By Hannah Yurkovich World YWCA Intern from Kent University, USA.
The World YWCA has been holding a programme for Kent interns for quite a while. My name is Hannah, and I came as one of these interns through Kent State University, from Ohio, USA, not knowing much about the YWCA movement. I started thinking about coming to Geneva last year, before this fourth year at university. I was studying International Relations and Russian, and wanted to have some kind of experience at an non governmental organisation (NGO). They advertised this programme back in Kent, and I thought that a study abroad internship to Geneva would be a great opportunity. Since I had spent most of my childhood in Macedonia, and later years growing up in the Czech Republic, I have always been interested in gaining a bigger international experience. But I wanted to tie in my cultural interests with my studies and possible future work. My internship with the World YWCA went past my expectations. I never would have thought that by coming to Geneva I would have an internship that let me into the UN and got me involved in the Commission on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Human Rights Council.
Each of my classmates from the same Kent State programme has been assigned different internships at NGOs around Geneva, but I have no regrets about being selected for the World YWCA. I have always had an interest in women’s rights and I have benefited so much from these past 4 months. My awareness of the serious needs for advocacy and actual implementation of laws protecting women and young women around the world has grown.
In particular, I have learned a lot about young women’s Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR), HIV and AIDS situations, laws and protection notably in Africa. One of the most rewarding times has been my work with Global Programme manager of SRHR, HIV and AIDS and Focal Point of Africa, Hendrica Okondo, and Programme Associate Nelly Lukale on the ARROW report on 9 different African countries. The World YWCA is part of the global ARROW project The Global South , which aims to give southern civil society the means and avenue of articulating a regional SRHR agenda and distilling regional agendas into a global SRHR agenda. Through this work I have realised what different struggles exist for young women in the African countries I was researching, in retrospect with the struggles of the young women of Europe. The World YWCA is built to deal with these different priorities where they are needed.
Another large part of my time here has been in attending CEDAW sessions on Congo-Brazzaville and Jordan held in Geneva in February. There was a lot that I took away from those sessions, and also from my experience of a side event on Jordan which was organised by NGO’s presenting the shadow report. That week, I was encouraged to learn that NGO’s can truly influence policy, when they propose the questions that they deem most important to the Committee experts in these side events, which are later posed to the country delegation. It was even more exciting to see that NGO’s are given a chance to speak at the Universal Periodic Review sessions at the Human Rights Council. I got to attend the session on Syria, as well as a side event where an escaped North Korean woman shared her personal experiences and addressed the public on the human rights situation there. I had never heard a story quite like hers before.
My internship has been the highlight of my stay in Geneva, and I have come to love the community. I hope that when I return to the US, I will find an example of the YWCA communities and engage with the YWCA USA movement.