I currently have the honour of being part of the World YWCA team in Nepal at the World YWCA Asian Young Women’s Leadership training. I arrived in Kathmandu nearly one week ago; I left rainy Manchester, UK expecting sunshine and extreme heat. However, when I stepped off the plane in Kathmandu the rain was pouring down and the sun was hidden behind grey clouds, very much like England! There was one difference I was surrounded by the majestic Himalayas!
After, a short taxi ride I arrived at the hotel and was greeted by Draupadi Rokoya, the General Secretary of the YWCA of Nepal.
The training tagline “I am a young woman, I am a leader” aims to increase the capacity of young women and mentors in order to build and exercise leadership in their lives and communities and to advocate for their rights. In total there are 18 young women from 6 different YWCAs participating in the training; Nepal, Thailand, Myanmar, Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka. In addition to the young women there are five women over 30 years old from the above countries who are participating as mentors to the young women and these five women have also been engaged in mentoring training throughout the week.
In my role as Communications facilitator, I have ran a full day’s workshop on communicating your message and developing a communications strategy. The day proved fun and informative as the participants engaged in planning public campaigns on HIV and AIDS. One young woman from India shared her experience as a person living with HIV and this truly moved and inspired the group because she has overcome so many barriers in her life. Having married at 18 she felt she was not in a position to negotiate the practice of safe sex and then became pregnant only to find out that she had contracted HIV from your husband. Her husband then abandoned her and she was discriminated against by her local community who labelled her a sex worker, although of course she had never been one. She said the thing that has kept her going is the YWCA of India and her faith in God. Her daughter is HIV negative! Now, this young woman advocates for the rights of those living with HIV and AIDS. Furthermore she runs awareness workshops in her local community. She is just one example of the amazing YWCA young women who are true leaders of today and tomorrow!
Yesterday, we all went on site visits to different organisations and communities in and surrounding Kathmandu, some to the Human Rights Commission, the Tibetan refugee camp, the main hospital and slum areas . I had the pleasure of going to Thankot, a rural community just outside of Kathmandu. There I met a group of women and young women who are members of the YWCA of Nepal. These inspirational women and young women have set up a women’s awareness group in their community with the aim of creating a safe space for women to come together and share their stories, their problems, and find solutions. One young Muslim woman shared her journey with us and described how she had been a victim of domestic violence and started attending the group once a week. In the group she found a support network who offered her advice and guidance. Little by little she found the strength within her to leave her husband. She explained how she didn’t know how she was going to survive because she also has a baby boy to raise, and no income; however at the YWCA she attended a microfinance course and a beauty course. Now, she works in a beauty salon and makes just enough to get by. While in Thankot, we also visited a health clinic run by the government. One of the YWCA members conducts outreach from the clinic as a health worker. She too attended training at the YWCA of Nepal, the training was SRHR training. Armed with the knowledge she now goes and speaks to young women about their sexual health and rights.
As the week draws to a close, I am feeling humbled and honoured to have had this opportunity to engage with these wonderful women and young women from across Asia. Just under two weeks ago I was asked to step in and lead the communications for the training. I jumped at the opportunity because I believe in young women’s leadership and I feel passionate about Asia and the challenges that women, young women and girls face across the continent. Sadly, it never ceases to amaze me how violence against women, SRHR and human trafficking are global problems that exist in every corner of the planet. However, the thing that fills me with hope for the future is every single woman and young woman I have met this week!
We are young women and we are leaders!