The Fight against Child Marriage

By Jesca Mmari, YWCA-TANZANIA attends the AU Summit and shares her reflections.

This year is an important year for the women of Africa. For the first time, the African Union (AU) has dedicated the year 2015 as a “Year of women’s empowerment and development towards Africa’s Agenda 2063”. It is reason to celebrate and join our efforts towards achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment now more than ever. There is a need for collective efforts in expressing what we women want; including the changes in policy and development that support the growth of women.

But as I look at young girls in the society it is sad to see that our communities still engage in child marriage, even though it is against human rights. These young girls who are married are not yet mature enough to bear children and take care of a family. They are committed to heavy responsibilities and when they fail to perform these, they are either physically or emotionally abused. In this year of women, I urge the AU to step up in ensuring that the rights of young girls and women are well protected. jesse

I attended a dialogue held by the AU Goodwill Ambassador for Ending Child Marriage, Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda; on Ending Child Early and Forced Marriage which brought together different stakeholders. There was a heart moving story of a survivor of child marriage from Zimbabwe, Miss Loveness Mudzuri. It greatly touched all of us as we faced a 19 year old mother of two who was forced out of the house by her parents after she got pregnant as they felt ashamed. She was forced to live with the man who got her pregnant and could not continue her studies after giving birth. This is one of the problems that young girls experience in our society. Most of them lack comprehensive sexuality education and that makes them fall into the hands of men who manipulate them and get them pregnant.

At the dialogue, the AU Commissioner for Social Affairs, H.E. Dr. Mustapha S. Kaloko said “If equal opportunity is given to both boys and girls, girls do better than boys”. I saw this statement as enough motivation for the parents who marry off their young daughter thinking that their place is in the kitchen cooking and cleaning. Parents should change their way of thinking and instead give them the same chances as boys to study in a suitable environment. Parents should engage in conversation with their children on the changes in their body and how to respect their bodies. This can build good relationships between parents and children and help children consult their parents in case of a problem rather than falling into peer pressure advice.

Our governments need to commit on the marriageable age of a girl (which is 18, but there could be advocacy for a higher age) and setting appropriate punishment for all involved in the marriage of a younger girl. But also, the government needs to commit to a holistic approach in education. The AU can hold the states accountable on reporting how they implement laws and policy to end child marriage.

It has been said that “If you educate a girl you educate the whole community”. Let’s all join efforts from the local to the global level and fight to end child marriage and build the Africa we want.


Making progress, keep marching

by Inunonse Ngwenya, YWCA of Zambia.

For young women and girls around the global social isolation, economic vulnerability and a lack of appropriate health information and services are critical problems that prevent a healthy transition from girlhood to womanhood.

Inunonse Ngwenya

Inunonse Ngwenya

Young Women and girls need to maximize our potentials but we do not think that we can do it alone, we need mentors and a society who really understands our needs, gender equality and implementation of policies that help us realize our dreams. Young people are not problems we are part of the solution. We need fewer meetings, less papers and documents, and much more implementation.

Despite numerous pronouncement and government assurance that gaps in programming and policies are first identified, there is still the lack of proper implementation of programmes, at the local and national levels. The measures taken to implement the policy have had hidden agendas whose main objective is to serve the party in power and we refuse as young leaders to have such mindsets and leaders.

One would expect that the citizens would play a critical role in shaping political decisions and holding leaders accountable however, the outcomes are always different and suggest that the elite continue to influence and nurture the behaviour and attitude of the masses on any major policy issue. The culture and perceived mind set of the citizens is that instead of demanding for service to be provided by different institutions of the government, they end up begging for favours from political leaders. Improving participation is not so much about improving consultation processes that enable government to deliver its services more efficient and effectively but more about how government can help to unleash citizen power and to tap into the enormous talent, ingenuity, energy and local knowledge that citizens have to offer.

The government has a role to play in providing resources and developing coordinating frameworks, but the people themselves have the best ideas about what needs to be done and what solutions will work in their community. Participation in this context can therefore be defined as the process of shaping citizen-government partnership to achieve development.

Women and girls often occupy a lower status in societies as a result of social and cultural traditions, attitudes, beliefs that deny them their rights and stifle their ability to play an equal role in their homes and communities and the global at large. Governments in equal partnership with the private sector and young people especially young women and girls with special emphasis on marginalized and vulnerable groups should work towards investing in building the capacities of young people and in creating an enabling environment for young people to meaningfully participate in all stages of decision making and implementation processes.

Young women and girls should show unity, transparency, accountability, and responsibility in their initiatives and engagements at local, national, regional and international levels when it comes to programmes that affect them so as to have a voice rather have people speak on their behalf. After all we know our agenda very well and we deserve the best. In Conclusion even if it’s just small steps as long you are making progress, keep marching.

Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) region

By Sophia Pierre-Antoine, YWCA Haiti

We have to make sure that women’s issues are an essential element on the agendas of all heads of States, all governments.

These are the words of Michelle Bachelet, former Head of UN Women and current President of Chile, now in her second term. During the 51st meeting of Presiding Officers of the Regional Conference on Women in Latin America and the Caribbean held in Santiago, Chile, the World YWCA delegation worked tirelessly to ensure that this was a reality.

Our diverse delegation represented Belize, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Haiti, Honduras, Suriname, and Trinidad & Tobago. We were nine women and girls’ rights activists with a purpose. Our days started at dawn and ended late at night because we made sure to be the first to arrive and the last to leave at all Government, UN, and NGO/Civil Society led events. Our goal? To network and to raise awareness and knowledge of the World YWCA’s agenda. During this past week’s convening, I had the privilege to meet with delegates from Women Machineries all over the Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) region, from my home country of Haiti, and with members of UN Women and Civil Society organisations. Already, I have been in touch with government officials and civil society organisations from various countries of the LAC region, which want to support the work of YWCA Haiti. I am eternally grateful to the World YWCA for creating this space for young women. It truly was the embodiment of transformational, intergenerational leadership.Sophia

Each of us selected government and civil society delegates with whom we would constantly engage and advocate for our cause. I don’t think I have ever said the phrase “Young Women” in my life as much as I have during this week in Santiago. As governments of Latin American and Caribbean countries drafted the Beijing +20 agenda for the region, it was a key moment for us to remind them of the importance of hearing and including the voices and experiences of young women.

To include the voices of young women is to guarantee that the specific issues, wants, needs, and rights of the girl child, the adolescent girl and the developing woman are not forgotten, or worse, erased.

Access to the following rights were discussed throughout the week:

  • to education;
  • to bodily autonomy and inclusive/comprehensive sexual and reproductive health; this incorporates access to safe abortion methods, birth control, and maternal (pre-post natal) health care;
  • of lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex women to live openly and without fear
  • to participate in government and leadership positions;
  • to work in male dominated fields (sciences/engineering for example), for domestic work/ child-elderly care to be valued, and for the right for a young woman to choose sex work as a profession and get access to social and health services;
  • to social security for women-headed households;
  • to access funds for gender mainstreaming initiatives;
  • of HIV positive women and girls to live without stigma and access health services;
  • to programs protecting women and girls from gender-based violence including domestic violence, rape, sexual assault and harassment, organized crimes, disappearances, trafficking, sexual exploitation, feminicide;
  • to the protection of women human rights activists and journalists;
  • of rural women to live without the pressure of the consequences of climate change and of genetically modified food on their crop production and food quality;
  • of indigenous women, migrant women, and afro-descendent women to live without racist and xenophobic attacks;
  • of women with differently abled bodies to occupy space within the public and private sphere.

In one week I have learned so much about the important role of civil society in government and UN led meetings, the power of concise language and advocacy, and what actually happens behind closed doors at such events. I feel that my eyes were further opened about many truths and realities and I feel even more inspired to continue fighting actively for the rights of women and girls.

The “leaders” of our delegation, Khalea Callender (YWCA Trinidad & Tobago / World YWCA) and Icilda Humes (YWCA Belize / World YWCA), mentored us and made sure every single detail went smoothly throughout the entire week. The input and advice that I received from them is extremely valuable and I know that I will continue to carry them with me in my personal life and career path as I flourish as a young woman. I have formed deep bonds with sisters from other YWCAs and the United Methodist Church (UMC) as we shared experiences, hardships, and debated heated topics. We also shared victories, tips and tools for us to continue to empower ourselves and women and girls in our respective countries.

To Paola Quevedo (YWCA Bolivia), Delia Medel (YWCA Chile), Yuleida Alvarez (UMC Columbia), Andrea Gradiz (YWCA Honduras), Marie Soledad Benjamin (UMC Haiti), and Barbara Lont (YWCA Suriname): you are all amazing women, you are a force to be reckoned with, and you are agents of change and leaders in your own right. I love you all and wish you all the best in the struggle for women and girls’ rights.

I cannot thank the World YWCA and YWCA Haiti enough for this opportunity. I am confident that the outcomes of this past week will have a positive impact on our fight for the rights of young women.

In peace, love and solidarity,

Sophia Pierre-Antoine, YWCA Haiti.

LAC Beijing+20 Review meeting

By Barbara Lont, YWCA of Suriname.

I feel very blessed and privileged to have been at this the Latin America and Caribbean (LAC) Beijing+20 review meeting. It has been a new experience for me on such a high level. I have sharpened my network skills and learned more about advocacy.

To start from the beginning, it was quite exciting travelling from Paramaribo to Chile. It was an 18 hours flight with stops at Trinidad & Tobago, Curacao and Bogota. When I was going in the plane to Santiago I met Yuleida Alvarez from Colombia.

was picked up by a friendly taxi driver and within half an hour at Hotel Atton Vitacura. For me the weather was a little cold. The hotel receptionist was very friendly and checked I could check in on 11 o’ clock.

Our first meeting was with Icilda, a very good mentor. She prepared us for what to expect from the meetings and to be aware of protocol. At the NGO CSW that was held in the Ambassador house of Argentina I met the delegate of Suriname and also other women from different countries. The time to discuss the Caribbean issues was much to short but we could make a list of the most important issue. This list was well presented by a Jamaican young woman named Rachel Ustanny.

Barbara Lont

Barbara Lont

The first day was the meeting of the Presiding Officers of the Regional Conference on Women Latin America and the Caribbean. Several countries have presented their progress on VAW and SRHR and HIV and other issues on the status of women. The second day was the continuation and two NGOs were given the opportunity to advocate their issue. Other NGO’s would get the opportunity the next day. The third day was to finalise a LAC Statement for the special session on Beijing+20 in March 2015 in New York. The NGO’s didn’t get the opportunity to speak. Although the YWCA delegation had prepared a statement.

At these meetings I learnt all about politics and the various issues in each country. I networked with women from, Trinidad, Jamaica and Guyana. I talked about the World YWCA and our vision to engage young women in this whole process. I also gave an interview to the NGO CSW LAC about my experience of the meetings. Through those meetings my interest on the subject on women and economy has grown and I would like to go deeper into this subject.

 I also met eight great women and young women. It was an awesome and learning experience. Thank you World YWCA for this opportunity.

“Africa rising” – Beijing +20

By Alice Bwanausi, YWCA of Malawi.

It has been an amazing experience to be in Addis, once again! Barely a month since I was here for the CSO’s consultative meeting on Beijing+20, in October. The weather has been kinder this time around unlike the chilly weather in the middle of October that had me sleeping in my formal dress jacket, due to the light clothing I had packed, thinking Addis would be as hot as Blantyre back home!

Residing at the Elilly international hotel, a stone’s throw away from UNECA meant we didn’t have to deal with the Addis traffic jams each morning as we walked to the conference centre, which was a hive of activity throughout the week of hosting the 9thregional Beijing +20 review meeting. group 1

YWCA young women where in the lime light throughout the consultative meetings as they took centre stage in contributing to the draft CSO’s document on recommendations to the Beijing platform for Action process, that would be presented to the intergovernmental meeting for ministers. The young ladies spiced up the serious meetings with interjections of song- famously the ‘moto moto we mama wee’ which had all the participants on their feet and provided a well deserved ice breaker!

The UN Women launch of “Africa rising” was an awesome occasion that saw some of us rubbing shoulders with the gender minister of my country, Malawi. She gave a resounding closing speech for donors such as UN Women stating that they need to continue providing resources for women programmes and for CSO’s to engage with governments. This also provided a very opportune time for me to invite her to an event that will be hosted by YWCA Malawi later this month (which we had been trying to get her to attend and the good news is that she will be coming : ) We did a victory dance inside!) Later on an Ethiopian band spiced up the colorful evening which had all of us stepping to the beat with our young women displaying their dancing skills, much to everyone’s pleasure! dance

Addis, a city under reconstruction, has an interesting array of buildings, ranging from grand at one moment, traditional at another and dusty at another. The construction of the railway line which will cut across town needs the skills of a crafty driver to get through the maze of constant traffic jams! Never the less all this is over taken by the vibrant mix of color that is Addis, its beautiful people, the colorful display of their traditional wear and rich Ethiopian dishes. I have not worked up the courage to try their staple dish ‘injera’, it’s an acquired taste but it’s part of every menu at every eating place.

As I return back home I am energized by the powerful messages of our great mentors like mama Mongela, the woman who took women to Beijing twenty years ago and is still championing the women’s fight for equality and advancement. ‘ don’t knock men down, just speed past them, overtake, smile and wave at them’, as you continue with the fight, after all they are made of more fragile substance (clay) than the bone of the rib, that we are made of!


Pacific Young Women’s Transformational Leadership Consultation

By Sharon Yendevenge, YWCA of Papua New Guinea.

A small number of young women from the Pacific Islands gathered in Bangkok, Thailand from the 9th – 11th of November to attend the Young Women’s Pacific Consultation with participants from a number of Pacific Island countries form Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Fiji, Tongs, Kiribati, Nauru and Pohnpei. Unfortunately Palau, Vanuatu and Marshall Islands didn’t make it due to Visa issues.



The consultation meeting was led by the UN Women in partnership with Pacific Youth Council with amazing facilitators. The first day started with experiences in each country and what its like to be a young Pacific woman embracing change and being active in what you do, what are the things that you do best and how it affects other peoples life. It all ties in with understanding transformational leadership and what it’s all about.

The first day went on with a full session on the first 16 Articles on CEDAW, understanding it and relating them to the Pacific context and what different cultures, customs and tradition in the Pacific hinders women in the Pacific Island countries in accessing their rights and being equal.

It was an interesting and also a moving session for the group as personal experiences were shared and young women were able to express themselves relating to their personal experiences.

The sessions went the next day relating to transformational leadership which reflects on how best one can use their skills, their space to embrace past, present and the future yet knowing being in the diversity all around and connecting the dots in bringing awareness and training to the target group they are working with or want to work with.

It was somewhat another great day of sharing, exploring and being able to navigate and identify the challenges and look forward in tackling those issues by relating them to CEDAW and Beijing +20 Review and connecting all these dots.

Through the meetings, we discussed the level of violence against women and girls, the need for more health services, comprehensive sexual education, friendly youth services, equal opportunities of employment, young women’s empowerment and youth participation within all levels and without discrimination.

There is quite a big and strong voice and concern on Climate change since the Pacific Islands are evidently faced with issues associated with climate change. It is a very big concern in the Pacific because as young women we are concerned about what results in climate change and the impact that goes with it. We are concerned with the impact of climate change on young women’s health, the sickness that arises due to weather change, the drought, floods and disasters. Furthermore, women and girls are more vulnerable to violence during the displacement people caused by climate change. The lack of sexual reproductive health and rights and comprehensive sexual education is also a big concern. I believe that governments, decision makers and community leaders have to view the inclusion and involvement of women, young women and girls as very important for development.

We are now looking forward to meet with all the other Asia/Pacific young women as we proceed into the Asia/Pacific CSO Forum of the Beijing+20 Regional Review. We as Pacific young women encourage more organisations to support young women’s participation in all levels and have seen that a preparation meeting such as this prior to the big events is very important for young women in caucusing and coming up with a strong and united voice in pushing our issues forward not only in the Pacific but in all regions and all around the world.

The road to Beijing +20 review Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

By Aurore Uwase, YWCA of Rwanda.

I thank God for the blessings of joining the Beijing review process in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia at UN Economic Commission for Africa. As a Beijing baby who is committed to the empowerment of girls and young women, my participation in the review process of the Beijing +20 was so exciting. I am really honoured to have joined the rest of the young women and to be one of the champions. A lot of knowledge was shared, especially when our grandmothers shared with us the history of Beijing platform and actions. I have gained a lot of knowledge that I would not have gained had I not attended this review process; thanks to God, World YWCA and YWCA Rwanda.

Aurore Uwase

Aurore Uwase

As a young woman of 22 years of age from YWCA Rwanda, I was so privileged to attend such a big international conference; it was my first time to be in such big meeting and was selected to be one of the youngest participants under 25 years old. I was very impressed when I was called A BEIJING BABY during the deliberation. My participation gave me a great chance to add my input to the documents that were drafted. Moreover, I was particularly elated when I was interviewed on the experience I had had in the review of the Beijing +20 and my video posted to YouTube, thus I know that many young women will be reached and will learn from that.

Furthermore, it was great to see that young women were involved since women issues are not only older women’s issues, as they cut across all sectors of the female population in Africa, and indeed in the whole world. In light of this, I commend that there is an urgent need to increase the budgets that are allocated to the promotion of gender equality, and am looking forward to see African women advance and prosper in all areas. This will require concerted efforts and commitment. I strongly believe that with concerted efforts and, cooperation from the governments, our targets will be met.

Once again, my greatest gratitude goes to World YWCA and YWCA Rwanda for their support to make my participation in the Beijing +20 review processes happen.


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