My first experience as a World YWCA intern travelling to Africa

By Sharon Yendevenge, YWCA Papua New Guinea. Sharon recently attended her 1st ITI as an Intern with the World YWCA and she shares her views on her experience.

My journey to Africa started on the 16th of March 2014 from Geneva airport travelling to Arusha, Tanzania. It was a move to a completely different continent  with different peoplesharon web and yes there I was. The small Arusha airport stood alone approximately a 45mins from my destination Naura Springs Hotel. We arrived late at night and although I felt tired, I was looking forward for the morning to officially start my African experience and to meet other sisters around the world.

The World YWCA first International training Institute for the year  brought together many different people from varying countries to participate.  The participants were mainly from different parts of Africa, but there were also representatives from  Caribbean, Europe, and the Asia Pacific region.  The first day began with   presentations from partner organisations such as DSW, IPAS, ARROW and FERMET, and this was followed by heavy discussions from participants within their regional groups on various SRHR topics. One of the objectives of the ITI was to come up with a regional briefs for the regions represented. From the discussions, I noticed that regardless of  government signing with the different treaty bodies to integrate SRHR in their countries, problems still exist in regards to  poor health services, lack of information, information being too complex for persons to understand, less sensitivity training. In my regional group Asia and Pacific, it was observed that the Governments needs to increase  health services and introduce  mobile clinics for cases of emergencies, 24 hours hotline for Violence against women, train more health workers on SRHR services and also  provide adequate health services for persons in  rural areas. The availability and the use of contraceptives was another thing that was observed to be lacking. There needed to be greater access for women as it has been seen that many women don’t really know about using contraceptives other than the male condom.  It was clearly seen that  people are very often too shy to purchase condoms in public places because of stigma and discrimination that surrounds it. Other important issues such as abortion not been legalised in many countries and high maternal mortality rates were also discussed.

The day two ended with a very exciting cultural dinner, It showcased, dancing and singing from the various cultures and African tribes present.

I woke up the next day sunlight beaming through my bedroom and couldn’t help but smile as I knew this would be another adventurous day.  I had the privilege to visit the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. The United Nations had built this court in Arusha, Tanzania especially to hear genocide cases.  It was interesting to hear from the young African women on how the fights have affected them.  In one way or the other, their parents, brothers and sisters, and relatives have experienced a great devastation in their lives, fleeing from war and enemies and ending up in neighbouring countries not knowing where they were going. Still today there are  yet many  untold stories as it can be painful to retell these stories. .

Heading back to the hotel I was so disturbed by the thoughts of innocent lives of women and children and even the men been killed. These bad memories were soon erased as the bus  went off to a snake farm. The excitement I felt to get an opportunity to see the African snakes I often watch on television live in person couldn’t be explained. What made my day even more interesting was that it was also my first opportunity to ride on a camel.  It was so interesting to see how the camel had to get up from the ground and then land. From up on top, I am  sure I heard myself really screaming especially when the camel started to stand up.  It was indeed a  great experience for me and so the third day ended and the fourth day begun with a journey to DSW Centre in Arusha for another day of activities.

Overall, my ITI experience was magnificent and my time in Tanzania, Africa couldn’t have been better.

THE PICTURE 2014

By Inunonse Ngwenya. YWCA of Zambia.

Inunonse Ngwenya

One of the main reasons developing countries  are unlikely to achieve  many Millennium development goals and escape the persistence of poverty that plagues even poorer countries that still manage to achieve decent levels of economic growth, is a lack of government  revenue towards paying for schools, hospitals, roads and public service. A recession in developing countries provides yet another excuse for them to renege on their overseas aid commitment and every drop of government revenue is important.

In almost every society in the world, young people get fewer opportunities than adults to make their voices heard in public arena. The 12th Article of the UN Convention on the Rights of the child states that every child has the right to express his or her opinion and be heard in all matters that affects them. Children have the right to say what they think should, when adults are making decisions that affect them and to have their opinion taken into account.

Education is a critical component of a healthy transition into adulthood. During childhood and adolescence, learning occurs more intensely than during other phases of life. During adolescence, young people develop physical and cognitive skills and acquire the knowledge and information necessary to becoming healthy, productive adults. Providing quality education in a safe environment and keeping children in school is a cross-cutting strategy that links different development priorities. For example, being in school has been associated with delays in the age of sex, marriage, and childbearing. Appropriate targeted policies and programs that help to keep young people enrolled throughout adolescence and connected to the social network that schools provide can have important impacts on their personal development and can minimize their vulnerabilities to the challenges that exist outside of the school environment and help them secure and reduce poverty levels.

Every Child has the right to the best possible health.  Government must provide good health care, clean water, nutritious food and clean environment so that children can stay healthy.

Advocacy is a process of communication, or a set of actions targeted directly at the people who make decisions. Considering the amount of time people spend at work it makes sense that the workplace should provide information, education and services relating to Sexual reproductive health and rights issues. (SRHR)  Knowledge for action for young women and girls for sure is the power to make a difference in our societies, so partner with us and be that change we want to see.

Youth policies, both those aimed at building capacity and those meant to mitigate the effects of poverty, must address the distinctive environments in which young people live. Close attention needs to be given to the differences between the social and economic circumstances of urban and rural areas. In cities and towns, educational and health resources are more readily available than in rural villages. Cities also present a more diverse set of income-earning opportunities. But it is far from obvious that young people especially those who are poor are in a position to take advantage of these urban resources and opportunities. For the urban poor, school enrolment rates fall well below the rates of wealthier urban residents. In multiple dimensions of health, the urban poor hardly fare better than rural villagers. To some, the diversity of urban living standards may be seen in a positive light, suggesting possibilities for upward mobility. But to many poor girls and boys, this same diversity may be interpreted quite differently, as evidence of an unbridgeable gulf between their circumstances and those of the urban elites. The social risks of city life may jeopardize both poor young people and those who are better off, as is clear from higher urban rates of HIV and AIDS.

We need a new crop of young women and girls in our societies to raise the struggle to preserve what is ours, a crop that will stop at nothing to achieve economic independence. We are all born as blank keys and as we grow our parents, environments, society  are tools God uses to shape us and make us into the keys we ought to be.

CSW: Why do we fight?

By Julia Diprose  fromYWCA of Australia. Julia is currently attending the 58th session of the Commission on the Status of Women in New York.

Since I found out I was coming to the Commission on the Status of Women #CSW (and bragging about it on Facebook) people have invariably reacted to the news with combinations of “That’s amazing! So, what is it exactly?”

To my chagrin (I am after all a communications professional) I have found answering this question rather difficult. It is only here in New York, deprived of real caffeine and sleep, and spending 16 hour days at the UN, that I have found myself able to answer the most basic of questions – what am I doing here?

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Julia Diprose

The CSW Commission on the Status of Women is an international forum attended by delegations from 45 UN member states at United Nations Headquarters in New York. The Commission is the ultimate policy-making body on gender equality and the advancement of women. It meets annually to evaluate progress on gender equality, identify challenges, set global standards and formulate concrete policies to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment worldwide. The theme for the 58th Commission is: “Challenges and achievements in the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals for women and girls.”

Ok, great. Now what does that mean?

At the end of the CSW a document of Agreed Conclusions is produced – it contains commitments that governments around the world make to ensure that the world tomorrow is a equal place for women. The Millenium Development Goals expire in 2015 and we are here to talk about what comes next.

The world’s not so bad, you think. I’m a clever, capable woman. I take care of myself and the idea that I can’t is fundamentally offensive. Beyonce exists. Tina Fey is killing it. We got this.

We forget, in our selfishness, in our loneliness that there is no better time in the world to be a woman than today. That’s true and it should be celebrated.

But.

A girl is born to a family with four children. There is no access to contraceptives and her mother cannot afford to feed four hungry mouths let alone one more No matter. She is born.

I won’t tell you what country she is from because she could be from anywhere. 222 million women around the world have no access to contraception. In the words of Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka,  Executive Director of UN Women: When women have unwanted pregnancies they sign a contract with poverty.

Because food is tight and her brothers are prized, the girl grows up hungry. Her mother falls pregnant twice more and means get even more scarce. The costs of school uniforms is such that only two of the six children can be sent to school. The boys go.

It is difficult to make certain claims about womanhood, about sexuality, about feminism. Being a woman today is tremendously complicated and capturing the nuances of our experiences is fraught. Making generalities about men, about culture, about patriarchy and tradition is equally problematic. Everywhere good men stand with us.

But I want to state this explicitly.

Around the world today, women are prized as playthings. Their virginity defines them. Do not doubt that the idea that women could or should enjoy their own body is offensive to many. The plague of female genital mutilation is testament to that. The power and ownership of others continues to define women.

This little girl won’t go to school – won’t learn how to spell or how to count or how to play.

How can she develop the ability and wherewithal to flourish?

I look at my boyfriend’s nieces – teeny, lovely little things who have the utter confidence that comes from only ever being loved. Their beauty and innocence and shining promise is a delight.

How many little girls have never had that love?

And this little girl . She will not be taught about her own body. About what she deserves, about how it should be treated. About how it should be touched. Or not. About respect. All these things will make her vulnerable to abuse in the future.

Can there be a better argument for age appropriate sex education? To save one little girl trauma and invasion and violation.

And this little girl. Will she be subjected to violating and degrading practices? Will her sexuality be controlled by others? Will she be free of harm?

1 in 3 women around the world experience violence – being raped. Being beaten.

Every minute a young woman is newly infected with HIV.  An estimated 150 million young women and girls under 18 years suffered some form of sexual violence in a given year.

So this little girl gets her period at age 12 – a frightening and confusing experience for her as she has never been taught about her body.

And now she is a woman.

She is married – to a man ten, twenty, forty years older than her. A man not of her choosing. A man who sees her as property.

I write this and I cannot begin to fathom the terror of that first night. Maybe of every night.

She falls pregnant. A lifetime of malnourishment means that she has acute anaemia. A lifetime of hunger means that her growth has been stunted, her hips too slim.

She is a child. In no way equipped to support a pregnancy. There is no medical support. There is no support from family.

Giving birth is an excruciating process.

I am terrified of giving birth in the best medical facilities and with the best care money can buy. I cannot begin to fathom what these girls go through.

If she survives the pregnancy, and the birth, if she does not develop an obstetric fistula and the baby survives – the cycle will be perpetuated. We are letting girls and women slip through the cracks.

We are not doing enough, not nearly enough, for girls. For women.

I tell this story conscious of perpetuating a narrative that suggests violence against women is something that happens elsewhere – to other women in an other place.

Violence against women happens everywhere. 35% of girls and women around the world have experienced it. It is insidious. For some, it is having their genitals cut. For some, being burnt and beaten and whipped in the home. For some its the terror of a volatile, controlling partner. For some it’s a life of slavery – slavery that we thought we had eradicated.

Trafficking is in the top three most profitable industries in the world. Buying people is flourishing.

We cannot capture all their voices. But for all of those who cannot, or did not speak, I stand and weep with you. And I fight for you.

A document cannot ensure the end of violence. Only people can. But this document, that holds governments accountable to do more, is a part of something bigger. One piece in a vast puzzle.

I want to be a champion for women and girls at home and around the world.

And that’s why I’m here.

The Sexualisation of Women and Girls

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By Devan Drabik; YWCA of USA. Devan is currently attending the 58th Session on the Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations Head Quarters in New York. She shares her views after attending one of the side events. 

Flip through a fashion magazine, turn on the television, or listen to the lyrics of popular songs and unfortunately, you will quickly find a common theme: the sexualisation of women and girls. The images are steadily becoming more graphic and the messages are becoming more offensive. It is a tragic commentary on our society that sexualised messages have become so commonplace that many people have grown blind to the seriousness of this offense and often don’t acknowledge its devastating social impact.

At the United Nations CSW58, this alarming issue is being raised on the stages of parallel events.  Dr. Shari Miles- Cohen from the American Psychological Association (APA) explained that the inappropriate portrayal of women and girls in the media is not only negatively affecting women, but is also contributing to the misperception many men have about the female gender.

According to APA, sexualisation occurs “when a person’s value comes only from his or her sexual appeal or behavior, to the exclusion of other characteristics; or when a person is sexually objectified — that is, made into a thing for others’ sexual use, rather than seen as a person with the capacity for independent action and decision making.”

Not only are sexual images becoming more prevalent in the media, these images themselves are becoming almost pornographic in content. Advertisements for clothing, perfume, and even cars can be seen featuring women in degrading poses, and some ads have gone so far as to include disturbing images that reflect acts of violence and sexual assault against women.

In the United States, Dolce & Gabbana ran an advertisement that depicted a woman being pinned down in a compromising position by a man positioned on top of her, while three other men looked on. In Australia, Calvin Klein ran an advertisement that showed a young woman being held down and undressed by a man, while a second man held her head on to his lap. In Italy, Relish (an Italian fashion company) ran a series of billboards that depicted police officers groping two models.

The boundary lines have been further blurred by the blending of adult sexuality with messages targeting pre-pubescent girls. A few examples include Victoria’s Secret’s new “Bright, Young Things” line which targets pre-teens and young teenagers, and features thongs that read “Feeling Lucky?”; a Sketchers ad featuring Christina Aguilera in a schoolgirl outfit with her top unbuttoned, licking a lollipop; Bratz and Monster High dolls dressed in shockingly short miniskirts and tight shirts, some imprinted with words like “Babe”. Recently, Target released a controversial image of their Junior Hipster swimsuit that Today.com called “egregious photoshop shenanigans” depicting a model with proportions that are not physically possible.

This type of sexualisation can have severe consequences on the psyche of young girls. The Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualisation of Girls found that sexualisation has been linked with negative body image, low self-esteem, depression, and eating disorders. According to Women’s Health Queensland, “A particularly alarming consequence (of sexualisation) is self-sexualisation, where girls begin to treat themselves as a sexual object. The recent phenomenon of girls posting semi-nude and nude pictures of them on the internet is an extreme example of self-sexualisation.”

So what can we do about this growing negative phenomenon? Let’s begin by taking a stand and sharing our voices with the advertisers who thrive on the sexualization of women and girls. In this age of social media, when people feel it is important to share the most mundane details of their day, we can take advantage of a more altruistic use of these valuable platforms to let the media know that we will no longer stand for inappropriate and degrading portrayal of the female gender. We can also file a consumer complaint to show advertisers and retailers that we demand a higher standard.

At home, we need to be aware of the messages we are sending to our children. We can be careful to make wise decisions when buying clothes for girls, and teach them how to carry themselves with self-respect. It is our responsibility to remind our daughters that beauty comes in many shapes, sizes and colors. Equally as important, we must take the time to teach young men and boys about gender equality; we have the power to block inappropriate websites and television programs, and encourage dialogues with young men that focus on the achievements of their female peer and not on their physical appearance.

By standing together, we can change the way the media portrays women and girls, and make these offensively inappropriate messages a thing of the past.

Where Religion and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights Meet.

By: Hendrica Okondo, Global Programme Manager SRHR and HIV and AIDS- Focal Point: AfricaImage

Although religious beliefs are a barrier for women to claim their rights, there are opportunities to work with religious leaders as not all religious groups are restrictive. There are some who are listening and meeting women in the difficult situations they live in. One way of working with religious groups is by looking at their values, especially with Christian groups. By looking at their Christian values we can address SRHR through the values of justice, compassion and love. There is also a way we can engage religious groups as there is a big gap between the rhetoric of the mainstream conservative groups and the realities within which the church operates and provides services so there is an element of compassion that can be used. Instead of profiling all faith communities as conservative and difficult to work with, we might want to think about engaging with them by having dialogues. Of course there are those that are inflexible and won’t change because it is within their hierarchal structures and traditional beliefs, but even within that there are common areas of engaging around women and children’s health. So as women’s rights activist and feminists we really need to start the dialogue.

As World YWCA and ARROW are funded through NORAD to have these dialogues, we also need to engage to make sure that they happen. The ultra-conservative groups may not want to discuss. But they are not against education. On the whole religious groups do not object to education or health, universal health or gender equality because it is in the fundamental basis of all religions. Every religion believes that everyone is created equal in the image of God. But it is in the traditions and norms that there is a difference, and therefore a backlash around the whole sexual rights debate and also in terms of women’s agency. So in some religions there is the whole promotion of men as the decision-maker and that women should not have agency. That is a restrictive view of religious texts.

We will be working with a circle of feminist theologians who will be coming from a theological perspective and collaborate with ARROW and working with sisters of Islam who are going to be looking from the Islamic side while we look at the Christian side. At the International Conference on AIDS and STIs in Africa (ICASA) the religion leaders told us that they do not have the skills, whereas UN reports tells us these groups are powerful and well-resourced so there are mechanisms for having dialogue.

Religion for many women is the point of contact; it is the faith based organisations that provide the social support, education, health and social protection. So we need to look at what they provide at the community level. We need to go to them with a positive approach. It is not that everyone who is religious is wrong, for us as the World YWCA we are in both worlds because of our work on rights and advocacy, but we are also comfortable in the faith-based aspect because that is where our members are.

Due to the support that faith-based organisations provide they have a lot more influence in communities. It is also down to member states signing up to declarations and not implementing and not being held accountable as duty bearers. There is an accountability failure and that gap is met by faith based organisations.

Let’s not be naïve, there are groups at the end of the spectrum who want to control women’s agency and there is a backlash. But what we’re saying is why we can’t recreate 1994 at the ICPD conference, there were much more conservative views then, but we were able to have dialogues.

A standalone gender equality goal must include SRHR. Gender has to be a priority over other categories race, disability etc because no matter what you are always worse off as a women. It is a gender and human rights issue.

CEDAW through a Finnish young woman’s eyes

By Katri Jussila, YWCA of Finland. Katri recently attended the 57th CEDAW Convention, Geneva, Switzerland below she shares her reflections. 

The YWCA of Finland’s board afforded me the wonderful opportunity to observe the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, CEDAW between the 17th – 20th February, 2014 in Geneva.

It was a week of learning experiences for me and it was also a dream come true. I had a dream that one day I would get an opportunity to see the UN’s activities in practise. However, I did not know that the day will come so soon. Some might call it lucky but I prefer to use the word Guidance. I was so excited about the week that I prepared by reading the Finnish government report and the non-governmental organizations, NGOs, shadow reports, but I was still excited by what awaited me.Image

On 17th February, the first session, I attended was the session where NGOs of the reporting country gave their opinion of their country’s greatest barrier to women’s human rights. On Wednesday, the day before the Finnish government was due to meet with the CEDAW committee; there was a lunch briefing with the NGO representatives and members of the CEDAW committee. It was a very interesting conversation as the CEDAW experts got the opportunity to ask questions to the NGOs on questions they had relating to both the reports from the governments and the shadow reports. The NGO representatives also had the opportunity to share any additional information with the experts. What was even more amazing to me was that out of the 23 member expert committee, there was only one man and he was, Finnish – Mr. Niklas Bruun.

On the 20th February, when the Finnish delegation met with the CEDAW experts, my expectations were really high and the day proved to be very interesting. It was amazing to know that many people class Finland as one of the happiest countries in the world, but yet still there are so many human rights issues we still face, especially against women.

In my small country there are many cases of violence against women and I agreed with the experts when they stated that the Finnish government does not recognise this as a big enough problem. They found it to be a trend to use language which neutralises the topic. Violence against women and has been replaced by the use of terms such as violence in a close relationship.

There was also a lot of mention of women in minority groups being discriminated against, for example the immigrants’ women and women with disabilities, as there is no data available on these groups of women. Women also continue to earn less than men for doing the same work.

The Committee also noted that Finland over the years has been a great example to other countries on gender equality, for example women gained the right to vote in 1906, and many high positions have been and are held by women such as Presidents, prime ministers and ministers of finance. But still there are a number of cases about women´s human rights that have remained unchanged for a long time.

I anxiously await the Committee’s recommendations to our country and how these recommendations will be put into practice before the next CEDAW report four years from now.

There were also many nice things I enjoyed about my trip to Geneva; I had the opportunity to get to know the work of the World Office and I had the opportunity to meet with some great people: Marie -Claude, Sharon, Khalea and Lindsay. I want to say thank you all and to all others who I had the chance to meet!

Insights from Addis Ababa

By Raissa Gaju, YWCA of Rwanda. 

My name is Raissa Gaju and Iam 12 years old from YWCA Rwanda.  It’s a privilege and honor for me to be at the 22nd African Union summit, the 23rd Gender is my Agenda Campaign, the World YWCA pre-summit Advocacy training in Addis Ababa Ethiopia. I am grateful to the World YWCA, YWCA of Rwanda and the organizers of this summit for hosting us. This summit brought together so many people and it has been my first time to be in the midst of so many people in the same place. I really loved the Ethiopian culture and people and I confirmed what I had read all along. The Ethiopian people are really friendly and they have a nice city. This is characteristic of hardworking people. Keep it up.

Raissa Gaju

Raissa Gaju

I have been volunteering with YWCA of Rwanda for several years and was inspired to volunteer in the YWCA after I made a visit to Nyabihu district and met young girls in a horrendous condition. I couldn’t hold my tears because this was so touching seeing them suffer, with nowhere to sleep, and some of them could hardly get any food. From that day I took a decision of volunteering through which I have managed to be near them, give them comfort, hope and look forward to making all girls around the world have their dignity and be confident. AS someone once said, “The greatest poverty is not the absence of money but a feeling of loneliness and a feeling of being unloved”. By being there for the girls, I have managed to give hope and restore a feeling of being loved among the girls. Participating in this summit has strengthened my commitment to serve fellow young women such that they move from vulnerability to leadership and thus empowerment.

I will continue to champion for the rights of young girls because I believe that all girls deserve a decent life and need someone to be there for them.

A new perspective on Haiti – and about ourselves

By Toby Simon, YWCA of Haiti.

PROVIDENCE – Recently my husband Peter and I returned from a short trip to Haiti. Unlike the vacation we took there a year earlier, this trip had two purposes: to attend the first annual fundraiser of the new YWCA – Haiti honoring exceptional Haitian women and to do some HIV training for health workers.

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Toby Simon, right, with her Haitian colleagues, who helped start the YWCA in Haiti.

Peter and I started going to Haiti in 1995, exactly one year after Bertrand Aristide came back into power. At that time, the mood was upbeat in the very rural Artibonite region near the Hospital Albert Schweitzer where we had been working. The Artibonite River Valley is the breadbasket of Haiti and the stronghold of the Lavalas Party, which had put Aristide into power. The local people we encountered were feeling optimistic about Haiti’s future.

Visitors to Haiti, who usually provide either volunteer or short-term paid work, often comment that there is something about the place that gets to you and keeps you returning year after year. That was and still is our experience with Haiti. Although we spent about 15 years doing volunteer stints at the Hospital Albert Schweitzer in rural Haiti, the past four years have been spent in Port au Prince and nearby towns. Peter and I have actually experienced Haiti differently. As a pediatrician working at the Schweitzer Hospital it was unbearable for him to see children arrive at the hospital with preventable and/or treatable illnesses, only to watch them die in the hospital because they didn’t have the reserves to fight their infections.

Peter is also a public health physician. He became frustrated with the inability to meet basic needs like potable water, sanitary conditions, decent housing and roads, and how difficult it was to obtain funds to invest in basic infrastructure compared with the ease and “sexiness” of getting funds to treat cholera, HIV/AIDS and to build orphanages. Peter also became tired with the rescue fantasy of some people who knew very little about sustainability and short term investments. Ignorance about the history of our country’s role in Haitian history and present economic and political distress added to his frustration.

As a public health trainer and advocate, my experiences were always more rewarding. I had the luxury of focusing on the training needs of small non-profits or large hospitals that were always grateful for the new skills and knowledge that their staffs acquired.

Starting a YWCA in Haiti. About four years ago, through some Haitian Bryant University students, I met several remarkable Haitian women who were determined to start a YWCA in Haiti. Records show that there had been numerous attempts to bring a YWCA to Haiti for about 40 years but this time, a small group of dedicated women was successful. Through these women I was exposed to a new generation of Haitians who are intent on making Haiti a better place.

They are the ages of our adult children and, for the most part, they grew up privileged. They were educated in the United States and Canada but are the 15 percent of Haitians who actually returned to their country following graduation from their universities. They are lawyers, businesswomen, political appointees, communications experts and event planners. And, in their spare time, they started the YWCA Haiti. They are living proof that Haitian women are the poto-mitan (pillars) of the community.

The YWCA-Haiti is an affiliated member of the World YWCA, a global network of women and girls working for justice, peace, health, human dignity, freedom and care for the environment in 122 countries worldwide. Its current objectives are to promote awareness on health issues, education, and to develop leadership skills for young women in Haiti. It also offers a safe space for girls and young women. The YWCA-Haiti’s slogan is “Se ave’m chanjman an komanse” – change starts with me! Based on these now frequent encounters with the well-educated Haitian community in their 30s and 40s, it’s clear that they are committed to social justice issues, women’s rights, gender equity and civic education. They have faith and confidence in the future of Haiti. Compared to the feelings of doom and gloom that usually accompany reports about Haiti, their energy, organizing approach and can do attitude is exciting and hopeful.

On this trip we attended the YWCA-Haiti fundraiser in which three exceptional Haitian women were honored: Michele Pierre-Louis, former Prime Minister of Haiti and director of FOKAL, an independent foundation providing a range of educational, human development and economic activities to local communities; Marilia Charlestin, an outstanding entrepreneur who works in the central plateau where she has created jobs for more than 3,000 women; a young emerging leader, Anne-Martine Augustin of HELP, a Haitian organization dedicated to leadership and retaining Haiti’s top talented students.

This trip also provided us an opportunity to work and visit at two Catholic hospitals in the Port au Prince area: St. Camille’s and St. Damien’s. Both of these facilities have beautiful grounds, clean corridors, well-ventilated rooms and seemingly happy staff.

Both expressed keen interest in providing access to reproductive health services including the availability of condoms, collaborating with the surrounding communities and providing training to their staffs based on adult learning theory.

People frequently ask us about Haiti, wondering whether there’s any hope to ending the grinding poverty. Peter often says that each time he returns from Haiti, he feels like he understands less about the place.

Stop seeing Haiti as hopeless.

However, there are some things he now recognizes. Outsiders have to stop treating Haitians as victims, because that only contributes to a culture of victimization. The work of a majority of the non- governmental organizations (NGOs) does not address the root causes of poverty in sustainable ways.

When people are accustomed to free services from these international organizations, the local capacity to provide services is adversely impacted. When the NGOs are providing services, the government often is ignored or is allowed to continue to ignore their responsibility to serve their people. We also have to stop seeing Haiti as a hopeless place. We need to drop the tag line, “The poorest country in the Western hemisphere.” Instead, we need to see Haiti’s assets, her potential. Haitians themselves are resilient, creative, and entrepreneurial.

One way outsiders can help Haiti is by visiting as tourists. The next time you want to take a beach vacation, consider Haiti. The beaches in the south and in the north are magnificent. There are many lovely small hotels with fabulous restaurants nearby. True, most Americans would need to hire a driver but this is easy to do and gives you peace of mind. And yes, many things in Haiti take getting used to: the presence of guns, poverty in the streets, unbelievable traffic jams, remnants of the earthquake.

However, the vibrant street scene, lack of road rage, exquisite Haitian art, stunning countryside, delicious cuisine, and beautiful people can easily win you over.

In this way you can help Haiti: visit the place, stay in their quaint hotels, eat tasty Haitian food in their restaurants, and hire local people as tour guides. Tourism will boost the economy just as it did in the Dominican Republic 30 years ago.

Mark Twain said it best: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

Time to give Haiti a try.

The Gift of Education

By Mariam William John Bangafu, young woman from the YWCA of South Sudan.

My name is Mariam William John Bangafu and was born in Khartoum, Sudan in 1990. I finished my primary school there and completed my secondary education in Uganda. Now I am sitting the exam for the South Sudan School Certificate but I am finding it difficult to get to the school campus. This is mainly because I fell pregnant, which has really upset my family and they are very angry with me. That’s all I can say. I am now a member of the YWCA and it is helping me to achieve my dreams.

 Our Visit to Bangasu, South Sudan

mariam

Mariam William John Bangafu

My first trip to Bangasu Payma was to a village called Burezigbo. It was wonderful moment; we met with other YWCA women who had come from Tanzania and Switzerland. The purpose of the meeting was to share best practice, challenges and familiarise one another with eachother’s  work. In fact I learnt many different things such as how to develop confidence and be strong as a woman in front of the community and how to communicate and promote our messages. One of the main objectives of the YWCA is to build and develop women’s capacity as decision makers in the community. We also have a very clear focus on youth as a critical population group. If I have to go and help women at Burezigbo I would like to give them the best gift, the gift of education.

Nothing is so marvellous than to travel to different places and get to know the challenges and common threads faced by women and youth. We had the opportunity to visit Nzara County and the first person to welcome us was the Commissioner! He spoke to us and encouraged the women to be active members in the community at decision making levels and mobilise the young women to be independent.

The YWCA women in Nzara have various amazing activities such as having their own plot of land for agriculture and delivering awareness programmes on HIV and AIDS.

However, Nzara women of YWCA have their own challenges- no office for women to carry out their activities and no training space. Despite this, they still continue as best they can. What I found quite interesting was that young men in the village have begun to realise the importance of the empowerment of women and they are giving them support and seeing the positive impact of staying school to reduce poverty.

Young Women in the YWCA of South Sudan

Looking to the Future

I was born August 25th, 1988 in Yambio, South Sudan. I am a South Sudanese. I completed my O’Level exams (High School) in 2011 and I am currently serving as Treasurer in my local YWCA on a voluntary basis. My vision is to study and complete my further education and become a full staff of YWCA in the nearest future. Also, I want to become a full participant in all the activities of the YWCA.

Singba Stella Simon

Singba Stella Simon

My future plan towards YWCA

I need the YWCA to concentrate on: Love, Peace, Honest, Unity, Liberty and Prosperity. Furthermore, what we really need is the empowerment of young women, sustainability and development in terms of education.

Currently, we are running the following programmes:

  • Create Awareness based on HIV/Aids.
  • To Stop Gender Based Violence (GBV)
  • To stop early pregnancy

As a young South Sudanese woman I’m facing a few challenges.  I’m from an economically poor family and my father is living with disabilities and we are about seven children in the family. I work in casual service to support my school fees and I pray that God may help me to achieve my goals. I thank the YWCA for all their support and help.

Written by Singba Stella Simon.

Education Changing and Advancing Lives

My parents and I took refuge in RCA when the war reached West Equatorial State in 1990. My parents died when we were still in the Republic of Central Africa (RCA). Their death had a great impact on my future plans and life. One such impact was that I had to drop out of school in Senior 2. I had no means and somebody to help me go further in Education. I first heard of YWCA in 2002 while I was in Tambura. This was from some members who had come from Yambio to introduce and open a branch in Tambura. I became interested in the association and joined it sometime later. I was one of the three members who were selected to come from Tambura and participated in the board elections. Furthermore, I was elected as one of the YWCA Board Members since then. I had to relocate to Yambio. The women and the girls including myself have benefitted greatly from the association. This has been through Capacity Building of members through Education, English courses, HIV/Aids Awareness, Ending Child, Early and Forced Marriages, and Gender Based Violence programmes among others.

Victoria Albert Mokisi

Victoria Albert Mokisi

I became interested in politics when NCP Party came to our area with their programmes that attracted me to join politics. NCP promised to sponsor the youth that would join it. I thought and saw that my childhood dreams of completing my education would be achieved through joining politics. I joined and contested in the 2010 Elections as one of the MPs. Unfortunately the party didn’t do well in the election and I was never elected. However, I still hope to complete my education and I am committed to the YWCA!

Written by Victoria Albert Mokisi.

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