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.

Delegation

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.

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?

From caterpillars to butterflies!

By Vasanthy Perera, YWCA of Myanmar

I had the great privilege of attending the World YWCA programme on ‘Her Future: Intergenerational approach to Bold and Transformative Leadership’ held in Myanmar from the 2nd to the 8th of June this year. It was a wonderful time of learning and intergenerational fellowship and I enjoyed every minute of it. My sincere thanks to the World YWCA for inviting me for the programme.vasanthy

The Programme was quite a challenging and unique opportunity for intergenerational interaction, a wonderful idea and I must say that it was a great success. We the older women even shared rooms with the young ones (whom we had met for the first time) and the friendships that evolved are very special. As older women of the YWCA we realise that we have to step down someday and allow the younger women to take over. The ‘Young women Lead change’ project was a timely intervention where young women who were shy and who felt intimidated in the presence of older women members slowly started to come out of their shells. The World YWCA has offered them many opportunities to visit other countries and other fellow young women who were on the same journey. The mentor training encouraged them to appreciate and bond with the older women. Unfortunately, I was not part of their journey and did not see the ‘caterpillars’ turn into ‘pupas’. But in Myanmar I was delighted to see so many beautiful ‘butterflies’ of all different colours flying around – Wow, what a transformation! So bold and beautiful! I was so surprised to see so many young women taking part in activities with so much of confidence and pride. I may not have witnessed the gradual metamorphosis in others but I was amazed and delighted to see how our little Sureka has changed from chrysalis to the lovely butterfly she is now!

My thanks to the training team for the way you facilitated the programmes, each one co-facilitating with a young woman as partner and in a subtle and loving way getting them to lead, to develop their confidence in themselves – in fact, giving them the little ‘push’ that was needed, to become bold and transformative leaders!

It was a memorable one week for me to be with all those lovely young women, to interact with them, to join them in their activities and to be accepted by them. Our time with Bonnie and the mentors was quite enlightening and a pleasurable one. We understood that space should be given to the young ones and it is through our leadership that we pave the way for the young ones to follow the example set by the older women. As Aasha so correctly put it, ‘the need of the hour is a combined leadership across the generations’ to fan the flames and keep the love and spirit of our YWCA movement burning till the end of times’.

Dear you, what can you do for us?

By Yadanar Aung, YWCA of Myanmar

Dear Mom and Dad,

Thank you so much for bringing me into this world. But I don’t know why I have to take medicine since I was young. Thank you for sending me to school but I do not know why you two always remind me every morning not to talk much with friends. Thank you for bringing me up at a very friendly neighborhood but I have no idea why I am not allowed to talk with them. Every evening, I saw the girls and boys who are same age of mine playing. Mom and Dad, why you two do not let me go outside just one day and have fun??What did I do wrong? Why am I treated like this? I did nothing, yes, absolutely nothing to get this infection.

Dear my neighbors and friends,

Will you hate me if you know that I have this infection though I absolutely did nothing to get it? Will you discriminate me? My head is going to explode and my heart ache whenever I think about it. I know you have knowledge that you cannot be infected by talking, playing together, hugging and eating together. But still, why you all so afraid to be my friend? Am I that scary? I am just a little girl who is friendly. Please do not forget that though I have this infection, I am still a human.

Yadanar Aung

Yadanar Aung

Dear health service providers,

Can you please give adolescent-girls friendly services for me? Since I am 12, these days I can feel and see the changes in my body. Can someone please give me counseling and explanation why these changes happened? OH! This morning, I found some blood stain on my panties, where can I find the friendly services for me to know why this happens, what to do and how to take care? I usually have bad nightmares since I took the medicine 8 years ago. Why?

Dear the government,

Can you please increase the health budget so that I can get better health care services which are affordable, accessible, acceptable, non-judgmental and with confidentiality ? There is no clinic near my home and I have to take trishaw and then car to go to the clinic to get my medicine. I have read that combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases is the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) goal 6, are you really implementing that goal? The theme of World AIDS day is getting to zero: zero new infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS related deaths and I really wish and hope for that one day according to that theme.

Dear the civil society organisations,

Thank you for supplying me with medicine and nutrition. Moreover, thank you for sharing me information and network. Thank you for raising awareness of public that they should not be afraid but they can be our friends. Thank you for advocating the government to effectively implement the MDG goal 6.

Dear Me,

Why are you down and lonely? It is not your fault that you got this infection. Today, you saw many friends at the adolescent girls’ dialogue on HIV organised by YWCA of Myanmar, right? You are not alone.

It is so good to talk freely and share my feelings with my friends, the feelings and questions that I never open up and ask my parents. I can feel that my friends also shared my feelings. I gained strength and encouraged that this is not the end of the world, together, we can support each other to reach our goal of “getting to zero”.

Dedicated to all the adolescent girl champions who are brave and have the strength to open up and share their feelings at “adolescent girls’ dialogue on HIV” on 28th June, 2014.

Life of a young woman leader juggling mothering two lovely toddlers

By Angèle Kolouchè BIAO Epse AKOKPONHOUE, YWCA of Benin

Gone are the days I could wake up by myself after a good sleep or when I could sleep as long as I wished, when I feel like and how often I wanted.

Every morning, I am pushed out of bed by either the cry of Faith, my nineteen-month-old daughter who stills demands and needs attention from me or that of my three-months-old son Maxwell. This is to either prepare a milk beverage for the first or breastfeed the latter.

Otherwise, my day starts then like that and I need to get organised, manage and watch time like someone awaiting his death sentence.

I start by taking my bath first otherwise I get stuck by house chores and delay my bath, and then I heat water to bathe Maxwell and Faith. I simultaneously prepare breakfast for the family.

Managing time when I have to go somewhere early in the morning becomes difficult and really exhausting. I make sure I do the laundry before leaving the house because I often can’t predict the time I will come back home. Usually I struggle with time to the extent of forgetting to have breakfast. When leaving the house, I put the little one on my back and fasten him safely enough, sit on my motorbike and put Faith in front of me, wear my helmet and I am gone ridding. I either leave them with my mother or when it is necessary to go with them I have to keep Faith awake by singing with her during the trip. Sometimes it works, sometimes I just have to manage her on the motorbike so she does not fall or knock her against the board of the motorcycle.

When I don’t go anywhere, I hardly have time to take even a little rest. I have to put up with my daughter’s needs, with her breaking things and turning down the bedroom. I always have to keep an eye on her because she attempts dangerous things like plugging a wire, play with the light switch repeatedly, opening the tap and leaving it, opening any bottle whether drugs, oil, soap, alcoholic drinks etc.

After doing all this, at the end of the day I get so tired that all I need is to go to bed when they allow me to of course. Often I am only able to do certain things when they are both asleep otherwise I will have to be interrupted several times. That is why I can really rest at normal hours.

This life of mine is not easy at present but I console myself with the joy they give me and I am aware there is a time for everything.

One other thing too is that, it would have been definitely better if I had planned childbirth better. I was worried by the rumors of my elders and predecessors in motherhood on family planning, that before I realised I had two babies within less than two years. That is why I adopted a family planning method right on the delivery bed. I did not inform my husband before taking this decision and was worried about that in the beginning, but I realised it was my life and I have a career to pursue and couldn’t allow myself to fall in another trap again.  After all, he took the news positively, it was for the better of our sexual life, even though he would have wished to be informed and persuaded first. Anyway I have no regrets.

So far, so good.

Qui ne risque rien, n’a rien.

 

Beijing+ who? And 2015 what?

By Kgothatso Mokoena, YWCA of South Africa.

My engagement with the African Union Summit

2014 has been a hectic time, for development activists, with all current development frameworks ending in 2015, noting the end of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) and celebrating 20 years of implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action. Similarly the international community now is focused on UN mechanisms, Post 2015 development framework and while the African Union (AU) is encouraging member states to align with Agenda 2063 aspirations.

Kgothatso Mokoena

Kgothatso Mokoena

The world is now at the cusp of progress, accountability and inclusion. The tapestry of development language is weaved with the language of human rights. But practice…is NOT! My observations at the African Union and the Gender is My Agenda Campaign (GIMAC) consultation Forum has caused me to be concerned that although we have such good frameworks, our leaders are still hesitant to get their feet wet.

As individuals, communities and countries begin to understand what human rights means to them, it becomes vital to place women and girls at the very heart of all these processes. Twenty years ago at the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), member states committed to support sexual and reproductive health rights of all women and girls. The result was a definitive programme of action that would compel countries, for the next two decades to focus on equality, empowerment of women, reproductive health, sustainable development and growth.

As I followed the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) and Post 2015 Agenda negotiations, I am frustrated to see governments still arguing without logic that eradication of poverty and unemployment programmes are not constrained by negative reproductive health outcomes. I simply can not comprehend why any country would believe that a population, with a high level of teenage pregnancies and young women and girls who are forced to marry early and are unhealthy or neglected in terms of access to health facilitates would not be considered a major sustainable development issue.

Today, we no longer look at poverty as we did 20 years ago. It’s not just an income figure but a view that any circumstance which deprives one of health, education, and living conditions is poverty. That’s right; health is actually a condition that determines poverty!! In the African region, 3900 child brides live in this dire situation.

Group Photo

YWCA AU Delegation

The post 2015 development agenda must be based on human rights framework; it should commit to the gender equality goal as a standalone and must include clear commitments to young women and girls. This is a non-negotiable for us and billions of women around the world. Indeed women’s agency, voice and leadership are crucial and core to meeting the aspirations of development as stated in the AU Agenda 2063.

In the words of my good friend and youth advocate Ramya Kudekallu, “We want sexual and reproductive health rights to be considered as life itself, because the origin of all human life is (shockingly) sex. The point countless community and health workers, researchers, doctors, activists and civil society organisations are trying to get at is that every aspect of sexual health and well being is deeply connected with a nations’ well being. Sexual and reproductive health rights is allowing people, man or woman, young or old, or any race or any creed to better engage in decisions concerning their bodies, gender and relationships.”

So Beijing+ who? Beijing+20, you! MGD…who? Post 2015 Agenda…..about you! Engage now!

Surfing the Feminist Wave

By: Three YWCA Young Women Champions young women who recently attended the second Asia and Pacific Feminist Forum in Chiang Mai, Thailand; Sushila, Mameaw and Divya1401368407

The second day of APFF 2014 started with a plenary where feminists from 4 countries came together Helen Hakena from Papua New Guinea, Khek Chanreasmey from Combodia, Vernie Yocogan from Philippines and Khadiza Akter from  Bangladesh, they all picked up issues of oppression and how they overcame it by mobilising women locally and using creative campaigns of non violent resistance.

 Helen discussed about the women displaced due to mining and the impact it had on women and the environment. She spoke about how she mobilised women, and in spite of restrictions on making speeches they carried on with their protests by wearing black badges, organising marches and singing songs!

Khek and Vernie are housing and land rights activist, respectively. Khel mobilised 4200 families that were to be evicted, her struggle for housing rights continues till date. Her slogan on housing camping is ‘even birds need a nest’.

Khadiza, picked up the issues of the garment factory workers of Bangladesh, when she started off working as a young worker in a garment factory, she was appalled at the conditions of abuse and harassment the women worker were facing in the factory. When she started raising questions on the poor conditions In which the young women were working, she was terminated from her services, yet she persisted and managed to organise workers into unions for putting pressure on the garment companies and worked on improving the working conditions by negotiating for better wages, improving their standards of working and thereby ensuring the dignity of the workers in the industry.

Sessions attended during the day-

  • Promoting Accountability: Using International Mechanisms for the Realisation of Women’s Rights and Gender Equality, this workshop was conducted International Women’s Rights Action Watch, Asia Pacific

The workshop discussed mechanisms such as CEDAW and IECSR which can be used for holding governments accountable, how improved networking in the region and sub region are required for understanding economic rights and economic policies and identifying key violations.

  • At the workshop section on “FILM FOR CHANGE” which was organized by Insight Film and Communications TG, we learned about how to use film and other media to help someone have better understanding of goals, need and impacts of our network program/projects.

The advantage of using film and social media is to reach people, to raise their awareness, to record action and digital life studies/oral histories etc.

By sharing documentary films on the internet, many people can have access especially potential/contemporary funders.

  • Multi generation feminist dialogue on the contextual challenges of women’s movement in asia pacific

This workshop we attended  opened dialogues with multiple generations of feminists to talk about  knowledge building and activities within the movement and identify some of our best practices that allowed to build alliances to across generation and bridge the gaps.

  • Forum theatre for advancing women’s human rights

The workshop demonstrated the powers of theater as a way for people and communities to share their experiences, generate conversation, and enable new insights to emerge. The theatre was to break down isolation and building hope. By working through theatre, both performers and spectators can engage difficult questions in a safe space. It is also an excellent tool for education and awareness rising. Lastly, these insights can be used to advocate for policy and legislative changes.

It provided us an opportunity to discuss analyze and try to find out practical solution to problems by engaging spectators. Forum theatre presents an anti model and asked the spectators to respond about the decision made on stage and motivate them to change it . This provides a safe space for the performers and spectators to engage in a dialogue without being defensive. Danish Sohail showed that theatre can be used across international boundaries. He also said that language is not necessary because the face and body can speak across cultures. Danish gave an example from Pakistan where if women is raped, she must find four wise muslim men to speak for her innocence.

‘Taking APFF Home’-some key learnings and observations-

  • Major discussion around the conference were around the question of growing fundamentalism in the region and how it manifests itself in different forms in different countries-in some countries right wing governments are coming to power other enforcing Sharia law and still other by passing regressive legislation such as the ‘Anti- Inter Faith Marriage Act’.
  • With financial aid towards women’s empowerment programmes going to private players, and very limited access towards strengthening of the movement, the women’s movement regionally needs to look at other (non-financial) resources for movement building, like, strong volunteer base,  skills, visibility(social media) and possibly its strongest asset a strong network and community leadership
  • Another important learning at this advocacy platform came from our fellow, young women’s champion Yadanar, who along with other delegates from Myanmar rallied to create awareness about the issue of inter-faith marriages in the country and distributed a statement and thereby built solidarity among other activists in the conference. We learnt a lot about effective advocacy from this experience.

 

 

When you see it, you be it!

By Laurie Gayle, YWCA of Great Britain.

I want to spend a little time extracting some data for us to digest before going on to talk about how YWCA programmes address the gender gap relating to STEM.

Laurie Gayle

All the experts agree that the greatest job growth in the world is predicted to be in the industry of engineering. There is an enormous shortage of engineers and big data talent to meet industry needs now and in the future and so, attracting more women to these fields is critical to solving this problem.

So, why is there a problem? Overall it comes down to the world not producing enough students with the right skills. In the last 20 years, engineering enrolment has remained stagnant in the US despite enormous industry changes. Whilst technology has radically evolved, interest levels have not and this is particularly true for women and girls.

Just 18% of engineering degrees are awarded to women, 10% of practicing engineers are female and 3% of technology CEOs are women. Why? Because of the slander that says these fields are men’s work only. We, as women, committed to equality, must get better at challenging this. It is NOT a fact that some jobs professions are just better suited to men. Let’s all remember what I’m about to say and repeat this when appropriate: Whilst you are entitled to your own opinion, no matter how wrong, you are not entitled to your own facts.

So now, I want to establish a little bit of a baseline. Who has heard of Stephen Hawking? How about Neil de Grasse Tyson, director of the Harlem Plantearium in New York? Who can name a woman, let alone a woman of colour or who has a disability, with the same level of recognition in those fields?

This is a large part of why this issue is so multi-layered and the crux of it for me is a simple doctrine: We are what we see. Women and girls don’t see themselves doing certain careers, certain things, because they literally don’t see themselves doing these things. If you don’t see a woman playing sport, if you don’t see a woman engaging in politics, if you don’t see women taking on leadership roles in their community or working in academic disciplines of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields, you’re less likely to conceive that one day you could or should be doing these things.

There’s some really interesting research that has come out from the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media about this. What they found is the media (that’s film, television, news outlets etc.), do not portray or highlight women engineers or computer scientists at all. An interesting exception however, is in the United States, particularly on television, where women forensic scientists are extremely well-represented because of shows like CSI. What the data tells us is because there is significant saturation in media representation for this field, and women in this field, there is less work to be done in achieving equality in forensic science because of this: women gaining forensic science degrees has risen 75% over the last decade. So, the proof is there that several layers of society need to bump up showcasing women in STEM roles because clearly, when you see it, you be it!

The YWCA movement of over 25 million girls and women the world over is great at recognising this. I want to highlight what one of the YWCAs here in the States has been doing around bolstering interest in girls around STEM.

The YWCA of Pittsburgh runs three distinct programmes designed to supplement regular academic settings and bring girls to STEM and STEM to girls. ‘Tech Girls’, ‘STEM Impact’ and ‘STEM Art’ are all about nurturing girls’ confidence to use STEM tools, improve basic literacy and coach girls to utilise and interact with STEM to encourage creativity and expand their horizons.

This is just one piece of the puzzle. Think about strategies you think would work to integrate girls into STEM. What can you do as an individual? What can you do as a community? What do you expect civil society and NGOs to do in terms of programming? What should our Governments be doing? What sort of societal changes can start the domino effect?

To sum it all up, I want conclude with something Martin Luther King Jr. used to say. We cannot take the tranquilising drug of gradualism. This incremental approach towards equality isn’t good enough anymore. We’ve got to get better at insisting for ‘now’ and not settling for only a footstep forward. The reason this is important is because of this statistic which, when I read it, rocked my world. If we keep adding women to STEM fields, and politics, and other arenas at the rate we have been, we will not reach gender parity for another 800 YEARS. Whilst we all know that statistic is simply unacceptable, it’s not unchangeable. So let’s do something about it.

 

 

The YWCA of Sri Lanka at the World Conference on Youth

By Myrtle Mendis, YWCA of Sri Lanka.

The World Conference on Youth was held in Sri Lanka in May 2014. It was a wonderful opportunity for the YWCA of Sri Lanka to show case itself and increase its net working with a number of organisations and active individuals with common interests and aims. Sarah Arumugam – Programme Director of the YWCA of Sri Lanka lost no time in contacting the organisers and getting involved. For Sarah it was time consuming and hard work but the results proved that it was worth the effort. The National General Secretary – Subhashinie Perera participated in the very elaborate and colourful opening ceremony of the World Conference on Youth. Natalie Raymond from the YWCA of Panadura – a local branch – participated as one of the 100 Sri Lankan delegates, chosen from among over 1000 applicants.

The Peak Experience for the YWCA of Sri Lanka was the parallel event held on the 8th of May titled Faith and Culture Dialogue on Sexual Reproductive Health (SRHR) and Rights and HIV -the co-sponsors being the YWCA of Sri Lanka and the World YWCA. The moderators, Marcia Banasko – Communication Officer, World YWCA and Sureka Wijerupa – Youth Coordinator of the YWCA of Sri Lanka did a great job. The panellists invited by Sarah were highly respected and very knowledgeable persons in their respective disciplines. faith

The event was conducted in a very informal manner so that many were able to express their opinions and share their experiences.

Two Y Peers, Sureni Weerasekera and Champa Kankanagme from the YWCA of Sri Lanka shared the experiences and challenges they encountered as they participated in the workshops on SRHR and HIV. Both of them are new young leaders trained through the YWCA of Sri Lanka Y Peers programme which is funded by the World YWCA Power to Change Fund. Hans Billimoria – Director, Grass rooted Trust presented the cultural barriers and challenges faced in addressing SRHR and HIV to young person’s very vividly based on his findings and experiences. He described a long term plan they have begun to train students in schools through a programme to be included in the school curriculum.

Shuba Kayastha – Programme Officer, ARROW spoke on Breaking down Barriers for Child Marriage. Many realised, may be for the first time, not only the mental trauma but also the physical disabilities and sufferings associated with Child Marriage.

Sarah- from the YWCA of Nigeria speaking on Community Experiences in Advocacy SRHR and HIV detailed further barriers and challenges adding to what Hans Billimoria presented. Sumaya Saluja of Youth Advocacy Core UN Global Education First Initiative spoke of the difficulties faced by Youth Peer Educators as they encountered cultural barriers, highlighting the fact that disseminating accurate information on these subjects need to be tactfully and sensitively handled. UN AIDS – Mikaela Hilderbrand showed how important it was to engage faith based youth groups in global and partnerships to address these issues.

The audience was very appreciative of the programme and took part in the discussion. It was heartening to note that a member of the Sri Lanka Parliament Upeksha Swarnamali was present and assured the YWCA of her support. As senior volunteers of the movement we are happy to see how younger women are growing with the movement. We congratulate Sarah, Marcia and the Programe Team who organised the event.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 77 other followers