Celebrating Hanne Braun: A YWCA leader with amazing Commitment, Humour and Vision

By: Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda and Ana Villanueva

It has been almost a month since we have come back from Stuttgart, Germany. We were there to visit with the YWCA Germany, one of the oldest associations in the region. We were also there to attend the 11th Assembly of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), whose theme was “Give us this day, our daily bread”.  Hanne Braun is just one person who has indelibly remained etched in our experience of this visit. She is the President of the YWCA of Germany, and a former World YWCA Executive Committee member from 1979 to 1987.

Almost two months ago, Hanne Braun visited the World YWCA Office in Geneva, together with 10 other YWCA women members, volunteers and friends. They took a 5-hour train ride, and spent a week orienting, sharing and experiencing together the fellowship with the ecumenical family. In addition to sharing the programmes of the YWCA of Germany, she brought some gifts for all of us in the World Office. We received an umbrella with the Map of Stuttgart, clearly showing the key features of the city, the venue of the LWF Assembly as well as the YWCA Building. This was meant to prepare for the journey we were to take the following month! Just in case we did not have someone to assist, all we had to do was to open the umbrella! It was a practical, humorous and inviting gesture, given with love and in the spirit of sisterhood.

Hanne Braun is a long-standing leader within her church and her community. With her background in social work, and her personality and passion, it was just a joy to spend time with her in Stuttgart. She mobilised the YWCA women to contribute as volunteers and resource persons of various kinds in the LWF Assembly. She assisted with worship, Ursula Lüders met guests at the train station and was in the Women’s Networking Zone, her husband volunteered with the village groups and took photos of the events where YWCA women were involved; Bea was at the registration desk and several other YWCA women assisted as volunteers. The two of us were official guests of the LWF Assembly. It was with confidence that we delivered the World YWCA message to the Assembly, calling the LWF communion to continue working for gender justice and echoing that we share traditions and neighbourhoods. It was true, as we felt the presence of the YWCA in this event. We just needed to turn around, and Hanne Braun was a whisper away among the local communities, or a step away with the pool of YWCA volunteers.

Amidst the thousand of things to do, in addition to caring for her mother, Hanne Braun found time to give us a tour of the YWCA history in Germany, the connection with the church and its mission with? Diakonia. It was a powerful experience for us to spend time with Ursula Lüders in the Women’s Networking Space, together with other women leaders from the church in Germany. Equally enriching was sharing breakfast with Rev. Esther Peylo, a theologian and journalist, working with the local parliament and General Manager of the Association for International Work with Youth (Verein für Internationale Jugendarbeit –VIJ – e.V.), part of Diakonia work of the Association of Evangelical Churches in WürtembergHanne also introduced us to Ruth Lauterstein who received us with warm hospitality at her home. Ruth arrived in Stuttgart from Uruguay many years ago, and from being a beneficiary, she became a staff member of the centre for information for women (Fraueninformationszentrum – FIZ), a division of VIJ e.V.

On Sunday afternoon, after the beautiful and moving service at the Stiftkirche in Stuttgart, Hanne offered us lunch and took us together with Annette and Arja, two friends from the YWCA of Germany, to visit the Rosenstrasse 76 exhibition in Bad Mergentheim. This is an amazing and very touching exhibition which aims at sensitising people about the ever present issue of domestic violence. After this, Hanne took us on a tour of the neighbouring areas of Stuttgart, which fascinated us with its beauty, culture and long history.

The tour of Stuttgart, in Hanne Braun’s car took us to the top of the hill. As we stood therewe marvelled at the ingenuity of human kind and the inner strength to reach new heights in science and technology. We equally nestled in the spirit of the knowledge that with us is a woman leader, who has spent her life reaching to the spirit within. Touching the lives of sad, lonely migrant women in Europe, arranging for language classes, providing child care, and a roof for those coming from afar. She remained in the trenches, understanding the dark and invisible world of commercial sex workers. Some of them exploited and abused because they are foreigners. As we walked  down the hill, Hanne Braun took us through the red-light district of Stuttgart, so we could have a feel of what her commitment to women’s rights mean. We saw, we shared, we reflected. As we nestled into our beds for that evening, we recommitted to our service for women and girls. Hanne Braun had just re-kindled the spirit. Just the knowledge that together it is possible to reach new heights in our nourishment of the human spirit, especially for women and girls, survivors of violence, abuse and exclusion.

The five-hour train journey to Geneva was a possibility of reflection on the time spent with Hanne Braun. Her presence filled the room as she assisted in the communion service at the installation of the new LWF Leadership; her laughter had warmed our hearts as we found our ways in the streets of Stuttgart; her humour livened our souls as she recounted her days as a World YWCA Executive Committee member in the era of apartheid. She inspired us for  the future with her elaborate plans of bringing the Rosenstrasse 76 exhibition on domestic violence to the 2011 World YWCA World Council to be held in Switzerland. If anything, join us in Zurich next year and enjoy a moment with Hanne Braun, one of the amazing, committed, humorous and visionary women leaders of this movement.

It’s Time to Make Women Count for Peace!

Modern conflicts have developed a disturbing trend. Women suffer the most, including as targets of systematic sexual violence. Yet they hardly have any say when peace is negotiated. Less than 10 percent of peace negotiators are women. An ongoing petition drive on UNIFEM’s Say NO – UNiTE to End Violence against Women platform, Make Women Count for Peace, goes to the heart of the issue.

Ten years ago, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1325 to ensure women’s equal participation in peacebuilding, but its implementation has been too slow. There are basic, practical steps that all governments can take to make a real difference in women’s lives, such as by recruiting more women in police forces and peacekeeping operations, ensuring more women participate in peace negotiations, prosecuting perpetrators of sexual violence, and excluding perpetrators from armies and police forces after conflict.

We can all do something to hold governments accountable to promises made to women. One quick action: Sign the 1325 Petition. It tells governments to take three steps to implement Resolution 1325. Together, your signatures will make a powerful statement to the UN Security Council when it meets in October to debate the resolution’s future.

We hear the thunder: but we see no rain- Funding for Women: Rhetoric or Reality?

By Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda, World YWCA General Secretary

Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda, World YWCA General Secretary

Funding the AIDS response was a consistent thread throughout the XVIII International AIDS Conference in Vienna last month. At the opening ceremony participants campaigned for funding to achieve “Universal Access” and for quality resourcing of the Global Fund for AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (GFATM). This echo was evident at the human rights rally and in the various conference sessions.

The Global Coalition on Women and AIDS (GCWA) facilitated two sessions on funding, entitled “We hear the thunder: but we see no rain – Funding for Women: Rhetoric or Reality?As their moderator, I was energised by the diversity of the speakers, who among them included a positive woman involved in community level advocacy and outreach; a National AIDS Coordinating Body representative, a private sector organisation, a donor government and a GFATM representative. This was a good galaxy of knowledge and experience: indeed the sessions had enough ‘thunder’.

Discussions on funding for women’s rights in the AIDS response carry with it issues of policy; practice, quality of funding, accessibility and the politics of exclusion. The funding discourse lies at the core of accountability; translating policy into practice, and enabling communities, women and girls to access services and information. Numerous studies, including by “Women Won’t Wait” and Association for Women’s Rights in Development had long critiqued the on-going barriers to access to resources for gender equality and women’s rights.

The recent conference sessions concluded that there is sufficient “thunder”. Policies and public rhetoric exists in sufficient quality and quantity, reaffirming how gender inequality fuels the epidemic. Many studies show how women and girls are made vulnerable to HIV. In response, the Global Fund has adopted a gender policy and recruited a gender advisor. The United Nations, through the UNAIDS Board, adopted a Framework and Operational Plan on Women, Girls, Gender Equality and HIV in 2009, supported by the UNAIDS Secretariat by a gender advisor. In many countries, including Nigeria and Kenya; there have been robust public efforts to mainstream gender equality into the National AIDS Strategies, programmes and plans.

Even the International AIDS Conference had applied a gender lens to its agenda. Half of the plenary speakers were women and specific plenary sessions focused on violence against women, “vertical” transmission and care and support. Many other plenaries also explored how women are made vulnerable because of policy, programming and lack of funding and political will. Therefore the “thunder” can be heard, seen and touched. However, there is very little rain, only drops here and there reaching communities in support of transformative actions.

The GCWA sessions explored where the bottlenecks are to funding women’s rights response to HIV and AIDS. Some key barriers and recommendations emerged from the sessions:

Firstly, it was stressed that there are very few gender advocates, women and positive women’s networks that effectively participate in decision-making spaces related to funding issues, either at national or global levels. Women’s participation is often tokenistic, with a single woman expected to champion and advocate for resource prioritisation for all women. There is no accountability towards gender equality for people in positions where decisions are made about resources – this is almost always were the power lies.

Next, there is no systematic application of the gender budgeting principles that have been developed for other sectors in the last two decades, to ensure that certain gender-related core indicators are funded systematically over time, in order to achieve the gender transformation necessary. Most HIV-specific interventions are still project based or ad-hoc.

Thirdly, the massive networks of women, especially women living with HIV and community-based groups remain un-resourced. A number of the organisations providing significant practical interventions in communities remain un-funded, under-funded and excluded from decision-making processes. Funding and reporting requirements to access quality funding are complex. They receive short-term project or activity-based funding. Most struggle with no institutional capacity support, which also results in exclusion from accessing larger grants. This creates a vicious cycle. This reality is true of many YWCAs, who struggle to sustain their programmes and yet are a huge network of community leaders, volunteers and caregivers.

Finally Aid/Development assistance architecture in the AIDS response remains equally complex and too upstream. It is important that big programmes like PEPFAR, the World Bank’s MAP; and GFATM be measured on gender-equality indicators as part of the performance accountability to their boards. This way, funding for gender- equality will be accelerated to the level of “must deliver”, other than “desirable”.

A refreshing discussion on an old issue it was. With the whole new focus on maternal and child health; and a renewed impetus on prevention of vertical transmission, the echoes again were clear. Women are not just vectors and producers of human kind; we are individuals with rights. Investing in women and girls is imperative, today and as always. It is hoped that the new UN Women, (recently established by the United Nations as an entity for gender-equality and women’s empowerment), will have a seat as one of the co-sponsors of UNAIDS, and advocate for greater resourcing of women’s rights in the AIDS response.

Related links: