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.


No mere pop star, Beyonce pushes the frontiers of feminism

By: Beth Lyons, associate director of YWCA Moncton

This week, I’d planned to write on the minimum wage in New Brunswick (which will be tied with the Northwest Territories for lowest in the country once Alberta and Newfoundland-and-Labrador increase their rates in the next two months) and how it affects women (women age 20 and over are the largest demographic earning minimum wage in New Brunswick). That was the plan, but then Beyoncé performed at the annual MTV Video Music Awards and I finally had to give in to writing a column about beloved Queen Bey.2014 MTV Video Music Awards - Fixed Show

What was so important, or even social justice related, about Beyoncé taking the stage at the VMAs? In the midst of her 20-minute set, which was essentially a condensed performance of the visual album she dropped in December, she stood on stage in a power stance in front a giant screen illuminated with the word ‘FEMINIST.’

Here’s some background on Beyoncé and feminism and why this is a big deal to many: Beyoncé’s songs have always featured themes of economic empowerment and independence for women; celebrated bodies that aren’t traditionally regarded as desirable under racist, colonialist, patriarchal standards; and held up supportive friendships between women as important. In 2006, Beyoncé unveiled an all-female band, The Sugar Mamas, that she tours with and features in many of her videos (during her 2013 Superbowl half-time performance, the Sugar Mamas’ musical director and lead guitarist, BiBi McGill, played a solo centre stage next to Bey, occupying a space typically reserved for male musicians).

Given this context (and the fact that Beyoncé is an incredibly successful artist and business person), folks have been eager to hear Beyoncé declare herself a feminist. In 2006, she disappointed many when UK Harper’s Bazaar asked if she was a feminist and she responded: “I don’t really feel that it’s necessary to define it. It’s just something that’s kind of natural for me, and I feel like . . . you know . . . it’s, like, what I live for. I need to find a catchy new word for feminism, right? Like Bootylicious.” (Bootylicious being the title of a track with her former group, Destiny’s Child).

A celebrity singer shying away from the label of feminist isn’t uncommon: Lady Gaga has done it (though she’s come around to embracing it), Katy Perry has said she believes in the strength of women but isn’t a feminist, Kelly Clarkson isn’t interested in the title, and both Sarah Jessica Parker and Madonna claim to be humanists, rather than feminists (sigh, that word really isn’t a gender-neutral alternative to feminism).

In the last few years, however, Beyoncé has clearly reconsidered her stance. She signalled this most strongly in her newest album, in which she sampled a TED talk from author Chimamanda Adichie titled We ‘Should All Be Feminists’ in a track. The sample begins with Adichie giving examples of how girls are raised to be less ambitious than boys and to view partnership with a man as the ultimate accomplishment in their lives. The sample wraps up with succinct definition of feminist: “Person who believes in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes.”

After releasing her new album containing this explicitly feminist track, Beyoncé also participated in an initiative related to Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In campaign and contributed to the Shriver Report on gender equality.

And then there were the VMAs.

Feminism is an often-maligned term, one that can be a difficult to claim; a term that one often pays a price for claiming. Given this, it was incredible to see Beyoncé, a former non-feminist, the most popular entertainer in the world, savvy business person, perform to the words of Adichie and then stand proudly, even defiantly, in front of the word feminist, claiming it for all to see.

It’s not just the fact that Beyoncé claims the label that warms the cockles of this feminist’s heart, but also the fact that Beyoncé complicates white, middle-class conceptions of feminism.

As I’ve mentioned in previous columns, social movements, even progressive ones, centre their most privileged members as well as the needs and priorities of those members. In the women’s rights movement, this has meant that women who are racialized, poor, disabled, immigrant and/or queer have often been marginalized within our efforts.

When Beyoncé proclaims herself a feminist and then puts forward incredible work that is informed by her identity as a black woman, we have to confront ways in which feminism has been narrowly defined and consider the intersections of various forms of oppression, including not just misogyny, but also racism and classism.

For instance, in early 2013 Beyoncé (who at this point had not yet released her new album, but was clearly growing increasingly interested in addressing gender-equality) announced a new world tour: The Mrs. Carter World Tour – Carter being the last name of her husband, Jay-Z. Many critiqued the fact that Beyoncé was choosing to drop her universally recognized first name from the tour’s title and simply become a Mrs. His Last Name (especially given that that she and Jay-Z both took each other’s last names upon marriage, becoming the Knowles-Carters).

Black feminists and womanists were quick to point out however that white feminists were forgetting to consider a historical context in which black families were destroyed and torn apart by the state, and on-going racist narratives that position black women as unlovable and as unfit partners and parents. Using the title of her tour to signal family-status could, therefore, be a radical and inspired choice by Beyoncé.beth

Similarly, Beyoncé’s work (particularly her videos and live performances) is often critiqued for sexualizing and objectifying women. White feminists, however, need to check our white (and, often, class) privilege and remember that black women’s bodies have been treated very differently than our own historically and in terms of pop culture. Framing a particular kind of body as desirable may be understood as problematic when simple analysis is used; when intersectional analysis that considers more than gender is employed, we may see transformative potential that we initially dismissed.

Just as feminism can’t be about simple analysis, Beyoncé standing on stage at the VMAs in front of the word feminist wasn’t just about de-stigmatizing the term, but also about challenging feminism to be broader, deeper, and more inclusive.

Source: Originally published in the Times & Transcript on August 28th, 2014.

 YWCA of Moncton, Canada.

Creating a Peaceful World

By Yoshinobu Sugiyama. Yoshinobu is a member of the Nagasaki Peace Messengers that recently visited the World Office to share his story.

I am Yoshinobu Sugiyama. I live in the city of Yaizu, Shizuoka Prefecture. Yaiza is a port city famous for tuna, but sixty years ago the ship “Daigo Fukuryu Maru”departed from Yaizu experienced a sad accident. It was sailing in the vicinity of a hydrogen bomb test and became contaminated with radioactive fallout.web

When I was an elementary school student, i visited the Daigo Fukuryu Maru Museum. There was a small glass bottle filled with radioactive fallout. I was surprised to learn that such powder-like materials killed Mr. Kuboyama, the head of the radio operators on the ship.

In the museum, I happened to meet Matashichi Oishi, one of the crew members at the time. Mr. Oishi has visited many places to speak about the danger of nuclear weapons, although he has been suffering from many diseases. He said, “I want the people of the world to know more about this incident and to pass down the history from generation to generation.” Through his worlds, I was moved and inspired to work for peace.

I think that all the people in the world have hopes for peace, but differences in nationality and religion often ruin the hope. We, high school students, have hopes and dreams for the future. It is our mission to convey the words and thoughts of people who, like Mr. Oishi, experiences such incidents so that the same mistake may not be repeated.

This year, a movie called “Godzilla”was produced in the United States. the original “Godzilla”movie was made in Japan in 1954. “Godzilla”is an imaginary monster, but the basic idea of this movie came from the incident of the Daigo Fukuryu Maru. Godzilla woke up from his long sleep at the bottom of the ocean because of the influence of a hydrogen bomb test. The character Godzilla, who attacks and destroys modern cities, seems to call for serious reflections by human beings who invented nuclear weapons.

I hope that we can create a world where human beings live not in confrontation but with love and understanding for each other. To realize such a peaceful world, we should join together, hand in hand.


Finding peace through the storm

By Nadeshiko Nakaya. Nadeshiko a member of the Nagasaki Peace messengers recently visited the World YWCA office and shares her story. 

My name is Nadeshiko Nakaya. I live in Miyako City, Iwate Prefecture, and I am a second year student at Miyako High School. Our city has a national park with a beautiful coastline. It was however, hit by tsunami after a great earthquake on March 11th, 2011.IMG_1171

I was participating in an after school activity when the earthquake struck. I escaped to a shrine on a hilltop with other students and teachers. Then I moved to another place of refuge, where I was fortunate to meet my family. A series of aftershocks continued all day long. We were not allowed to go out and couldn’t get any information about what was going on. I spent that night with many people shivering from the cold and in fear.

The next day we were allowed to go out. I was deeply shocked by the dreadful sight. The central part of the city was covered with mud and rubble. Cars were piled up or crushed into houses. On the streets, many ships and boats were over turned here and there. There were also houses which had been burned down by fires the night before.

Everyone was just standing there in silence, staring at the sights. I heard many people sobbing helplessly. We were forced to live without water and electricity in the crowded refugee camps for weeks. There were people who had lost beloved family members and their homes. Seeing all these things with my own eyes, I realized, for the first time in my life, that peace is to be found within our daily lives, and when we were deprived of that peace by the power of nature, I felt uneasy and restless. I even felt frustrated from my helplessness.

Now, after three years, our town is rebuilt. However, many of my friends still go to school from temporary homes or their relatives’ houses. Some students even take a long time to come to school because the railways have not been completely restored yet. Some areas still remain deserted.

I had never imagined that the peace of our daily life would be threatened until the disaster struck. Such disasters could happen to any of us. We cannot predict when they will happen or prevent them from happening. But, nuclear weapons are not the same. They are created and possessed by human beings, and the decisions to use them are made by human beings. I think that nuclear weapons can be abolished by our own efforts because they have been made by human beings. I believe that possessing atomic bombs is wrong because they could deprive us of our own future. We must not create future tragedies by using atomic bombs.

I think that the first steps to realize world peace is to make more people interested in the problems of peace. We will be able to come closer to world peace only when each of us thinks about the meaning of peace and eventually enhances public awareness about peace. I believe the realisation of a peaceful world is not an impossible dream.

From a young Palestinian woman: A Bad Dream

By Lara Nassar, YWCA of Ramallah-Palestine. Lara who is a second-year student at Birzeit University, majoring in History and minoring in Political Science.

“Relative calm”, “death toll”, “airstrikes”, “bombing and shelling”, “war crimes”, and “humanitarian truce” , seem to be the only things that I’ve been hearing lately, the only things anyone’s been talking about. I personally think the most irritating of them all are both “relative calm” and “humanitarian truce”, it makes it feel like the heinous attack on Gaza has a shred of humanity integrated into it, which is utter nonsense. “Relative calm”, commonly used as a term to describe a temporary state of ceasefire, the reality is, relative calm only happens when the opposing party wants to take a five-minute break from shelling babies. Whereas “humanitarian truce” is a term used to fool the international community into believing that Israel is less barbaric than it actually is.lara

100 down, 200 down, 300 down, and the blood bath continues, as Israel keeps on targeting unarmed civilians. The death toll has reached over 1840 in Gaza alone, 40% of them have been identified as women and children, more than 9400 injuries; 17 hospitals have been bombed and are running out of medical supplies. Why do we keep mentioning numbers? Because that’s what the international community wants to hear, it’s the only thing it’s willing to hear when it comes to Palestine, and we just became so used to it that it’s become a natural thing for us to speak in numbers. On the other hand, from the local front, each of these “numbers” has a name, a story, a dream; we call them martyrs. For us, they are Palestinian heroes, even though they were only kids playing on the beach, only a family breaking fast during the holy month of Ramadan, only a young woman expecting her first child, dreaming about raising her in a peaceful world. They weren’t really in on this war, they weren’t out there fist fighting the enemy, they were merely trying to stay alive, but we still call them martyrs, why? Because in Palestine, even the will to keep on living is resistance and even the strength to keep on smiling is a threat to Israel’s security.

Living in the West Bank makes me feel like I’m just another bystander, Gaza is two steps away from me, yet it feels like another country altogether, separated geographically by an abusive apartheid state called Israel. I wake up every morning, have my coffee, sit on my laptop and read what has happened within the last 5 hours since I’ve last checked. This is not the best way to start your every morning I’m sure, but being a Palestinian, it just becomes part of your daily life, you get used to the images of gruesome crimes committed by Israel, which is actually really pathetic if you think about it. After catching up on the news I get myself ready for University, I don’t forget to pack ear plugs because I know that all I’m about to hear is more of what I already know. It’s exhausting; actually the most exhausting part is being so close, yet so far away from my people suffering in Gaza. You know you want to be safe, but at the same time you’re thinking “They shouldn’t be alone in this, we’re all the same people; we should suffer with them”, as masochistic as it may sound. However it’s very true, we constantly claim that we love dying as martyrs, we love dying for the cause, not because we have suicidal tendencies, just because growing up we were taught that dying for the cause is the most honorable death in the world.

I’ve been having this dream lately, I’m in Gaza city, there’s an airstrike happening, three little girls are all alone in the street, they’re not afraid, they’re not crying, the loud sounds of war aren’t scaring them as much as they are scaring me. I head towards the girls and tell them that we should run for a safe place, they reply “there is no safe place”, I’m struck with reality, they’ve bombed schools, hospitals, homes, mosques, and just about everything else, there really is no safe place in Gaza. Even though this is my dream, the truth is, it’s also reality; children really are that realistic, because they face circumstances that take away their right of rainbows and butterflies. No child should have to go through that; a child’s life shouldn’t be about finding shelter from shellings, or having to worry about surviving another day. Our children do. My only wish is for them to fall asleep today and wake up tomorrow morning to realize that this was all just a bad dream, and that it’s still safe for them to go to the park and play.

Hundreds of thousands of people have fled their homes and are in desperate need of food, water, shelter and medical care. Over 200,000 people urgently need food aid; 1.5 million people have no or very limited access to water or sanitation; and over 65,000 people are now homeless after their homes were severely damaged or destroyed. To donate, please visit the Disasters Emergency Committee website.

In September the YWCA of Palestine will be hosting an international conference to discuss women’s, including young women’s, role in ending violence and promoting human rights and dignity for all Palestinian women, men, youth and children, through the framework of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 (UNSCR 1325). More information can be found here.

Source: YWCA of Great Britain

Girls must be central to the POST 2015 AGENDA

By Marcia Banasko, World YWCA Communications Officer. 

The health and status of women and girls are inextricably linked to the well-being and prosperity of families, communities, and economies. Yet today, nearly 15 years on from the launch of the MDGs, progress on reproductive health lags seriously behind. Approximately 800 women and girls die every day from complications related to pregnancy or childbirth, and 99 percent of these occur in developing countries. marcia

Additionally, over 222 million women have an unmet need for modern contraception. Investing in the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women and girls has never been more critical. The largest-ever cohort of young people is entering their reproductive years, and their access to sexual and reproductive health information and services will have enormous implications for the trajectories of their lives. Advancing the reproductive health of women and girls also pays enormous dividends for development – poverty rates go down, education rates go up and greater prosperity follows.

At the 58th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women in New York, USA discussions and negotiations took place to shape the post-2015 development agenda. Hence, now is the time to ensure that sexual and reproductive health and rights is a priority in the post-2015 agenda. I think it is essential that we realise that when we talk about sexual reproductive health and rights we are talking about young women and girls.

As a young woman and youth advocate, I am committed to ensuring that young women and girls are central to the Post 2015 agenda. I say this as the Post 2015 agenda must address the most marginalised populations and as girls and young women are two of these key populations they need to be part of the decision making process. In order to do this young women and girls must be empowered and engaged in meaningful participation. Meaningful engagement of young women can be understood as a series of empowering moments that move in the direction of the ‘decision-making table.’ She can advise, share, sing or cry her opinions on political reforms, policies, programmes and development initiatives that directly affect her and will allow for effective use of resources, both human and natural.

In a world where ‘one in three women will be beaten or raped in her lifetime,’ successful and sustainable change will require transformative leadership. This means leadership that will challenge and change the status quo and the systems and structures that perpetuate discrimination, inequality and denial of human dignity. In order for this to happen young women and girls need safe spaces to be themselves, share experiences, access information and discuss ‘taboo’ subjects without fear or judgement.

At the World YWCA (where I am lucky enough to work), we have developed a model of safe spaces which has emerged from our programming on sexual reproductive health and rights in Sub-Saharan Africa. Globally there is a frightening unmet need for family planning and as the world’s population saws we must ask ourselves what are we doing to address this? Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest adolescent fertility rate in the world, with girls under the age of 16 years of age facing four times the risk of maternal mortality than women over the age of 20. In Mexico 42% of young men and 26% of young women between 15 and 19 years have had a sexual relationship; only 47% of these young men and 15% of young women had used a condom during their first sexual intercourse. The HIV and AIDS rates are increasing in Eastern Europe. In Nepal 86% of married adolescents aged 15-19 are not using a modern contraceptives, every 4 hours one girl died from pregnancy relation complications. This is a global issue! The lack of adequate, accessible and youth friendly sexual and reproductive health services not only affect the educational and economic opportunities of present and future generations, but threaten their very survival.

Young people, particularly young women, must be educated and empowered on their own sexual reproductive health and rights. Without access to non-judgmental, confidential and evidence-based sexual and reproductive health information and services, young women remain vulnerable to unwanted pregnancies, unsafe abortion and sexually transmitted infections. Many young women are confronted with the consequences of early and forced marriage and child bearing.

If we are to achieve a world of peace, equality and justice, we must be accountable to the world’s 860 million young women. We are more than a statistic – we are a valuable asset to nations, a critical population group for achieving sustainable human development and our voices must count in shaping the future of humanity. It is essential gender equality is retained as a stand-alone goal and that gender is mainstreamed across all the targets.

Original Source:


By Sonia Odek, YWCA of Kenya.
Every morning before we set off for the day we always have a meeting in one of the spacious rooms which also happened to be the apartment I AM IN. It is usually an opportunity for us as YWCA delegates and our leader Hendrica Okondo to get together and forge a way forward on what we are to do for the day. In these meetings we first start by one of us praysharing a bible verse and expand on it by reflecting on its relevance for today. Then someone with a song would also share and then we would pray together.

After prayer it is usually followed by each delegate sharing with the rest of the group what they had learnt and how it encouraged, inspired or even educated them, they would then tells us how that experience applied to their own countries and their own YWCA and how they would use that experience to make a difference. The morning devotion is also used to address issues that may have come up among the members as they went through their day. Is it the place where grievances and differences are solved. It is the place where highlights of the do’s and don’ts are clearly highlighted. We get to ask questions on different matters including those we consider silly. Here we remind ourselves of both of the really funny moments we had and the out rightly blond moments we had.

I particularly like these sessions since they set the tone for the rest of the day for me. It is the place where I have to constantly remind myself each morning that am not on a Holiday trip but am here to work and make a difference. I realise that in the midst of the joy and laughter that we share, there is also a lot that we learn. The week begins and how I hope to learn from my fellow peers at the morning devotions.


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