Late Nights, Heavy Heart – ICPD 2014

By Hendrica Okondo, World YWCA Global Programme  Manager for Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights and HIV. Hendrica recently led the World YWCA delegation at  the UN 47th Commission on Population and Development at the UN in New York and shares her views about the commission.

We had a hectic, exhausting and interesting week as we stayed at the United Nations Headquarters daily beyond midnight; the chair frequently broke up the negotiations because there were too many civil society organisations (CSOs) in delegations and threw out all the experts on the two last days. Saba Haile, General Secretary of the YWCA of Kenya and Vanessa Hoyti, from the YWCA of Tanzania who were in the negotiation room said the Holy See representative was even joking about having to have the usual objections on the usual paragraphs.

Hendrica Okondo

Hendrica Okondo

The week started on Friday April 4th, 2014 with the High Level Interactive Debate, where member states outdid themselves giving very positive statements and commitment to stand by their regional outcome documents. Former Egyptian ambassador Ms. Mervat El-Tallawy, stated that the democratic government is back and proud to promote and protect the spirit of Cairo and “will not let the women who came out in great numbers in Cairo down”, she stressed that they would support the Addis Ababa Declaration and that all rights including sexual reproductive health and rights (SRHR) would be protected. Mrs Viola Onwuliri, Nigerian Minister of Trade and Investment, strongly supported the Addis Ababa Declaration and elaborated all the policies Nigeria has implemented such as robust SRH policy and its commitment to the Maputo Protocal and Maputo Plan. Joaquim Chissano, former President of Mozambique, spoke of the importance of nondiscrimination and nonviolence and access to SRH services. Mr Chissano stressed that there is no culture or religion which allows for killing of humans on the basis of their sexuality.Norway and Sweden spoke about the importance implementing ICPD POA and respecting of regional outcome documents.

Later that afternoon, I went to the UNFPA CSO Advisory meeting where we conducted a political mapping of the member states. As regions the EU and North America seemed to have a strategy of introducing difficult issues at the beginning to derail the process.  Russia and Malta were not happy with this position. The Africa Group was not united and would react negatively. The Asia Pacific Group were said to be united on the Asia Pacific Population Conference outcome document. The Latin America Group was cohesive and supportive of the Montevideo Consensus document which is progressive. Caribbean was supportive although Jamaica was very conservative at the Princeton training. ACP group and Group of 77 broke as Bolivia the representative of the group was pushing language most of the group did not agree with.

The next day part of our World YWCA delegation went to the youth caucus and the NGO strategy meeting. I, Saba and Vanessa went to the Africa member state meeting, where UNFPA, the African Union and ministers from Nigeria, South Africa and Ethiopia explained the importance of supporting the language in the Addis Ababa Declaration and the Africa common position paper on 2015. Most of the delegates were in agreement but Cameroon the spokesperson for the group insisted that the context of national laws must be taken into consideration thus setting the trend for the week long negotiation.

On Monday the 7th of April, we were surprised with the new rule of issuing limited tickets for CSOs only for the overflow room, with one ticket for plenary floor reserved for the head of delegation. Deborah Thomas-Austin, World YWCA President was able to get three tickets for our delegation. The opening ceremony started in a very positive note with UNFPA sharing the outcome of the Global review report, identifying the progress made in implementing the ICPD PoA and the gaps which member states had noted in their country reports. All the states who spoke on day one where very supportive of the first draft of the PoA report, except some of the African member states raised concerns over language addressing family and SRH rights. The negotiations started on a sour note with Cameroon strongly objecting to sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) language and use of SRHR, Egypt was also very vocal on the need to include as per national laws on all issues referring to rights.

Later that day, as an organisation the World YWCA signed on to a letter by CSOs protesting the limited access to CSOs especially as all of us had received confirmation for attending from 7-11th April 2014. In the evening, UNFPA issued a letter confirming all CSOs will have access and those with ECOSOC states can get a temporary card for the whole week.

In the following days the World YWCA delegation was involved in intense lobby for all the key SRH issues to be included in the draft outcome documents, some through the youth caucus, and others through the NGO group and others through delegates in the negotiation room. The negotiations and debates went on until 3am most days but the draft document improved with most of the issues on comprehensive sexual education and access to SRH services by youth. The final document was agreed upon late Friday April 11th at 4.30 am!!

Inside the UN Commission on Population and Development

By Yadanar Aung, YWCA of Myanmar. Yadanar is currently in attendance at the UN 47th Commission on Population and Development at the UN in New York and shares her views about her experience. 

I am currently attending the 47th session of the UN Commission on Population and Development (CPD 47), as part of the World YWCA delegation. The session is held at the UN headquarters, New York from 7th – 11th April, 2014 and is organised by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division.


Yadanar Aung presents the Call to action and the Future Young Women Want document to the Ambassador of Myanmar at the ICDP

On April 5th, 2014, we had the youth caucus at Planned Parenthood Federation America (PPFA) and a strong youth statement has since been endorsed by many organisations and as a result one of the youth caucus members was invited to speak at the official CPD 47th session on the first day April 7th, 2014. The key message of the oral statement articulates that “governments must demonstrate their political commitment to sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) by prioritising the removal of financial and legal obstacles to essential services and discriminatory laws and practices that violate our rights; transformation of weak health systems; and the elimination of social and economic inequalities, violence and discrimination. Furthermore, we are hopeful that member states will take action toward the implementation of the ICPD Program of Action by validating emerging issues at the highest levels.”

The theme of the session focuses on “Assessment of the status of the implementation of the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development”.  This theme gave me many thoughts: are we just attending the meeting and just going back by giving report? Are we, as civil society, effectively implementing the ICPD PoA? How about the governments? Do they have commitments or just signing? Are they really implementing the ICPD PoA?

Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), recalled that Cairo had been part of a forward-moving agenda to empower women and girls.  “While we have moved forward, there is still much to do,” he said.  Gender discrimination persisted.  Poor urban and rural women alike lacked access to family planning, and one in three births in developing countries were not registered.  The gaps in the Programme of Action must be examined to bring the promise of the early 1990s to all.

Moreover, I was really amazed to hear the wonderful speech of Nafis Sadik, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for HIV/AIDS in Asia and the Pacific “The biggest single obstacle to better public health is not money or technology”, she said.  “It is entrenched prejudice and discrimination by society against girls and women.”

“The youth which voices are not heard, which do not have the opportunity, no meaningful participation and no decision making role are called as Lost Generations and among them adolescent girls are at risk  because of their gender and age.” said Ahmad Alhendawi, the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General on Youth.

Every day, the country delegates report their statements on how the implementing process is going in respective countries and I have realised that the sexual and reproductive health and rights of young women and adolescent girls are still not the priority in their agenda. Well, there are some countries which are very progressive, implementing the ICPD PoA and creating the significant changes, but we can even count how many the countries are.

As a young woman, when I think about my responsibility, raising the voice of our sexual and reproductive health is important. Yet, action speaks louder than words and effective implementing of programmes which promote young women’s SRHR is definitely the responsibility of all young women for all the young women and by the young women.

My first step before I go back is to speak with the ambassador of Myanmar about the current situations of young women and adolescent girls in Myanmar and actions to be taken. Myanmar statement of implementation of ICPD PoA emphasises that “to promote gender equality and empowerment of women, Government has put national strategic plan for investment in women for 2013-2022 in line with CEDAW”. Furthermore, effective advocating and implementing of SRHR is definitely my duty for the young women in Myanmar as well as the Asia Pacific Region.

This whole week at the 47th session of CPD gave me many experiences and I really Thank God for this wonderful blessing to be part of this wonderful group of World YWCA and I really thank World YWCA and YWCA of Myanmar for empowering me.

Fulfilling The Purpose Of Life

By Sharon Yendevenge, World YWCA Programme Associate and member of the YWCA Papua New Guinea.

Life is a gift from God, a series of events that make up our precious lives. Life is a journey and not a destination as we think. Those events make up the journey of life. As we go into Easter, let us reflect on our own lives.

Walking through the journey of life is not easy, no one said life is easy and no one knows how to walk through it without encountering the obstacles of life. We sometimes judge our lives as worthless, full of labour, misery and without purpose. Only the one who created us knows the successes and the struggles. There is a purpose to life for everyone and a calling where we need to identify. You’ll never know what your calling is until you really sit down and reflect back on your life. Sometimes you do what you do but don’t actually realise until someone tells you. It may be a gift in music, singing, volleyball, swimming, serving others, healing and the list goes on. So for me, my journey of life was not easy and I have had learnt the hard way through.

Sharon Y

Sharon Yendevenge

Surviving in life and being content with what I have is the most important thing for me, I appreciate everyone around me who has contributed to my life including family, friends, those people whom I have worked with and my school life. I realised that I am most passionate about working with other people, especially young women including adolescent girls. I find it much easier to communicate with this age group and share my own experiences.

In my own country of Papua New Guinea (PNG), young women have a lack of knowledge and understanding on sexual and reproductive health rights and HIV and violence against women. This makes me wonder about the next generation if more than 50% of the young women in PNG are NOT  informed of their rights. It is so scary to look at the statistics in STI’s and HIV and the violence faced by women every day. One in three women and girls will face violence or sexual abuse in their lives and very often don’t actually know where to run to or seek advice. Therefore, the only way we can help reduce such is to educate as many young women and girls as we can everyday through information sharing regardless of where we are and what tools we have. One conversation can save a thousand lives. No conversation and silence can destroy more than a thousand lives. Remember, a woman encounters so much during a day and yet can feed her family likewise a young woman and a girl also encounter violence but remain silent because of fear but manages to do her duties within her family. It may be your sister, mother, aunty, wife, grandmother, and girlfriend. No matter where we are in life and what our calling is, we have a purpose to serve, only then can we make a change. Together we can reduce the negativities of life.

We all need to pursue our dreams to fulfil our purpose in life. In helping both women, young women girls and men, young men and boys understand the realities of life. Having had the chance to listen to the many individuals I have come across (male/female, young /old) has brought tears, laughter, joy to me by sharing their stories – life stories. For the young, the events in their lives have been a lesson to learn and for the old, it has been a journey of lessons learned and some regrets. Considering the fact that life itself gave them hope and to move on and to share their stories to others has brought change and gave the other person hope in life. Our lives are meant to give hope to others through our stories and our actions.

Jesus himself led a life full of hope to the many and is a perfect example of hope. He gave hope to Martha and Mary by raising Lazarus from death to life. You may also have your stories in your journey of life that brings hope to others. If you still think you can’t make a change in a person’s life, then use this time, use your story to bring hope to others.

My World YWCA ITI Experience

By Leticia Mellonie Velasquez, YWCA of Belize. Leticia recently attended the World YWCA International Training Institute (ITI) on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) and HIV, as a World YWCA Intern, held in Arusha, Tanzania and shares her views on her experience.

When I was first invited to participate in the Sexual and Reproductive health and Rights (SRHR) ITI in Tanzania, Africa, the first thing that came to mind was seeing the African women in their full attire of cultural clothing. I also thought about seeing zebras, giraffes and camels walking around. The only thing I was worried about was the lions and tigers. Lol.

Upon arrival and my first day there, I just couldn’t explain how amazing everything was. It was way beyond my expectations. I got to experience how our African sisters from different countries rejoiced in a harmonious way. I really felt the blessing of the Lord among us and his presence was warm and appreciating.

Leticia Mellonie Velasquez

Leticia Mellonie Velasquez

Just seeing how our common visions of spreading the education of SRHR came a long way over the years. Our voices are being heard, and a change is being made. Just our presence at a conference like this was a share example. It created an opportunity for women and young girls to have a better today and a knowledgeable hope for a bigger and brighter future for young women and girls.

Today, as I speak from my entire knowledge and experience on sexual and reproductive health rights and HIV, it allows me to realise that as women, there is a load of work still to do among the many improvements. There are still challenges being faced by many and in order for these challenges to be eradicated, we can’t give up. As women and girls we have to unite to make these changes, and successfully fight for comprehensive, age appropriate sexual education for everyone.

The challenges we face, put a pain in my heart. Knowing that nature embraces us as a gift to the world and carriers of life, a violation of any of our rights, gender inequality and inability to access essential basic needs such as electricity and water is just not right.

Why can’t we break from these barriers of faith and culture? It’s not that we want to forget who we are, but let us just be women and girls who enjoy the natural wonders of life. If the Lord is the only saviour that can judge us, and he does not condemn us, he only gives more and more blessings in life, and allows each of us to decide on how to live it, why can’t everyone?

Taboo unveiled

By Khalea Callender from the YWCA of Trinidad and Tobago. Khalea recently attended the World YWCA International Training Institute on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) and HIV, as a World YWCA Intern, held in Arusha, Tanzania and shares her views on her experience.

As I stepped off the plane at Kilimanjaro International Airport, greeted by the warm African breeze of Tanzania, my excitement to be at this International Training Institute (ITI) wentKhalea web through the roof. Words could not explain how I felt as it was also my first time in Africa. After clearing the immigration and custom officials, we were greeted by a young woman from the YWCA of Tanzania who ushered us into the car, and so my journey began. The ride from the airport to the hotel was approximately one hour long, which I spent mostly in silence. Questions kept rushing through my mind; some I had no answers for, while others the answers seemed were quite short. Why were the street lights not turned on? Why were there so many young women walking the dark streets for what seemed like miles to the next lighted area? I had to remind myself that we were indeed in the year 2014. The realities of living in Tanzania were slowly becoming my reality. These things I only saw on television and I wouldn’t dare to think that in the year 2014, people still lacked basic commodities, such as electricity. As we approached the hotel though, the scenery slowly began changing.

Day one of the ITI was filled with so much excitement. 80 women and young women participants from all over the world were in attendance and I had the pleasure of being one of them. The opening of the ITI was a brew of enjoyment. There was so much singing and dancing that it was hard not to join in. Soon after, the tough conversations started to take place, and the word taboo was being frequently used. Taboo in my reality, is a TV show I watch which portrays cultural practices of people around the world. Never would I have believed that taboo would be a word being used in conversations concerning Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR).

Coming from the small island of Trinidad and Tobago, for me where sexual education is becoming more and more taught both inside and outside of school, this was a culture shock, and it became increasingly difficult to hear and accept the issues young women and girls face in the year 2014 in regards to their sexuality and sexual education. Why are there so many barriers to sexual and reproductive health right education, especially for young females? Why are young people still being stigmatize for wanting the education? Reality is, whether most want to accept it or not, young people are having sex, virginities are being lost at an earlier age. Instead of criticizing and stigmatizing, we should be providing these young persons with information so that they can be healthy and protected from harm and vulnerability.

To me, each year one lives, it should be used as a stepping stone, towards personal development. Development should begin at a personal level and should also evolve around assisting in development at a community national, regional and global level. In the year 2014, where young women and girls are facing so many issues relating to their bodies and image, and getting accepted into society, why should SRHR still be referred to as a taboo.  Isn’t it one’s right to access basic needs such as electricity and water? Isn’t it one’s right to have access to contraceptives? Isn’t it one’s right to enjoy education? It is one’s right to information, and it is also one’s right to choose and not having to be discriminated against for making that choice. Why is it in the year 2014, where the world is supposed to be developing, that young women and girls still face these challenges?

Needless to say, my first day of the ITI brought home the reality of the life of an African woman. Now don’t get me wrong, not all women in Africa face these challenges, however, what became abundantly clear was the fact SRHR is not central to African women alone, but it is a worldwide issue. My sisters from all over the world faced difficulties in accessing sexual and reproductive health services.

On day 2 of the ITI, my cultural shock was now becoming less of a shock and being more accepted. The topic of comprehensive sexual education seemed to get more difficult to discuss. Why was comprehensive sexual education an issue to be discussed, when according to WHO, “Approximately 16 million women 15–19 years old give birth each year. The proportion of births that take place during adolescence is about 2% in China, 18% in Latin America and the Caribbean and more than 50% in sub-Saharan Africa. Half of all adolescent births occur in just seven countries: Bangladesh, Brazil, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, India, Nigeria and the United States.” In 2012, UNAIDs reported that there were 35.3 million persons living with HIV. Shouldn’t we be educating young women so that they can remain healthy and productive? These questions I pondered on a lot during the ITI.

The rest of the week was filled with so much information. I was really blown out of this world to hear some of the best practices from different countries around the world on how they shared SRHR information. They were mostly innovative, creative and exciting but most of all informative. Evidently to me, removing the taboos of SRHR education for young persons would surely assist in decreasing the incidence of a lot of the HIV infections, teenage pregnancies, intermit partner violence and maternal mortality to name a few.

Surely the experience of the ITI meeting and the bonds and relationships formed would remain with me, and it is something that I would take forward with me in the future.

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.


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.


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