Happy to be a World YWCA member

Young participants

By Bethel Tesfaye – YWCA of Ethiopia

From April 17-21, 2012, the World YWCA held a regional sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) training session in Arusha, Tanzania and in Nairobi, Kenya, with 20 young women participants gathering from a number of African countries, including Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Ethiopia, and Zambia. One of the participant, Bethel  shares:

The training I participated in, in Arusha and Nairobi, was crucial as  I  gained  new insights, improved my  knowledge, experience and skills in addressing gender issues and challenges faced by  girls and women  in diverse communities and socio-economic groups . This will be helpful in the context of Ethiopia, and especially for the SRHR project we are implementing at the YWCA of Ethiopia.

Most importantly, the research I compiled according to the EDHS of 2011 shows significant findings such as that the Total Fertility Rate (annual number of live births per 1,000 age specific groups of women in the country) declined to 5.4, due to the increased use of contraceptives by rural women. There is, however, a difference of 35% with the wanted fertility rate, which is 4.0. It was noted in the DHS that this gap is the result of unmet needs of contraceptives and the complex web of tradition and religion which leads to a low percentage of women using them. Although this seems contradictory, it has been noted that despite the prevailing traditional norms that define women’s value around motherhood, a lot of young married women are deciding to control their sexuality through the use of contraceptives. Demands are rising sharply, due to the improved reproductive health policies in Ethiopia, but services are still not adequately responsive, especially in rural areas. As we integrate SRH and FP issues in our projects, this analysis can assist us at the YWCA of Ethiopia to decide on where we need to work.

I believe that young women and girls have the right to enjoy a better life, and a critical focus on their sexual and reproductive health rights is necessary if they are to access equal rights to education and health services. Thus, in spite of the positive changes which have taken place so far, there is a long way to go to ensure gender equality and secure women’s rights in all socio-economic areas. After I attended the training I understood the importance of evidence backed advocacy to influence at individual and institutional policy decision making level. I found the training and review of the report very useful in contextualizing the situation of women and girls in Ethiopia and Africa, in order to identify key areas for intervention.

Our societies are still very patriarchal and discriminatory. Although attitudes are changing, women’s social role is primarily defined through motherhood and homemaking. With little or no opportunity to live up to the demanding ideals of womanhood that are imposed by society, women experience different degrees of discrimination. But this experience in Arusha and Nairobi showed me that there are women in Africa who have fought against discrimination and hold responsible positions in high level institutions.  I took a moment to reflect on what I am doing in the YWCA Ethiopia programme I am coordinating.  The vulnerable girls and young women I am working with are now receiving sexual and reproductive health services and information, and as a result, they have become more assertive in negotiating safer sex, making informed decisions and setting short and long term aspiration goals, which if achieved, will improve their lives.  These outcomes have made me happy and allowed me to gain inner satisfaction regarding the work I am engaged in, and given me confidence in knowing that some day, somehow, I will be successful like my sisters with whom I shared experiences in Arusha and Nairobi.

The other important defining experience was the training in Nairobi by the Population Council. It was amazing, and clarified my thoughts on the proposal I am currently working on, on the topic “asset building”. It was an eye opener for me, I now understand that if we incorporate asset building in all of our projects, it could change a lot of things. After the training I had many ideas on how to add the asset building strategy in the new project. On a personal level, it also gave me time to reflect upon which assets I have which I should work hard to build and how important it is to have social assets, especially for women like me in Africa.  I really liked the notion that every woman and girl should have at least 3 friends she trusts, whom she can confide in. I hope to develop such a network through my work at the YWCA  and have friends across the movement who will help me build my social and human assets.

I am passionately looking forward to attending other programmes like this one, because I need to be  exposed to more knowledge and skills and develop a deeper understanding of the various perspectives, policies, strategies, legal frameworks, which will be instrumental in improving girls’ and women’s issues and gender equality, both in my country and in the whole world.  As a practitioner, the exposure I had has provided me with various approaches to plan, organise and lead youth programmes. And this opportunity leaves me with a big responsibility towards my future work.

I am so grateful to work in the YWCA Movement and feel indebted to the World YWCA for giving young women a chance.