRC has become a very good platform for all to express themselves; and to share the realities happening that can never be pointed out in their own countries in terms of fear and repercussions for telling the truth. I appreciate the work of the NGO’s in lobbying the government on certain issues concerning the human rights of people and how to fight these issues. Yet NGO’s were not given enough time to speak during the HRC, which is extremely frustrating. Therefore, I really think that the time given to the NGO’s when speaking must be increased.

It takes a lot of time and money for people to meet yet little is done by governments in protecting its people. It’s good to participate in the international level but each country needs to focus more on the national level. It is important to strengthen the awareness and develop training programmes on specific situations. Different forms of violence need to be tackled by a human rights based approach through gender mainstreaming, which is very challenging.

2014 marks 20 years of the mandate of Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women including its cause since the establishment and we are still talking about this issue. Since we are still faced with the same issues, it is important;

-to continue involve policies including women and girls, children and youths and focus on ways for better implementation in community level.

-that laws should be redesigned to protect and include all people.

-that changing of laws must be accompanied by the level of development.

-to include men and boys in all programmes dealing with women and children so they are also responsible.

-to include UN youth delegates so they represent their countries. (Youths are not involved at many things at the national level).

-to make space for youths to easily have access to ministries within their governments.

In saying that, I would say that though people may argue that HRC is just a waste of time of people meeting and other various reasons, I must say that we must also appreciate the many things they have done, also to those who have been involved in these processes with their tireless efforts fighting for peace, justice and equality all around the world and bringing it to its current state.

























Let a thousand flowers Bloom!

By Aasha Ramesh, YWCA- Bangalore, India. 

My journey with World YWCA’s initiative on Mobilising Young Women‘s Leadership and Advocacy in Asia and Pacific’,dates back to 2012 when I was invited as Mentor for the YWCA of India to a training on, Mobilising Young Women’ Leadership and Advocacy in Asia’. I had the opportunity and the privilege to move with and through this process, in its course, as it developed and evolved based on the insights and experiences of young women. So far three intense trainings have been held for the young women, the most recent being, on, Mobilising Young Women’s Leadership and Advocacy in Asia and Pacific phase II—Her Future: Intergenerational approaches to Bold and Transformative Leadership.’

At the outset, I must congratulate the World YWCA for developing such a useful and unique intervention. It is not just relevant but perhaps most needed and appropriate at a time when more than half the world comprises of young people. Asia has over 60% and the Pacific is also a region leading in young population. This brings with it insurmountable challenges that young women in particular face politically, economically, socially and culturally, especially in relation to Violence Against Women.

Asha Ramesh and young women

Asha Ramesh and young women

The highlight of this effort is that several young women indentified as young women leaders are showing their potential in a varied ways. This is happening back home within their constituency, which the young women leaders have developed. It is also visible in the way these young women who at the initial training in Kathmandu were shy, hesitant, uninformed, but had the spirit and fire latent within them. With passage over last three years, through opportunities for exposure to capacity building trainings, international conferences on reproductive health, feminist perspectives on women’s rights etc, has made an immense impact on transforming these young women leaders into strong advocates and champions for women’s rights.

Today, these young women leaders from different countries, especially in Asia have demonstrated how they have blossomed from being closed buds into bright and vibrant flowers. They have exhibited confidence, organising skills, advocacy capabilities, knowledge and articulate on issues affecting women in their respective countries. The young women now co-lead intergenerational workshops, develop advocacy strategies, prepare shared leadership statements share and take responsibilities. The icing on the cake is that these young strong women can lead the movement and bring with them many more young women to strengthen and sustain the future movement. Other critical issues that this process has brought to the fore are shared leadership, strengthening intergenerational dialogue and partnership promoted through the mentorship programme.

The programme underlines the foundation of building a strong movement which acknowledges the experience and knowledge of senior women coupled with space for fresh ideas from the young women leaders on issues affecting young women. As a mentor, some of us have demonstrated this. It is critical for many of us who are senior, holding positions of importance within and outside of the YWCA, who need to step aside and provide a foot in for the emerging young women leaders.

Unless we lead by example this will not be possible and the need of the hour is to have a combined leadership across the generations to keep the spirit of the movement going and gain momentum to address the challenges ahead. It is imperative, that together we lead and amplify concerns, strategize to advocate for a better tomorrow. We are together, Champions of Young Women Leaders and advocates for Women’s Rights. Therefore, it is critical to strengthen INTERGENERATIONAL BONDING, as a SUPPORT and GUIDE giving space for decision making for the YOUNG WOMEN to be the BEACONS of LIGHT that they are. This journey is ongoing………….

Human Rights Council vs My Human Rights

By Khalea Callender, Programme Associate World YWCA

Based on my historical research, it was as a result of the Second World War, that international leaders vowed never again to allow atrocities like those of that conflict to ever happen again. World leaders decided to complement the UN Charter with a road map to guarantee the rights of every individual everywhere and hence the development of the UN Declaration for Human Rights. The saying is “Before a child is a child, a child is a human being”, so according to my interpretation, since we were all once children, then that makes us all HUMAN BEINGS, and every human being is entitled to have rights, according to this declaration; a right to life, a right to be free, a right to an education, a right to freedom of religion and a right to health care to name a few.jj
Over the last three weeks I had the privilege to attend the sitting of the 26th session of the Human Rights Council (HRC), which began on the 10th June, 2014, at the office of the United Nations in Geneva. It was truly an exciting time for me. I was elated for more than one reason. I was excited at the prospects of witnessing government representatives from all over the world discuss issues that would address human rights violations, promote human rights assistance and education, review States’ human rights records, work to prevent human rights abuses, respond to emergencies, and serve as an international forum for human rights dialogue. This in what I believed showed the commitment by governments to stand up for individuals and not just show boat what they saw as progress. To me it represented a step towards progress and development as not only individuals, but as communities, societies and nations at large.
During this sitting of the HRC, I felt waves of many varying emotions, from being excited, to disappointed, mostly anger and then at some points just sheer peace. Some of these emotions though came at the same time. Well to say the least, my frustration started from day one. I was disappointed to see that some governments did not find an event of this nature important enough to send a representative. Although the room seemed quite full, the fact that from where I sat, there were so many empty seats were alarming to me. One of these empty seats included that of my own country, Trinidad and Tobago. The question that continues to haunt me is that, in a world, where we read and hear of so many violent crimes and human rights violations taking place daily, why won’t governments find an event of this nature important for them to attend, even if it’s for them to listen and or share best practices? But I must say hats off to the governments and their delegations that did show an interest and made the effort to attend.
The process by which the Council ran was very intriguing especially the process of adoptions of resolutions. During the council a total of 30 plus resolutions were brought forward to the council to be adopted, which according to the President of the HRC , it was the first time in his tenure that so many resolutions were brought forward in one session. While states generally seek consensus to adopt resolutions, they can also call for a vote on specific resolutions. While the adoption of resolutions represents a crucial step in creating international and national accountability mechanisms, without adequate, binding measures to ensure implementation of resolutions, we must question whether Council resolutions serve as an adequate deterrent for perpetrators, as daily if you read any newspapers from anywhere in the world, human rights violations still occur.
The most controversial resolution brought to the council for me was called the “Protection of the Family”. This resolution forced me to ask myself many questions on what does development really mean to some people and some countries. How can we really be developing if as a country and as individuals we can’t accept freedom of choice? Each and every one of us has a right to choose the life we want to live. The choice of what religion suits me or the choice of who I marry. Making this choice should not exclude me from being able to be part of a family. In this resolution put forward by Egypt, there is no recognition of the fact that various forms of the family exist; including single-parent families, same-sex families, and child headed families, families without children and I could continue naming. One government representative even went as far as trying to define what a family is stating “A family is only man, woman and children, living under the same roof”. Are we really in the year 2014? Because after that statement, I really felt like I was in a time capsule that went back hundreds of years.
To my knowledge, the HRC was created to protect individual human rights; the family in its essence is made up of 2 to 3 individual and can be described as a unit. Therefore in my view, it should not be entitled to protection as a unit, but the individuals instead should be protected. Also the resolution adopted does not state what the family needs protection from. The lens of “protection of the family” legitimates violence and abuse that members of families often experience. It is well know that families are often a site of violence, especially towards women and children. According to the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, domestic violence is the most pervasive form of violence against women. ‘Protection of the family” may very much imply a need to protect the family as a unit regardless of the experiences of individuals in the family unit who need to leave those family units for their own safety, well-being and health. The risk is exacerbated by the failure to state what the family requires protection from.
Although there was many discussions surrounding this resolution, and debate by government representative of its content, the resolution was adopted by vote and not consensus. At least it was somewhat comforting to note that there were some right thinking, developing minds at the Council. The resolution was passed by a vote of 26 to 14 with 6 absentee. Diversity language sponsored by Chile, Uruguay, Ireland and France were introduced but unfortunately defeated by what I could only describe as closed minded countries.
In the end when there were feelings that all hope was lost for this world, the resolution on violence against women was passed by consensus. During the informal meetings on this particular resolution, there were discussions surrounding what language should be used around this topic. The questions in my mind though will continue to remain, as to why in this day and age, there would be still debate as to violence perpetrated against women or violence perpetrated against any human being. Fortunately, it was pleasing to note that most governments saw this as a no nonsense topic that required strong language.
All hope was not lost for me in being in attendance at this 26th sitting of the human rights council. I say that the council values the voices of those sitting as civil society as they give key entry points for engagement and advocacy. Principally, Council sessions provide civil society with strategic opportunities to make interventions which may otherwise fall on deaf ears domestically. Furthermore, international, regional and national civil society, using a variety of platforms including side events, oral and written interventions and meetings with diplomats, can expose and raise awareness about human rights violations which may be censored or misconstrued in countries without independent media. However, public expressions of empathy made by foreign delegates and members of the Council are rare among governments with questionable human rights records. By the end of the three-week session, I could almost always predict states’ responses to certain issues.
In reflecting I have to ask, what is the real value of the Human Rights Council? Yes all these resolutions are in place and adopted by all or most countries but are they a real value to the women and girls that suffer at the hands of human rights violators? Every day we read in the newspapers and listen to the news from all over the world of the human rights violations taking place in each and every country, so what is this Human Rights Council legally doing to discipline these countries that are actually acting like human rights violators and have signed onto the declaration? There is no legal sanctioning body in place at the UN to deal with these human rights violators. The question then remains, what is the real value to the Human Rights Council to the thousands of persons that daily have their rights violated?


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