From participation to leadership: World YWCA Experiences 56th session of the UN Commision on the Status of Woman, 2012

By Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda – World YWCA General Secretary

I write to share some reflections of the experience of the World YWCA in the last four years, with a specific focus on this year’s experience with the 56th Session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). As I sat in that room with Mildred Persinger, Mikoko Ejiri and the young women like Sandra Cano and Tania Chapata who were in the space for the first time and yet were assertive in their knowledge and experience. I felt that sense of the YWCA movement reclaiming its space as a global leader and champion for women’s rights, for empowerment and for options and choices.
I immediately recalled the leadership role of the YWCA in the 1940s as we lobbied for inclusion of non discrimination on the basis of sex as the minimum language in the universal declaration of human rights, my mind travelled back to 1975 when Mildred Persinger convened the first international women’s tribune during the first UN Women’s conference, and the dame Nita Barrow’s role in leading the 3rd UN Women’s Conference. I am refreshed by the experiences of former general secretaries Elizabeth Palmer, Elaine Hesse steel, Musimbi Kanyoro with their own history of engagement with the global multi lateral systems of the UN and other bodies creating space, opportunities and possibilities for women and girls.

The CSW is an important intergovernmental space for normative agenda setting and monitoring the previous commitments of the UN. Following the Beijing conference of 1995 the CSW has followed the core themes of the platform for action in monitoring implementation. It is convened within a period of two weeks in February and March of each year. Over the years the effectiveness and importance of the meeting has continued to be affirmed, though communities and women’s networks have been seeking the outcome to be more influential and have greater impact on the global development agenda.
The World YWCA is one of over 350 organisations that formed the GEAR campaign, a global loose coalition of mostly women’s organisations advocating for stronger gender architecture at the United Nations. This campaign was seeking a United Nations mechanism that has greater status within the United Nations system, increased and quality resources to deliver on its agenda, and a greater coherence between the normative and operational mandates. This resulted in the United Nations general assembly adopting a decision in 2010 to establish the United Nations entity for gender equality and women’s empowerment, now known as UN Women, which became operational in January 2011.
This was coming from a background of fragmentation with four entities and structures leading work on gender equality and women’s rights including Unifem, Instraw, UN Daw and Osagi, whose collective mandates included operational programmes in countries and communities, research and knowledge management, gender mainstreaming and supporting the normative work of the United Nations and high level advisory support to the UN secretary general. It is within this space, that the 26th World YWCA council adopted a recommendation urging the movement and requesting the World office to engage more strategically with the gear campaign.

Since 2007 the World YWCA took a deliberate approach to engage strategically with CSW. Following the experiences in 2009, it became evident that if the World YWCA was to have impact in its involvement, and move from participation to influence, we had to adjust the approach, the focus and the resourcing of this process. It was and remains evident the quality engagement in the CSW requires both financial and technical resources and it’s important to have quality time dedicated to monitoring and influencing the processes. The World YWCA and its member associations repositioned its approach to include the following elements. This is not exhaustive but illustrative.

  • Generate the organisational statement with key message to inform the key debates.
  • Partner with other organisations and host side events as a lead or co-sponsor.
  • Host an orientation and advocacy training institute for the delegation.
  • Leverage the strategic role of member associations with their networks ie Helvi Sepila seminar.
  • Have YWCA women and young women as speakers, experts, facilitators and resource persons. Encourage, support and mentor for everyone to have a role.
  • Establish an advocacy and negotiating team that follows the governmental processes.
  • Remain connected with the NGO CSW structures as they coordinate and facilitate thus offering opportunities to leverage more quality participation.
  • Get involved in the ecumenical women’s groups, the young women’s caucus and the other women’s network.

To achieve the above, the CSW has to be adopted as a movement wide opportunity for engagement.

2012 Statistics at a glance:

  • 70 Women leaders attended from the YWCA movement.
  • 32 Benefitted from the training.
  • 10 events were hosted by the world YWCA.
  • 4 YWCA women had opportunity to speak during the NGO consultation day.
  • 11 YWCA women speakers in various events during the two week programme.
  • 6 Coordinated advocacy team.
  • 40 Coordinated and participated in the young women caucus.
  • 11Attended the WSC reception.
  • 11 Participated in events hosted by the UN or governments.

Despite the fact that the 56th Session of the UN CSW did not manage to adopt a final set of agreed conclusions, the process itself opened opportunities to individual women within our moment, created partnerships and increased the voice of the world movement in the global space.