The Human Rights Council Through the Eyes of a Newcomer: How to advocate for women’s rights through a resolution

 By Juliia Torchynska, World YWCA Human Rights Council Intern

First of all I want to present myself: my name’s Juliia Torchynska and I am World YWCA short-term intern from YWCA of Ukraine. That’s why I came to Geneva to take part in the World YWCA participation in the Human rights Council – 20thSession from 18 June to 6 July, 2012.


Despite the fact that I wrote in the title “through the eyes of newcomer” I want this blog to be very useful and informative for everybody who wants to know more about HRC, YWCA’s involvement in UN HRC sessions, women’s human rights, new resolutions on violence against women, mechanisms and ways to be heard and to have power to change.

Can you imagine the room where the representatives of different countries gather together to discuss problems of current interest? And can you imagine better opportunity for YWCA and other NGOs to mention women’s problems and needs, make them visible in order to influence and help the governments to make the right decisions concerning remedies for women survivors of conflict situations?

I want to say that we really had such an opportunity and tried to do our best to increase YWCA’s contribution to global accountability for the human rights of women step by step.

As I promised everything in this article will be clear I want to talk about these steps in more details.

Step 1. As you know or may not Permanent mission of Canada proposes their vision of resolution on the elimination of violence against women. Manon Boisclair, Second Secretary Human Rights, Permanent Mission of Canada, presented the draft resolution created to the requests input from NGOs.

Step 2. In the morning of 19th June NGO CSW Geneva Caucus meeting was held. Marie-Claude Julsaint, World YWCA Global Programme Manager for Violence Against Women, Marcia Banasko, World YWCA Programme Associate in the communications department, and me were able to take part in the discussion of Canadian resolution with other NGOs such as WOW, PWESCR and others. As for me YWCA’s recommendations on the resolution are not only very important and precise but really necessary and useful because YWCA advocates for peace, justice, human rights and care for the environment for more than a century. It means that YWCA has not only the strategic goals and power to change but the experience to engage in advocacy as much as possible. You can be convinced of it by yourselves – this is the short list of the added corrections and recommendations:

– to include to the text of the resolution ‘girls’ near women because we can’t deny the fact of violence against young girls as well as women so they also need to be protected;

– to add to the text the necessity to prevent further incidence of violence;

– to provide the economic support and empowerment programmes for victims of violence;

– to ensure that measures include educating providers to protect confidentiality and prevents stigmatization or further harm to victims;

– to mention the necessity of women’s equitable participation in judicial system.

Step 3. In the same day the informal consultation on the resolution on the elimination of violence against women was organised for UN members, and NGOs got the opportunity to speak and to share their recommendations. In my opinion this fact was the first very pleasant and important opportunity for us and the second one was that we spoke not only to Canadian mission as the author of the resolution but to all UN members and we were heard in spite of some countries’ reluctance. As for me it was like the first women’s win during this HRC because it’s only the third day of HRC 20th session and a lot of opportunities lie ahead of us.

Finally I want to quote Margaret Sanger: “Woman must not accept; she must challenge. She must not be awed by that which has been built up around her; she must reverence that woman in her which struggles for expression”. So never stop to listen to the woman inside you because she really has the power to do everything.


Middle East Regional Young Women’s Training

By Mira Smeirat Hanna, a young woman from the YWCA of Jordan

If I talk about my experience in this conference I would say that it has been good because it is a meeting of women and young women from across the region and  we are exchanging ideas, experiences, opinions, and new methods. So I am glad that I was part of this conference where I had the chance to speak my mind and voice my opinions towards the issues related to justice, peace, women and human rights. Issues that we need to discuss in order to be agents of change. The atmosphere was great especially considering that we all come from one back ground which is the Arab nation. We shared the demands, needs and passion in addition to political, cultural and social problems and obstacles.  We are one and we are all there to support each other and that was the case. I think is the YWCA Jordan is still on the beginning of the track to go towards the change of the core of the work because the name of the Y stands for young and still we don’t have many young women and the authority isn’t ours it’s the old ladies’ yet we can’t start the real action before taking that  into consideration.

So I was inspired by the activity of Lebanon and Egypt they have great youth activities and now we need a re-starting point to find the youth of YWCA Jordan and to be represented on the board. It’s important that we see and meet with role models like Omar Bargouthy, he made a presentation at the conference that made a great impact on me.  I want to do my best to work towards the idea of BDS. It was a life changing idea for me and such a model should be influential in attracting more young ladies to become members. Moreover, I gained new friends and new information regarding international laws of women rights and human rights too, new practical experience of presenting myself, my leadership, my personal knowledge and experience, my skills and voice. Meeting extraordinary women empowered and powerful even though they are married with children and old but still they are active and influential, all of that gave me the hope and enthusiasm that there are no borders. When I stand still, work hard and be myself and fight for my success and my values and never stop there will be no barriers because God gave me the capability and youth to use it well and face the world for creating a better world that I love and I want to see in the future. I wish to thank the YWCA for this opportunity.


Already half of the journey is done

By Nagham Nassar, World YWCA Programme Associate

Six incredible months passed. I can never forget when i got the email from the World Office : ‘Nagham Nassar, we are pleased to inform you that you have been selected for our internship programme’. I was drunk with joy. But at the same time, I had mixed feelings; am I able to live far from home for a year? Will I do a good job? Will I be a good representative of my country and my National YWCA in Lebanon?  My trip to Geneva was scheduled for January, so for two months I was haunted by all these ideas and I was extremely happy for the opportunity but at the same time, extremely scared. Then the big day arrived, 25thof January. I’ll never forget this date all my life. After all my goodbyes, and after leaving my parents, my family and my friends back home, I was heading to a new life, new page and new experiences.

Nagham Nassar

Getting used to this new life wasn’t a piece of cake. What helped me during the transition is being in a beautiful work environment. All the members of the staff were so welcoming that I felt I am working within my family. The diversity of the group made me gain a lot of new information and a beautiful experience. Attending sessions in the United Nations was an amazing exposure. Meeting all the professionals and seeing the ways of work made me feel more involved in the issues dear to my heart. On a personal level, getting to know and to share my life with the other two interns, Marcia and Nelly, is making the experience richer and more meaningful. Sharing our happy, crazy and sad moments; our disappointments and our frustrations and our previous experiences in life made my life easier.

As a Programme associate, we are supposed as well to travel and to be part of conferences within the different continent of the YWCA and international conferences and trainings, like CSW or AIDS 2012. The first trip that was assigned to me was to be part of the Middle East Youth Regional Meeting: ‘Young Women as agents of change’. At first I was frustrated. I wanted to have another experience away from the Middle East. But, after starting the work and the preparations of the meeting, I was happy I am a part of it. I felt I can help with doing a change in our region. And I was preparing from all my heart and working with my colleague Mandy Nogarede to prepare our session. We wanted our session to be really well structured but at the same time interesting for young women. It’s not easy to take very strict material and do it in a nice way. So, we worked together for long hours and we created a fun and interesting session with the help of other colleagues, as Juli Dugdale. Being so swamped in the preparations made me forget something very important. This time, I was representing the World Office not the National YWCA of Lebanon. I realized this just few days before flying to Amman – Jordan. This was weird for me. I felt a big responsibility and tons of questions came to my mind: how am I going to do that? Will I succeed? Am I able to advocate for the World Office and not only for my country, something I am used to do within the YWCA. This is the second day of the training. I feel more confident now than before. The sessions are going very well.

Today, Mandy and I gave our session about the strategic framework for the World YWCA 2012 – 2015. The participants were really interested and happy with the selection of activities during the session. Each one came out with her own dream and they made beautiful art works to show their dream. Now, more than ever, I am really happy I was selected to participate in this training. I have the chance to live a new experience: participating in a youth meeting from my region, but representing the World Office and not my country. Believe me it’s not easy to separate from our nationality, especially for someone like me who is really proud to be Lebanese, and who really tries to work on empowering women and young women within their country. But now, after the time I spent in the world office, I participate with a different vision and point of view. Now, I know the high level of importance that the world office allocate for Young Women leadership and I feel more empowered and armed to advocate this and to help the other young women in the Middle East to feel more confident and to defend their rights and to work on issues they care for.

I have a dream, a dream to see more women in all levels of decision – making, especially within my region and my country. After only two days and with more then 26 participants from the region (Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Palestine) I feel confident that my dream will come true. I am proud to be a young woman from Lebanon, a Young woman from the Middle East and a member in the World YWCA.

The Horrors of Rape

By Marcia Banasko, World YWCA Programme Associate

In this world where women are very much second class citizens in many parts of the world and subject to gender based discrimination, it never ceases to surprise me of the horror stories that continue to be published every day in the media. Recently, I read in the news of the Ukrainian horrific case of Oksana Makar who was raped, strangled and set on fire. Oksana later died from her injuries in hospital with her mother by her side. This case shook me to the core of my being and outraged me. Not only because of the grimiest of the crime but because of the fact that the perpetrators at first walked free of the crime after being arrested due to the fact that they are ‘well connected’. It was only after public protest that the authorities decided to arrest and charge the criminals. Another appalling factor to this tragic story is the common census by some that somehow, Oksana was to blame for what happened to her. This is another global attitude which can be found amongst every human society with regards to rape that somehow as women we ask to be raped either by wearing provocative clothing or hanging out with males alone. All too often society judges women and is quick to point the finger even when all the facts are laid out on the table.

I am British and I know that in the UK, only 9-10% of reported rape charges end in prosecution (CPS, VAW 2010). In England and Wales, two women a week, on average, are killed by a violent partner or ex-partner (Home Office, 2005).Therefore more work needs to done both in improving the justice system and encouraging and supporting rape victims to report the crime. There are many myths surrounding rape for example if a women never ‘struggled’ (fought back) during the sexual violence it wasn’t rape. When in fact, most women are too afraid to ‘struggle’ because of violent threats during the attack and by not ‘struggling’ they may think they have a better chance of coming out of it alive.

The majority of women in society fear rape – no woman is allowed to ignore it. The majority of children are taught to be afraid of ‘strange men’ who offer us sweets, or a ride home etc. We are taught as adults to keep our doors locked, not to be alone, not to look or act in any way that might ‘bring rape upon ourselves’. Perhaps the most obvious situation in which we are taught to be afraid is when walking home alone at night. The threat of violence is a total intrusion into women’s personal space and transforms a routine and / or potential pleasurable activity (for example, a walk in the park, a quiet evening at home, a long train journey) into a potentially upsetting, disturbing and often threatening experience.

This morning when I arrived to work I received an email from a friend from the YWCA of Colombia. In her email she spoke of a rape case of Rosa Elvira Cely, a young woman who was brutally raped in Bogota last Thursday, in a similar attack as Oksana Makar. Just like Oksana she too died later in hospital from the severe fatal injuries caused by the rape. Rosa Elvira Cely was found naked with stab wounds in her back and impalements on her face. While she was still conscious, she managed to tell the police that she was riding a motorbike home with a male friend after going to a bar, when he hit her across the head with his helmet.  The rest of the story is history.

In every corner of the globe rape exists and women are left to die or suffer in silence in many cases as there is little or no judicial system to protect them and punish the perpetuators. In this blog I have noted two similar brutal rape cases that happened on opposite sides of the world. These are just two examples of millions of others! Working at the World YWCA has given me greater insight to the global levels of sexual violence. Women aged 15-44 are more at risk from rape and domestic violence than from cancer, car accidents, war and malaria, according to World Bank data. Globally, approximately 1 in 3 women will experience violence during her lifetime, often at the hands of an intimate partner (M. Gottemoeller, 1999). We as a society need to take direct action to eliminate the prevalence of all forms of violence and discrimination against women, in the name of Rosa and Oksana and all our other sisters. All violence is a fundamental human rights violation, whether perpetrated against women, girls, men or boys.

The UN Human Rights Special Rapporteur on violence against women, Rashida Manjoo has just published a report on gender-motivated killings, violence against women and its causes and consequences.

Journeying to learn the YWCA way in Latin America

By Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda, World YWCA General Secretary

Over the next three weeks, the World YWCA is visiting Peru, Bolivia and Colombia to work with YWCA member associations. It is the first time that Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda has visited the Latin American region as the World YWCA General Secretary. Nyaradzayi shares:

Nyaradzayi with the YWCA of Colombia

This is one visit to the YWCAs that I had long anticipated for many years. I had just joined the world movement in 2008 when the International Aids Conference was held in Mexico City. I was barely eight months on the job and led a very powerful delegation of YWCA leaders to this important country and to this critical event. It was my first visit to the Latin America region, and my first visit with the YWCA in local communities. We met with YWCA of Mexico and visited the YWCA of Naucalpan. We also meet with members from other local associations, including Guadalajara.

I wanted to know more, learn more, dig into the history of our movement, and listen to the names of the women who have created presence of our movement in this region. The time and the opportunity did not qualitatively quench my thirst, although it gave me good enough insight. I sat with the members who had come from other countries in the region, Lizette from Peru, Xinia from Costa Rica and Jucara from YWCA of Brazil. One day I will do a proper visit to this region, was the singular feeling that I carried, as I marched the streets of Mexico chanting mujeres derechos, together with thousands of others at the AIDS conference.

I stood on that stage with Annie Lennox, passing the core message of rights of women, and girls in the AIDS response. I knew that I just must come back to this region, which held intrigue for me and also inspiration and passion. I recalled many years ago, when as a young woman lawyer I was actively involved in the women and law movement, and Cladem was one of the strong organisations that inspired me and it was then that I had met the current chair of the CEDAW committee Silvia Pimentel.

In the last years, the journey to Latin America started to gain a life of its own as I was also growing with the movement. As they General Secretary of the World YWCA, it was also clear that effective representation is beyond words, reading reports, and update or phone calls from friends, colleagues and mentors. For one to be a leader, one must also experience. Many women from the region within and outside the movement had over these years nurtured, advised, and enabled.

The many moments that I have been with Monica Zetzsche, past World YWCA President from Argentina, she had always whispered in her quiet way and with all the wisdom, you will finally come, and when it is the right time and the right moment; it is not just for you to decide,  it also God’s decision. She came to the 27th world YWCA council in Zurich and offered the much needed support and advise, as we all received one of the leading global women leaders from the Latin America region in our midst, former President of Chile Michelle Bachelet, who is the first Executive Director for the United Nations entity for gender equality and women’s empowerment (UN women).

Michelle Bachelet stood in the ground and reminded all of us gathered that women’s rights and empowerment is all about leadership, participation in decision making and improvising the economic status of women. It is also about always securing and protecting women’s rights and ending violence against women. I recall these words as I journey to Latin America, to steep myself in the knowledge and the wisdom of this region.

In addition to the many women leaders from the region who served and continue to serve on our world board like Valeria, Silvanna, Andrea and many others before them, I have also cherished the wisdom and advise from my staff colleagues Ana Villanueva, Caterina Lemp, Maria Petty and our former interns and volunteers from Latin America. The YWCA movement is always about the empowerment and rights of women, carrying with it an intergenerational approach that affirms volunteers of all ages, lifts the leadership of young women and values the wisdoms and experience of its older members.

Today, I woke up earlier than usual. I did not want at all to miss this flight. My journey to Latin America has finally arrived, all in God’s own time. My travel mates Caterina Lemp and Natasha Nogarede where surprised to see me arrive early at the airport. I had promised that I will not oversleep! It’s a great team. Amongst ourselves we are carrying the history of the movement as staff and volunteer with our own diversities of age, background and nationalities. We will be the collective eyes and ears for listening, learning and sharing.

I am looking forward to the next two weeks of visiting with the YWCAs of Colombia, Bolivia and Peru; to meeting sisters, some of whom I had met in person and others I have heard and read about. I have the feeling of stepping my toes on the YWCA sacred space in many communities and know that each YWCA carries generations of generosity of giving, sharing and being. And I know that there are many women and girls who have made it possible for the YWCA to sustain its significant presence over the decades in this region.

The YWCA is present in ten countries in Latin America: Argentina, Brazil, Chile, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico and Uruguay in addition to those I am visiting. I am looking forward to the meetings, the sharing with our ecumenical partners and friends at UN Women, ICCO and other women, youth and ecumenical organizations. Indeed the food, the language, the culture and the music are part of what enrich the experiences in one’s encounters. As a poet, culture, history and social life stirs that something deep within.

My friends in the region, Alessandra Nilo in Brazil, Mabel Bianco in Argentina, Violeta Ross  in Bolivia, Ana Falú, Mónica Pizani… Hola!


Mass Youth Unemployment?!

By Marcia Banasko, World YWCA Programme Associate

In the preparation for its 101st session, the International Labour Organisation (ILO held last week a Youth Employment Forum at its headquarters in Geneva. This is the first time that any such forum has been organised by the ILO. The forum gathered over 100 young trade unionists, entrepreneurs, NGO members and others to take part in the three-day gathering and share their experiences and views on the employment crisis that has left 75 million youth jobless worldwide.

I had the honour of attending the conference as a representative from the World YWCA. I went to the Youth Employment Forum to raise the voice of young women within the debate and develop an understanding of the degree of the unemployment crisis and the different experiences from around the world. Young woman continue to face higher barriers for access to education and training and when entering formal employment they receive less pay and benefits than young men in similar positions. Furthermore, women and young women do part-time or precarious work, more than men and young men, and this type of work is often low paid.

With this in mind, I participated in the ‘Innovation Day’, whereby the focus was very much on solutions and creative ideas. One of the examples of an innovative entrepreneurial success came through the Youth Employment Network. In Kenya, the Youth Employment Network supported an agricultural project, which was set up to generate livestock. The project known as ‘chicken cooperative’ is a very simple idea: you buy two chickens which then go on to produce more chickens which produce more eggs so soon your two chickens become 30 chickens. Then you give two chickens back into the cooperative so that others can go on to prosper. The idea being that soon with the money generated from the chickens, you can expand production and go to buy more livestock like a goat or a cow, so now you are producing both eggs and milk. All this from just two chickens! Simple but effective.

It was a very interesting forum, as the dialogue was very open and inclusive. Participants were invited before the forum to submit a short video answering this question, ‘How is the global jobs crisis affecting the lives of young people?’ The video contest produced some really thought-provoking and creative work. In the morning there was a marketplace, which consisted of various 15-20min workshops held by different ILO departments, UN entities and youth organisations such as ILO AIDS, ILO Youth Employment programme, ILO Migrant, Peace Child International and others. I attended three workshops: ‘Disability employment initiative in Ethiopia’, ‘HIV and AIDS: What do you need to know as a young person?’, and ‘From youth to youth: Opening pathways for young entrepreneurs’.  It was inspiring to learn about the ILO project in Ethiopia as the YWCA of Ethiopia also runs a similar project seeking to reduce the risk of HIV infection of women and young women with disabilities and it would be great to see how the World YWCA can link with the ILO. Developing relationships across organisations can help strengthen the work of projects and create positive partnerships.

The main points that were made throughout the day was the need for job creation, better training and education opportunities and government initiatives to support young people in accessing affordable and quality training and education. An attractive idea was raised several times on creating a dialogue between education institutes and employers, so that young people are trained with the correct skills which meet the needs of the market.

Overall, the forum proved constructive, with the International Coordination Meeting Youth Organisations (a network of international youth organisations, of which the World YWCA is a member) presenting our key advocacy points to the ILO. We hope that the ILO takes these points on board and that a Youth Advisor position is created within the ILO, to better address the issue of youth unemployment. The ILO needs to have young people as main partners since we, the youth, are the stakeholders of the process and we know and experience the challenges directly. Moreover, I would love to see this position fulfilled by a young woman, as noted young women face higher levels of unemployment than young men, and also face more severe barriers to access employment.

Click here to video winner: one young woman’s story from the Philippines