By Kuena Diaho
On November 15 – 17, 2010, the World YWCA organised a reflection meeting in Nairobi, Kenya, in collaboration with United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), to evaluate the implementation of Universal Access for Women and Girls Now! (UA Now!). The UA Now! initiative aims to significantly accelerate access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support for women and girls.
This reflection meeting was preceded by a one-day Young Women Pre-Meeting with the aim to improve their understanding around issues of sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) and HIV.
World YWCA intern, Kuena Diaho from the YWCA of Lesotho, participated in the young women’s pre-meeting. Kuena has been at the World YWCA office in Geneva since the beginning of 2010 and has been contributing to the World YWCA programme and advocacy efforts.
On October 14, young women from 8 African YWCAs gathered enthusiastically at the office of the YWCA of Kenya. 11 young women came together to be introduced to one another, and to learn from each other how well they have been contributing towards universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support for young women and girls.
Having met many times with young women from different YWCAs, and having worked closely with some of them, especially the YWCA of Ethiopia, it was encouraging and refreshing to witness the transformation and the growing enthusiasm that was present in the room.
As exciting as it is to listen to the stories and history of the different host YWCAs at every meeting, what I found most interesting was to hear how young women have taking the reigns in their different YWCAs, and how guidance and mentorship has greatly shaped the women that we have all become.
From many whose faces have brightened the YWCA Young Women’s meeting, more fruitful and encouraging stories were shared. We heard about the impressive work done in Ethiopia, the courageous steps taken by the YWCA of Sudan, the commitment from the young women in Rwanda and the never disappointing presence and brilliant ideas from both the YWCA of Malawi and the Zambian young women.
The understanding and appreciation of universal access was displayed when Hendrica Okondo – World YWCA Programme Director for Africa and the Middle East, Caroline Moneno Oketch – YWCA of Kenya Deputy General Secretary and Irene Kizito – YWCA of Kenya Director of Programmes, lead us, the young women, into acting out and artistically displaying the lessons learned on the day. Talent was revealed when one group acted a scene where a young woman living with HIV was in need of treatment and care. She had approached all the people in her community and had failed to get support, being subjected instead to stigmatisation and discrimination. In the act, we saw her being helped by a nurse, who advocated for awareness on HIV and AIDS, thus calling for a stronger government response. In another group, the participants drew a picture of a young woman living with HIV, but that is highly supported by her community. Together they advocate for the dissemination of information on their sexual reproductive and health rights, and they also illustrate how important the government’s commitment is.
The day was a very pleasant and enriching one. It ended with high tea, served by the host, the YWCA of Kenya, where the participants learned more about the International Women’s Summit and the World YWCA Council, which will be held in Switzerland in July 2011. The high tea also offered a safe space for young women to speak freely about their visions. They expressed how they would like to see young women come out of their shells to inspire and counsel other young people and to talk about what affects them. Hopes were voiced that one day we will see a generation free of HIV and violence against women and that women will rise up and reclaim their self-esteem and their rightful place in society.
There was no doubt that the young women would highly represent and demand their space, which they did in the main Universal Access meeting with UNDP and other implementing partners.
As we all packed our bags to return to our homes, with not only great knowledge gained but also inspiration, we continue to be grateful for the safe space that the YWCA has helped create for young women around the world.