By Anne McNamara – World YWCA Intern
To be completely honest, I knew very little about the World YWCA and its specific mission prior to beginning my internship here in Geneva this past February. While I was drawn to the position as a self-proclaimed feminist, I only understood at a basic level its mandate to promote women’s rights worldwide, and I did not fully realize the breadth of the YWCA’s efforts to advocate for marginalised women and girls across the globe. Moreover, I could not shake an overwhelming sense of self-imposed intimidation, as I questioned what could I, as a 20 year old woman, possibly contribute to the global movement for women’s equality?
However, in my very first day at the office, my fears immediately dissipated as I was warmly welcomed by some of the most passionate, genuine, and dedicated women I have ever had the pleasure to work with. Immediately, I was treated not as a lowly school girl intern, but as a woman with a unique voice and perspective whose ideas should be valued. This reality was made evident during my first week when I was invited to participate in a meeting to discuss the new Strategic Plan for the movement. While my friends interning with different organisations bemoaned the fact that their days consisted of coffee and cigarette runs for their superiors, I had the opportunity to come into the office every day excited and ready to actively contribute to the movement.
Throughout the duration of my internship, I became increasingly enlightened not only to the unfathomable injustices women face such as early forced marriages, gender based violence, and female genital mutilation, but also to the concrete efforts and campaigns led by the YWCA in order to combat these injustices, both at a grassroots and international level. Before my time here in the world office, I saw only the obstacles women face— immense and seemingly insurmountable. Nevertheless, after my short time in this office, I now see the concrete efforts, large and small, that have been implemented by regional Y chapters to address these obstacles. Because of this exposure, I will leave Geneva with a renewed sense of hope and optimism of the future of women and girls worldwide, despite the numerous challenges we must overcome.
Furthermore, my experience here at the Y, and in Europe in general, has released me from the perpetual “bubble” I found myself trapped inside back in the United States. I grew up in a very secluded, homogenous town, surrounded only by people who possessed similar experiences to my own. However, my time abroad has exposed me to a multitude of people with different backgrounds, opinions, and cultures—a diversity of perspectives that had been lacking in my life prior to this experience. I am so grateful to the World YWCA office in particular for broadening my perspective.
The personal growth I have experienced due to the time I have spent as an intern at the YWCA is invaluable. I am so thankful for this experience and for the women in the office who have touched my life, for however a short time. I will return to the U.S. ready to spread the YWCA’s message, and confident in my abilities as a young woman leader.