Iconic Dr Ruth delivers something a little different at CSW 2010

By YWCA of Canberra CEO, Rebecca Vassarotti

As week two heads into the difficult negotiation stage, CSW delivered something different today with a session involving Dr Ruth Westhhimer, the iconic  psychosexual therapist, who pioneered speaking frankly about sexual matters.

At a lunch time panel discussion, hosted by the Mission of Panama, delegates were treated to the wisdom of Dr Ruth, as she shared her experience, the evidence and her perspectives around working with individuals and couples on issues around sexual relationships.

Some of the words of wisdom shared with the room included:

  • the importance of all people to understand what is right for them sexually (and otherwise) in the context of their values, beliefs and where they are at.  She stressed the importance of people understanding this for themselves, rather than being pressured to confirmed to a particular view or behaviour
  • the importance of cultural understanding in terms of norms, and particularly education.  She noted that when working in the area of sexual and reproductive health, it is vital that people delivering this education are within the culture and understand the cultural norms operating within the communities they are working in.  She noted that when working in communities, educators must understand the diversity of beliefs, understandings and myths operating in cultures in order to be effective
  • the importance of consent, and for both parties to be comfortable with activity.  However, once there is consent, people should feel free to express themselves in the privacy of their own homes
  • the importance of focusing on relationship when responding to sexual and other health matters.  Issues should be worked through together, and both partners should be involved in decisions around sexual health

This was a great session, where significant information around working on issues of great cultural sensitivity was delivered with great humour, humility and authority.  It was a session I would not have expected to be part of CSW but one that was greatly enjoyed.

CSW 2010: Women in Fuschia

By YWCA of Canberra Executive Director, Rebecca Vassarotti 

We have already mentioned the decision made by the World YWCA delegation to wear scarfs as a way of identifying ourselves as YWCA delegates throughout the conference.

As part of our debrief and reflections at last night’s briefing, a discussion was held about how useful this has been as a strategy.

Everyone shared how wonderful it has been to be able to identify each other through wearing the scarfs.  It has also been incredibly successful as a tool to increase our visibility and give volume to the YWCA’s presence at the conference. It has been a great tool to create a sense of belonging amongst our delegation

In fact, what we are now finding is that the scarfs have generated interest and excitement around other delegates at the conference.  People are asking ‘what is the scarf all about’.  It has provided us with an opportunity to discuss with others the work of the YWCA , who we are and what we stand for.  People are now identifying it with some of the key issues that the YWCA is advocating for including wondering if it is a symbol around awareness raising around HIV AIDS and Violence Against Women.  Finally, women want to be part of the fuschia scarf delegation.  Women are asking if they can buy scarfs, and we are discovering other YWCA women in other delegations who wish to be part of this.  This has meant that a few of us, including our General Secretary have given our scarfs away.

Ping Lee, from the YWCA of Taiwan (one of the delegates unable to obtain official accreditation) was the generous YWCA woman who made this possible.  She sourced 100 scarfs during Chinese New Year!  Her amazing effort has meant that we have created a brand which has started comment and interest for all participating in CSW.

CSW 2010 Looking Back, Looking Forward: Strategies to Promote Young Women and Girls’ Activism

By World YWCA staff Sarah Davies

I attended a very interesting panel today at CSW 2010 on young women and girls and their role in development. Co-organised by AWID, IWHC, CREA and Women’s Forum of Kyrgyzstan, the strategy session invited women’s rights and development organisations and youth activists to identify concrete strategies and share good practices that can be applied to initiatives focused on young women and girls.

It was agreed that there is greater acceptance of the importance of young women and girls in development work but the panel also raised some interesting reflections on how and why we include young women and girls as development actors.

When panelists were asked some of the principles they have for working with young women the responses were diverse as:

-          Realisation that young women have particular needs

-          Movement building aspect to engaging with young women

-          Multigenerational approach is critical if we are to truly address gender equality

-          There is also culture specificity when working with young women. Rights are universal but their application in cultural contexts is very important

-          Participatory process is key  – there must be a personal connection to young women and girls

-          Involvement of young women who have new and creative ways to find solutions to they problems they face

-          Full engagement of young women in the problem solving process

-          Young women need to be involved in the institutional processes of their organisations to ensure succession

There were also reflections around the issues of young women and tokenism. Some organisations tend to see young people as part of their constituency but the problems begin when that young person comes in and leads a programme. The same can also be said of minorities such as lesbians and indigenous women – power struggle between generations begin.

The issues of young women can also be pigeon holed. Young women only lead young women’s’ programmes and young women staff get given the youth work but we should be adopting strategies in our programmes and movements where young women can lead ANY programmes.

When asked what principles should be avoided when working with young women and girls, the following was said:

-          Empowerment programmes that are about individual self empowerment can alienate young people from their peers. Taking an individualistic approach can have a negative effect

-          Strategies that really work are when young women are empowered to influence communities around them

-           UN agencies are now targeting vulnerable youth groups such as IDU’s, HIV positive youth and sex workers which is important but policymakers need to address the diverse youth needs as youth in a holistic manner.

-          There is a big difference between youth led organisations and NGOs working for young people – this should be explored and acknowledged more.

What was also interesting was that CREA has a staff that is made up mostly of young women under 30 and the majority of them are leading programmes. As the panelist said –  it helps us practice what we preach.

The AWID panel was a thought provoking session to attend as it raised a lot of questions and reflections about tokenism and some of the intergenerational stereotypes and clichés we are all guilty of indulging in from time to time. It was also one of the few panels I have attended where the majority if panelists were young women – so well done to AWID and their partners for keeping it real.

http://www.worldywca.org

CSW 2010: Indigenous and Inspirational Women

By YWCA Australia Vice President Roslyn Dundas

Indigenous women from around the world are ensuring their voices and unique experiences are also being heard at CSW. On Wednesday the International Fund for Agricultural Development and the International Indigenous Women’s Forum convened a panel “Indigenous women working for change and moving ahead since 1995”.

Speakers included Tarcila Rivera Zea (Peru), Victoria Haraseb (Namibia), Govind Kekar (India) and Megan Davis (Australia). One of the key themes that arose was the lack of access to education. Tarcilia from Peru called for the allocation of aid to strengthen the traditional knowledge of indigenous women – affirming local knowledge and supporting women to be in a position to transmit that knowledge to another generation.

The forum noted that while Indigenous activists defend traditional culture based on human rights, we also need to continue to review traditions – as there are traditions that require transformation to respect women’s rights (such as female genital mutilation)

Megan, a Cobble Cobble Aboriginal woman from South East Queensland, spoke of the recently announced Australian National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples. This congress has a mandated requirement of 50% representation from women. Megan noted that while this was a significant win, it does not mean the job is done. We cannot let men think there is equality now, as there are still underlying and hidden issues that will impact on women’s participation in the Congress. Megan is the Australian candidate for the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

The forum concluded with a challenge for us all to examine ways we can ensure positive policies from one government to the next, as indigenous women often find hard fought for wins overturned following elections. And this linked back to the opening discussion about education, as Tracila reflected an education is needed to be able to participate in the political processes.

Visit http://www.worldywca.org for more information

How Far Have We Come? CSW Assesses Progress Since Beijing

By YWCA of Canberra , Australia Executive Director Rebecca Vassarotti

Throughout day three of CSW there has been a number of opportunities for women to reflect on the status of women since the adoption of the Beijing Platform.

The day commenced with an official commemoratiion of International Women’s Day, and was opened with an address from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. His address was open, positive and very affirming of the importance of this issue.

The session then moved into an interactive panel: “Beijing at 15: The Unfinished Agenda”.  The Moderator Maria Hinojosa, a Senior correspondent PBS/ Anchor “Latina USA”, National Public Radio led panellists including UN Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro, Gertrude Mongella, Secretary-General, Fourth World Conference on Women, Patricia Licuanan, Chair of Asia Pacific NGO Forum/Former Chair of CSW, Tarcila Rivera Zea, Enlace Intercontinental de Mujeres Indígenas, and Amy, representative of “Because I am a Girl” Initiative, Plan

The session provided the opportunities for the panel members to assess what has been achieved since the Beijing Conference, share experiences and good practices, and discuss priority actions to deal with persistent obstacles and new challenges. A real highlight of the session was the participation of Amy, a 17 year old woman with links to YWCA, spoke with wisdom and eloquence and was able to identify the issues, put forward the challenges and at the end of the session articulated the personal action she was going to take after the session ended.

The overwhelming assessment of this panel was ‘two steps forward, one step back’.  There was a reflection of the positive stories, and a recognition of the work still to come.

During the lunch break for official delegates, an interactive panel was held entitled Beijing +15, the representation of women: a 15 year retrospect and hopes for the future.

The moderator for this session was Aparna Mehrotra, Focal Point for Women UN.  Panelists included Heisoo Shin, former member, CEDAW, Bani Dugal, Principal Representative to the UN (Bahai International Community), Emma Sabin, Vice President, Partnerships, Catalyst [Bios are available at http://www.un.org/womenwatch/osagi/events/Bios_3-March_speakers.pdf].

Some of the most interesting points made include:

  • The development of quite sophisticated understandings of women in the workplace.  For example, Delloites is moving from looking at the career ladder to the career lattice (work pattern reflects life experience).  These practices are resulting in better efficiency and work satisfaction for employees
  • In studies being conducted, it is found that independent of culture leadership attributes valued in business are traditional assigned as male attributes
  • At UN, the increase of women at middle levels of staff at the UN  (prodominately those held by people aged 30-45 stagnated, and is not growing to reach 50%. This has led the UN Focal Point for Women to realise we need to be targeting every level (need to increase flexibility)
  • Most effective way to increase representation is to introduce temporary special measures (quota levels etc). Rwanda is the world’s best practice – was achieved through law
  • Identified the importance of measuring – this means that you can be accountable
  • It was recognised that women need to ‘let go of the baggage’.  Women should embrace affirmative action as advancement is not occurring without it
  • Really need to look at flexibility within the workplace.  Hard to move managers from a correlation between efficiency and control as it is not the case

There were lots of interesting reflections, and things to think about as we move forward through the next phase of the Beijing Platform.

Visit http://www.worldywca.org for more information

Visit the YWCA of Canberra website: http://www.ywca-canberra.org.au/

Talking about sex at CSW 2010

By YWCA of Australia Vice President Roslyn Dundas

Pathfinder International in coalition with a few other organisations such as the Youth Coalition and Population Action International hosted a side event here at CSW on March 1, 2010 looking at Adolescent and Youth Sexual and Reproductive rights. It was great to link with other young women working on issues such as HIV and AIDS and other reproductive rights issues.

We heard from two young women leaders. Ishia Chaudry, founder of the Youth Parliament Foundation in India reminded us all that “you don’t need qualifications to be an activist and believe in something.” Maria Ines Romero from the Youth Coalition called for greater realisation of the fact that “young people should be able to exercise their right to education and information – and this is more than a simple biology lesson.”

Young women need to be involved in discussions and decisions about reproductive rights around the world, especially due to their current knowledge and experience. At the most recent YWCA Regional Training Institute held in the Asia-Pacific YWCAs in the region recognised the link between violence against women, sexual and reproductive health and rights and HIV – and looked to engage with partners and others to speak and advocate for women’s education, economic justice, sexual and reproductive rights, violence against women, HIV and AIDS and human rights, through the leadership of women and young women including at international campaigns and celebrations. CSW is an important forum to do this advocacy and remind many leaders from around the world of the role of young women in tackling the HIV and AIDS pandemic.

CSW 2010: Reflections of Day One

By YWCA of Canberra, Australia Executive Director Rebecca Vassarotti

Well, the first day of CSW has been amazing.  It is incredible to be part of this incredible machinery.  There have been some humbling experiences, some highs and some lows and some experiences which have left us somewhat bemused, watching the movement of some 8000 women around a construction site.

Roslyn, Maree and myself were extremely lucky to get into the overflow room for the opening session – so while we weren’t in the room, we were next door.  This meant we were able to sit in the seats usually held by delegates and joined with hundreds of women listening to the opening.

There were a number of speakers in this first session, from the UN themselves, getting the meeting underway and setting the scene for the session.  It was interesting to note that at this Commission, which is responsible for the status of women was only able to produce three women in the seven speakers, and both the Chair and the Secretary of the Commission were male – but more about the progress of the UN in this area later.

In relation to key messages at this session, they included:

-          The need to move from commitment to action

-          The recognition that progress has been uneven everywhere – globally, regionally and nationally

-          The call to use opportunities to learn lesson, translate good practice

-          Statements that equity for women, and the empowerment of women and girls is a priority for the UN

-          The contribution of the NGO women’s sector was highlighted and acknowledged

-          All made links to Millennium Development Goals

-          Observation that the goals of equity and women’s empowerment not just a goal in its end but will create a global
good

Issues highlighted:

-          Violence against women

-          Injustice

-          Poverty

-          Reproductive health, including maternal health (almost all maternal deaths should be preventable)

-          Illiteracy (2/3 of illiterate people are women, and this has not changed in 20 years)

-          Location of women in the informal workforce

-          Trafficking

Report on UN progress around gender equity within the UN:

-          3.7% increase of females holding leadership positions in the UN in the last year.

-          38.8% of professional positions in the UN are held by women – no increase.  A

-          gender balance strategy and action plan has been development

Important issues:

-          deadline for resolutions is Tuesday 9 March at pm

-          There has been a call to develop a binding instrument to end trafficking for organs (following a report provided by the Assistant General Secretary General Special Advisor on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women

After this session, the Australia YWCA delegates were privileged to be able to observe a high level meeting of Pacific Nations around the strategy for this region to use CSW to promote issues of joint concern.  This was hosted by the Australian Ambassador to the UN and included participation from Government Ministers from New Zealand and Samoa.

Through the day, I attended a number of parallel events.  They included:

Intergenerational Conversation on Beijing
This session was run by the Working group on Girls (NGO Committee on UNICEF).  This session was aimed at assisting members of the working group to lobby on key issues, and was very instructional, providing advice on how to work with permanent missions to advocate on issues around members of CSW keeping promises made around ending discrimination; protecting girls and empowering girls

Gassroots Caucus
This was a small group but very powerful group which committed to meeting on a daily basis, to share information, support one and other and ensure that the ‘lived experience’ was recognised as an important voice in this conference.  I am looking forward to learning more for the amazing women participating in this.

The official end to the day included a briefing from the Australian Government delegation and information put under the door from World YWCA.  If day 2 is anything like day 1 we are in for an experience.

For more information visit http://www.worldywca.orgYWCA of Australia

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