Where do we go from here? My appeal to the Human Rights Council

World YWCA Programme Associate, Ramya Kudekallu shares her presentation from a panel discussion she was part of on ‘Sexual violence in the community’. The panel was hosted by the Permanent Mission of Canada at the Human Rights Council held in Geneva 27th May- 14th of June,2013. 

A 5 year old girl was gang raped on the 15th of April this year in Delhi. She was found with a 200ml bottle and candles inserted into her genitals. There were injuries on her lips, cheeks, arms and anus. Her neck had bite marks and bruise marks suggesting attempts to strangle her. She was left in a locked room for several days to die before she was rescued by authorities. Let me repeat her age. She was 5.

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Ramya Kudekallu

After the pivotal incident of gang rape and consequent death in India’s capital of a young woman, late last year, a committee lead by former Chief Justice of India,  J. S. Verma, was appointed by the government to submit a report to recommend amendments in the current law on rape.Report is worth a mention because it reinforced the reason for sexual violence in the Indian community and touched on the various failing of the system. Its findings, in my opinion, are no different to many other countries whose statistics are high in terms of sexual violence against women.

India has over 24,206 reported rapes reported every year since 2010, of these only 26% resulted in convictions. The Verma report indicated that failures on the part of the Government and police were the root cause behind crimes against women. There was a comprehensive affirmation of the insufficiency in recognition of discrimination, exploitation and suppression of women by political leaders. Although legislation provides the umbrella, governments and social structures have left women and their causes eroding and drenched in a thunderstorm of inequality.

The Verma committee report stated the mind set of gender bias depended more on social norms, and not merely on legal sanction. This has to be overcome by political will and aided by the necessary systemic changes in education and socially accepted behaviour. There have been repeated calls for governments to support the law and allow themselves to be held accountable on its failure. The passing of a mere bill and re-defining a crime is not enough. We must dig deeper.

With the new amendment in India, there is an inclusion of the broader word ‘sexual assault’ to replace ‘rape’ with a punishment of 7 seven years to life. Sexual assault causing death is punished now with up to 20Image years of imprisonment. The age of consent is 18 years. The change is welcome, but to me insufficient. More laws do not change the reality that the existing ones remain unimplemented.

There is a historical imbalance in consciousness against women in most parts of the world. It will take a new generation of both men and women to alter the image and progress towards equality. It simply is not enough that women occupy a few symbolic political positions; harness awareness or are categorically prioritised in new laws. No, the evidence of true empowerment is the extension of equality into all aspects of life, be it in norms, social structures, education, and economics.

The bricks lie in the heart of the problem and the solution. They lie within the women themselves. I have experienced and observed often there can be no greater wave of change than when those that subjected to affliction finally rise to fight against the system.

I was recently at a Women’s international Leadership Institute organised by my organisation, the YWCA. With representation from of young women from over 45 countries, never have I believed more strongly as both a legal professional and community worker that young women must be facilitated with tools to change their communities. They must have education, opportunities, choices, access to their rights and the spaces to express themselves without fear. The World YWCA report on the Future Young Women Want is a document completing the voices of young women from across the movement. It is in my mind a crucial reference point. It calls for

Elimination of all forms of violence and zero tolerance of violence against women and girls
Education initiatives that promote respectful relationships and equality amongst girls and boys as a preventive measure. YWCA of Australia, Ukraine and even India have set up resources around this.
Redefining masculinities and engaging men and boys as advocates
Targeted education and awareness with law enforcement personal, health professionals and the general population to ensure survivors of violence are treated with dignity and respect.

We forget that continuous domestic violence is communities go unnoticed. That around the world, children, and women of all ages habitually…let me repeat that word…HABITUALLY… are forced to tolerate violence in all its forms.

The tragedy of Delhi’s gang rape struck as a subsequent force of tremendous influence through the uproar of citizens in India. It is important for us to recognise people decided emphatically that enough was enough! I call the United Nations and all its respective agencies to hold member states accountable. To make every effort and explore every possibility to bring mechanisms such as the CEDAW, Beijing declaration, Resolution 1820 relevant to the millions of women and girls in the world who are exposed to these atrocities.

The dead line for our Millennium Development Goals is fast approaching us and in 2015 I urge our leaders to include elimination of all forms of violence against women as a target for the next phase.

The agitation around the incident that took place in Delhi is painful for the nation because it symbolised the continuum of brutality in our society. The rage reached far beyond the incident and for me it was a frustration that was both retrospective and prospective in nature. I thought of the thousands of untold stories, the lives lost that were not mentioned in papers and the survivors who continue their painful fight long after their bodies were left mutilated and violated.

We need the leaders of our nations to have the political will and resources to address this problem, we need appropriate legislation coupled with consistent conviction and sentencing of perpetrators and we need safe spaces for awareness of rights and services of women.

I was there, when the women of my country took to the streets. I was there when we flocked to our houses of faith praying for the life of the victim, her family and the thousands of others who fell into the margin of India’s rape statistics. I was there when we where beaten, gassed and water bombed because we felt our government and our laws were tremendously failing us.

For every such tragedy that follows whether in my home country or anywhere else in the world, it is only a confirmation for me that there is a long way to go. I hope we rise every single time such an atrocity occurs …and I hope we find the courage within ourselves to rise over …and over…and over again… till the day comes that we need not anymore.

Knowledge is Power!

By Cherelle Fruean from the YWCA of Samoa

Cherelle is a 21 year old from Samoa who has been involved with the YWCA for three weeks. In this short time, she has participated in the YWCA Aotearoa New Zealand/YWCA Samoa Young Women’s Leadership Training, the Asia Pacific Monitoring and Evaluation Meeting and the International Leadership Institute. Here she shares some of her learnings and her hopes for the future of YWCA Samoa revitalization.

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Cherelle Fruean

Three weeks ago today, I met an amazing woman named Sina Wendt-Moore. She was in Samoa at the time with other women from the YWCA of Aotearoa New Zealand conducting a Young Women’s Leadership Training in hopes of revitalizing the YWCA of Samoa. Twelve short days later, I was on a plane to Bangkok, Thailand, representing Samoa in the Asia Pacific Monitoring & Evaluation Meeting and the International Leadership Institute.

The past 10 days have been such an amazing learning experience! The lessons I have learned from my peers have been invaluable. I have gained an extensive knowledge on the issues that young women are facing in various countries around the world and what programs have been implemented to find solutions. For example, I learnt that:

  • In Fiji they take a Christian and scripture based approach that supports a young women’s rights to make informed decisions and be free from violence and discrimination.
  • In Haiti they have an after-school programme for girls which provides them with leadership skills and gives them intangible assets such as financial literacy, self-esteem and key economic concepts.
  • In Lebanon they hold interactive workshops for young men and women in high school. They focus on creating awareness of violence against women and gender discrimination.

These examples are only few of many. I have found that each delegate I talk to shares similar concerns for the young women in their country.

With 80 young women leaders from around the globe, we have built a strong and collaborative network of which we will we use to help each other, learn from one another and grow together as a team.

The mentors and guest speakers at both of the conferences have all been inspirational role models and women leaders. From each session I have expanded my knowledge set on a vast range of current issues and as a result, expanded my overall skill set. Knowledge truly is power! I now have more confidence to speak in public, to articulate myself and express my opinion.

In June 2013, a YWCA Samoa meeting will be held to discuss and plan a Leadership Programme for young women. I plan to take all the lessons I have learned and all the skills I have gained to fully contribute to this planning and further pass on these lessons to young women in my country.

To close, I would just like to send a big Fa’afetai Lava, Khob Khun Kaa and Thank You to the incredible women that made this experience possible for me. Juli Dugdale, Sina Wendt-Moore and the amazing YWCA mentors and facilitators, you have changed my life. I can only hope to inspire others as you have inspired me.

Young Women Leaders Envision Their Future

On the first day of the International Leadership Institute, delegates from all over the world were asked to reflect on their

From left to right: Silvina Gerbaldo , Viciane Wessitcheu  and Audrey Tauro

From left to right: Silvina Gerbaldo , Viciane Wessitcheu and Audrey Tauro

leadership journey and envision what they would like to be doing in 2018. Viciane Wessitcheu (YWCA Italy), Audrey Tauro (YWCA Zimbabwe) and Silvina Gerbaldo (YWCA Argentina) share their leadership dreams in French, English and Spanish.

Le premier jour de l’Institut International sur le Leadership, on a demandé aux déléguées du monde entier de réfléchir sur le parcours en matière de leadership et d’imaginer ce qu’elles voudraient être en train de faire en 2018. Viciane Wessitcheu (YWCA d’ Italie), Audrey Tauro (YWCAdu  Zimbabwe) et Silvina Gerbaldo (YWCA d’Argentine) partage leurs rêves de leadership en français, anglais et espagnol.

En el primer dia del Instituto de Liderazgo Internacional, delegadas de todos los lugares del mundo pudieron reflexionar sobre su recorrido como liderez al mismo tiempo se les ha preguntado de como se ven a ellas mismas en el 2018. Vaciane Wessitcheu (YWCA Italia), Audrey Tauro (YWCA Zimbabwe) and y Silvina Gerbaldo (YWCA Argentina) compartieron sus sueños de liderazgo. Esto lo hicieron en Frances, Ingles y Español.

Viciane Wessitcheu, YWCA of Italy:

“On pense bien souvent qu’en Europe, tous les droits humains sont plus ou moins acquis et l’on oublie alors que beaucoup d’entre eux y sont souvent bafoués. Me rendant compte que dans mon pays d’adoption, l’Italie, les droits des femmes en général et des femmes de couleur en particulier n’étaient pas toujours respectés, j’ai décidé de devenir agent du changement et de m’engager pour les droits des femmes immigrées en Italie.

Je pense que les femmes immigrées doivent essayer de se positionner en première ligne dans leur pays d’émigration pour lutter contre les injustices et défendre leurs droits et ceux de celles qui ont moins d’opportunités, et ne pas toujours déléguer aux autres, parler en leur nom, car elles savent mieux que quiconque les problèmes et difficultés qu’elles rencontrent.

Etre présente, relever des fonds et participer activement à la vie économique, sociale, et culturelle, pour être moi même membre du changement dans mon pays d’adoption est la raison qui m’a poussée à entrer en politique où je suis actuellement la responsable régionale de l’immigration.

Je m’implique et me bats aujourd’hui pour me donner des opportunités en espérant que d’ici 2018, mes compétences et mes expériences seront valorisée et que je pourrais ainsi être à mon tour mentor pour les jeunes filles immigrées, car je me sens responsable pour celles qui n’ont pas de voix et je voudrais responsabiliser mon gouvernement à ce sujet.”

“We often think that in Europe, all human rights are more or less respected. We often forget that a lot of them are still violated there. I have realised that in my country of adoption, Italy, women rights in general, and in particular black women rights, are not all protected and and the laws protecting human rights are not implemented. I have decided to become an agent of change and have committed myself to develop the rights of immigrant women in Italy.

I think that immigrant women should try to stand on the front line in their countries of emigration to advocate against injustices and defend their rights and the rights of  those who have less opportunities. We should not always delegate this task, we should speak out because we better know the problems and difficulties they face. Be active, do some fundraising and participate to the economical, social and cultural life. To be an agent of change in my country of adoption is the reason why I have started to enter into the political sphere where I am now the regional delegate in charge of immigration.

I am committed and I am advocating today to give me opportunities, hoping that by 2018, my skills and experiences will be valued and that I can be a mentor for young immigrant women, because I feel responsible for those who have no voice and I want to held my government accountable on this subject.”

Nosotros constantemente pensamos que en Europa, todos los Derechos Humanos son respetados; muy constantemente olvidamos que alli tambien se violan los Derecho Humanos. Yo me he dado cuenta que en el pais que me ha adoptado, Italia , los Derechos de las mujeres en general no son respetados y aun mas los Derechos de la mujeres negras y de color son aun menos reconocidos, al igual que no existe una implementacion de las Leyes que reconocen los Derechos Humanos. Yo me he comprometido a ser un agente de cambio y luchar por los derechos de las mujeres inmigrantes en Italia.

Yo pienso que las mujeres inmigrantes debemos estar en las primeras lineas de trabajo para abogar por nuestros derechos en los paises en los que vivimos, necesitamos luchar por la igualdad y apoyar a aquellas con menos oportunidades. Nosotras no debemos delegar esta tarea a nadie. Nosotras debemos hablar por nosotras mismas; ya que somos conocedoras de los problemas que enfrentamos.  Necesitamos ser mas activas; involucrarnos en las actividades sociales, economicas y culturales. Para ser un agente de cambio yo he decidido entrar en la esfera politica de mi pais de adopcion, esta es la razon por la cual me he convertido en la delegada regional cuya labor es promover cambios en el area de inmigracion.

Yo estoy comprometida y abogo por oportunidades que me permitan  incrementar mis habilidades como lider, de esa manera adquiero mayor experiencia y por tanto me puedo convertir en una metora para las mujeres jovenes que son inmigrantes, ya que creo que es mi responsabilidad ser voz de aquellos que no la tienen y tambien es importante que el gobierno se haga responsable y tome cartas en el asunto

Audrey Tauro, YWCA of Zimbabwe:

“The word enjoins us to write our visions down and make it plain. I have a dream, I have a vision to transform lives by giving shelter to troubled children all over the world. I see myself in business with lots of money that I will use to be a blessing to others, to develop social entrepreneurs and continue to use the word of God as a tool for transformation.”

“Le mot nous entraîne à transcrire sur le papier nos visions et de le faire clairement.  J’ai un rêve, j’ai une vision pour changer des vies en donnant  accès à des foyers pour des enfants faisant face à des problèmes tout autour du monde. Je me vois à la tête d’une entreprise avec beaucoup de profits qui seront alors utilisés aux bénéfices des autres, pour développer l’entreprenariat social et pour continuer d’utiliser la parole de Dieu comme un outil de changement.”

Cuando escribimos  acerca de nuestras visiones esto lo hace mas real. Yo tengo un sueño, yo tengo la vision de transformar vidas al proveer techo para niños y niñas que esten en dificultades en todas los lugares del mundo. Yo me veo con un negocio y teniendo mucho dinero, el cual usare para bendecir a otros; desarrollaria programas y negocios con contenido social y seguiria usando la palabra de Dios como una herramienta de transformacion.

Silvina Gerbaldo, YWCA of Argentina:

“Es el 2018. Yo me encuentro en cierta posición de toma de decisiones, con muchas personas a mi alrededor. Quizás en un puesto en Naciones Unidas, quizás en desde una Organización no Gubernamental, quizás desde un trabajo comunitario  pero siempre defendiendo, promoviendo y difundiendo la situación de la mujer en mi país. Me imagino como un nexo, una conexión o red entre mujeres de diferentes situación es social es y edades. Me imagino haciendo y no solo diciendo.”

“It is 2018. I am in a position of decision making with lots of people around me.  It is probably a position at the United Nations, maybe it is a position at a non-government organization, or perhaps in a community job- but I am always advocating, promoting and communicating about the situation of women in my country. I see myself like a link, a connection or in a network between women of different social contexts and ages. I see myself in action not only speaking about it.”

“Nous sommes en 2018. Je suis en position de prendre des décisions entourée de beaucoup de gens. C‘est probablement un poste au sein des Nations Unies, peut-être au sein d’une organisation non gouvernementale, ou peut-être un travail au coeur des communautés – mais dans tous les cas, je suis toujours en train de plaider, promouvoir et communiquer au sujet de la situation des femmes dans mon pays. Je me vois comme un lien, une connexion ou même un réseau entre les femmes de différents milieux sociaux et âges. Je m’imagine en action, pas seulement en train de parler de cela.”

My awesome experience at the Study Session

Krist Angela Ziçishti is a young woman volunteer in the YWCA of Albania. She was a participant at the European Study Session in Strasbourg and enthusiastically shares the lessons she learnt on leadership and the friends she made for life.

I am very happy to be here at the European Study Session, with all these great and strong young women! I have learned so much since I came here, especially about leadership.

Krist Angela Zicishti & Kgothatso Mokoena

I always thought that leadership is something you have to demand and be assertive about, that you had to be superior in some way or that you had to be smarter than other people. I have never really thought that I have the virtues to be a leader. But I now understand through the various exercises and sessions we participated in, that a leader has to have humility. A leader is also someone who knows what is right and stands for it no matter what. She has to be sincere, she has to be herself, and she always has to grow spiritually.

I was touched when Juli Dugdale, Global Programme Manager Women’s Leadership and Movement Building at the World YWCA, was talking about leadership. I was somehow at  peace with myself and accepting of myself, that somehow the qualities of leadership were in me too. It was just a retrospective of my life. It was like all my living came in front of me and was telling to me

“Be yourself! You are great!”

I realized that there were moments where I had set an example of people around me to be themselves and be comfortable with their personalities. Everyone has their own charisma, everyone has their own defects but these are what make us special and beautiful.

An experience I had that was extremely meaningful to me was a session where we were divided into groups and asked to design campaigns. We were also given themes to base our campaigns on. My working group received the theme of ‘violence against women’. We presented a very short movie ,with no words,  just the expressions of our faces and gestures.

We filmed it with a lot of passion , giving our best , and really getting into our roles and characters. We had a lot fun  and laughter too, especially with my mistakes during the takes of the video.

I love working in a team because you have wonderful friends that encourage you to go on, to have dreams, and maybe one day these dreams will become my reality. I will say it again , I am so happy that these young women came into my life, and they came like an hurricane , determined, they have the will to succeed , they give me positive energy . I am going to miss them!  I feel so sad and so happy at the same time that the study session will soon end and we have to part. But now I will have friends from all over the world and I will celebrate them all.  They are all wonderful leaders in their own unique ways.

I love you girls… don’t ever forget me…!!

The Value of our “C”

Erica Lewis is a former intern from the World YWCA Office, a former board member of the YWCA Australia and Life Member of the YWCA of Canberra .

The ‘C’ in YWCA is often a source of comment for those outside the movement, and sometimes a source of discomfort inside the movement. My home association is a secular organisation that welcomes members and service users from all faiths and none. However, as a person who sees her social justice work as an extension of my faith, I look forward to participating in regional and global meetings, because I know questions of faith will be discussed.

Erica Lewis
Erica Lewis

I sometimes reflect that I am better schooled in ‘feminist thought’ than I am in theology. This has on occasion, meant sitting in pews listening to patriarchal interpretations of Christianity that I know are not the messages I take from reading the Bible – but my lack of theological training limits my ability to engage in debate. Therefore, each engagement with worship at regional and global YWCA meetings is a valuable opportunity to expand my understanding of feminist theology.

In many countries, patriarchal interpretations of scripture are used to restrict women’s rights and so it is vital that women of faith are given the theological tools to challenge interpretations of our faith that are used to support harmful traditional practices. That is why the devotions at the European Study Session will combine the study of the foundational texts of both Christianity and human rights.

Our first devotion at the European Study Session opened by each of us in turn reading aloud the articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and we closed by saying the Lord’s prayer. Both activities were done in the diversity of languages of the attendees at worship. United by our membership of the World YWCA and our belief in the universality of women’s rights we reached across cultures, language and traditions to recognize the important role that faith plays in our leadership.

Small changes make a big difference

Eliana Tahiri was a participant at the European YWCAs study session 2013. She is an active volunteer at the YWCA of Albania and shares her spirit to make a difference.

You know that feeling you get on a lazy Sunday afternoon when you realize that the weekend is over and a whole tiring week is ahead of you? Well, this time, my Sunday, the 5th of May, 2013 when the European Study Session began, was different, my Sunday was special.

Eliana Tahiri

Eliana Tahiri

It is not every day you have the chance to visit Strasbourg. It is not every day you have the chance to raise your voice and fight for your rights fearlessly and in a free space. It is not every day you have the chance to meet people from all around the world and feel like you are a all so alike. Can you imagine doing all this in ONE week?

Through the various sessions, we each had the chance to put all of our thoughts and project plans on actual paper.  A project plan is a design for a programme to address a direct or indirect violation of human rights. First we learned the theoretical part and what the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was and how it applied to us. We also learnt what a project is and what a project presentation should look like, as well as training on presentation skills and everything about fundraising.

The second part (the best part!) was putting into practice everything we learned during the day, making a project proposal which we could actually develop! We were offered the chance to change something,..ANYTHING concerning us and our countries. We had the chance to make a difference.

But do you know the ‘funny’ part was? While trying to choose the main idea of the project, a feeling of excitement, dreaming of making a difference we got suddenly mixed with confusion!  How can we choose only one when every day we experience unfairness, cruelty and inequality? So many issues, so many problems, so many target groups, so many homeless people, survivors and victims of abuse and violence,  people living with diseases,  people living with disabilities  and… so little time.

The secret is: taking a deep breath and walking in small steps. Each of these small steps creates small changes and these small changes make a big difference. Together, we can make everything happen!

The Portrayal of Women in the Media

By  Amy Smith

Amy is from the UK.  She works for a project by Sheffield YWCA in the UK called “Peile Court and Tulips” and her role there  is to support teenage parents to learn the skills they need to live independently and be successful parents to their children

She is a participant at the European Study Session taking place in Strasbourg and shares her views on the objectification of ‘women’ in advertising and media today.

Amy Smith

Amy Smith

 

I am lucky enough to be here in Strasbourg, representing YWCA GB at the European study session with a focus on young women’s leadership, gender equality and human rights.  Parts of ta session that I attended left me feeling extremely disconcerted. The session looked at the portrayal of women in advertising, and while I was aware women can be portrayed in a negative way, I was left shocked by the advertising campaigns that some very high profile brands have used. There were some common themes that we looked at which I will now explain here.

Sexism

Gender stereotyping is a key theme in many adverts, portraying women as typically young and physically attractive and filling the stereotypical ‘good housewife” role. Many adverts display women in these roles that are derogatory to women.

Subordination

Another common theme in advertising is the presentation of women as subordinate to men.  They are often presented as though their worth is determined by their appeal to men.  Women are also positioned in inferior ways or in sexually related positions.  Women are referred to in a sexually derogatory manner, suggesting they their role is to fulfil a man’s sexual desires.

Sexual Violence

Something about the session that particularly troubled me was the disturbing use of images showing sexual violence against women. I was appalled, for example,  to see the Dolce & Gabanna advert that depicts a woman being pinned down by a man while other men stand over her looking nonchalantly. Dolce & Gabanna is a brand many women buy yet they are using scenes alluding to gang rape to advertise their brand!

The Objectification of Women

I felt both saddened and shocked at how widespread this kind of imagery is in the advertising world, especially in such well known and high profile branded products! I will certainly be paying closer attention in the future to the portrayal of women in adverts to inform my product choices. I will certainly boycotting those brands that depict women in a derogatory manner. A stronger stand needs to be made against this type of advertising and we need to challenge the way women are viewed in our societies.  I hope this article encourages others to join me in boycotting brands that portray women in such degrading ways!