Celebrating father of the Nation, Nelson ‘Madiba’ Mandela

By Kgothatso Mokoena, World YWCA Programme Associate, writes below on the life of  the First Black South African President Nelson Mandela and the father of the Great Nation of South Africa, Kgothatso’s native land.

1918 – Born in the Eastern Cape

Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela

He was born in 1918 into the Xhosa-speaking Thembu people in Umtata in the Eastern Cape of South Africa, Often called by his clan name – “Madiba”.

Born Rolihlahla Dalibhunga, he was given his English name, Nelson, by a teacher at his school.

His father, a Counsellor to the Thembu royal family, died when Nelson Mandela was nine, and he was placed in the care of the acting regent of the Thembu people, Chief Jongintaba Dalindyebo.

1943 – Joined African National Congress

In 1941, aged 23, he ran away from an arranged marriage and went to Johannesburg, and this is where he started his political Journey. Two years later, Nelson, completed his Law degree in Witswaterand University and opened a law practice in Johannesburg with his partner, Oliver Tambo. It is during all this that he was exposed to liberal, radical and Africanist influence. His passion for politics was highly influenced by the state of racism and discrimination at the time. The same year, he joined the African National Congress (ANC) and later co-founded the ANC Youth League.

He married his first wife, Evelyn Mase, in 1944. They were divorced in 1958 after having four children.

1956 – Charged with high treason, but charges dropped

Together, Mr. Mandela and Mr. Tambo campaigned against apartheid, the system devised by the all-white National Party which oppressed the black majority, then later on , early in 1956, Mr. Mandela was charged with high treason, along with 155 other activists, but the charges against him were dropped after a four-year trial. His Resistance to apartheid grew, as he mainly stood against the new Pass Laws, which dictated where black people were allowed to live and work.

In 1958, Mr. Mandela married Winnie Madikizela, who was later to take an active role in the campaign to free her husband from prison

1962 – Arrested, convicted of sabotage, sentenced to five years in prison

He was eventually arrested and charged with sabotage and attempting to violently overthrow the government

Sadness and anger clouded the streets of Soweto, Alexander and Diepkloof as the news spread that the Youth leader has been arrested once again and this time taken to a place where no one know . ‘Khulul ‘u Mandela’ (Release Mandela) song was then sang every time a police van passed by, this broth no good but more torture and deaths to more 80 activists at the time.

1964 – Charged again, sentenced to life

Tension with the apartheid regime grew, and soared to new heights in 1960 when 69 black people were shot dead by police in the Sharpeville massacre. Later on, in winter of 1964 Mr. Mandela was charged again, to Life sentence, sent to isolation where he spend many painful years in hard labor.

In the space of 12 months between 1968 and 1969, Mr. Mandela’s mother died and his eldest son was killed in a car crash but he was not allowed to attend the funerals.

While in jail on Robben Island in the 1980s, Mr. Mandela contracted tuberculosis and he had to negotiate in order to receive treatment. “Only free men can negotiate. Prisoners cannot enter into contracts”.

He remained in prison on Robben Island for 18 years before being transferred to Pollsmoor Prison on the mainland in 1982.

As Mr. Mandela and other ANC leaders languished in prison or lived in exile, the youths in black townships did their best to fight white minority rule which resulted in hundreds of them being killed and may injured and thousand forced out of school. With one voice, the ANC led by the exiled Mr. Tambo, launched an international campaign against apartheid but ingeniously decided to focus it on one cause and one person – the demand to release Mr. Mandela.

“In prison, you come face to face with time. There is nothing more terrifying”

Nelson Mandela

1990 – Freed from prison

The pressure produced results, and in 1990, after spending 27 years in prison, President FW de Klerk lifted the ban on the ANC. Mr. Mandela was released from prison and talks on forming a new multi-racial democracy for South Africa began

Later in 1992 Mr. Mandela separated from his wife, Winnie

1993 – Wins Nobel Peace Prize

In December 1993, Mr. Mandela and Mr. de Klerk were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

1994 – Elected first black president

Though was still young at the time, I could remember the songs and ululates as Mr. Mandela become the country’s first black president four years later and to play a leading role in the drive for peace in other spheres of conflict. During his term, he entrusted his deputy, Thabo Mbeki, with the day-to-day business of the government, while he concentrated on the ceremonial duties of a leader, building a new international image of South Africa.

1999 – Steps down as leader

Mr. Mandela stepped down from Presidency and declared he wanted to continue serving ‘His’ people in other ways. After his official retirement, his public appearances were mostly connected with the work of the Mandela Foundation, a charitable fund that he founded (In 2003-2006 I was one of the programme co-coordinators in Matjhabeng local Municipality).

The programme was on Youth programmes, the main focus was on Youth development, Child and family welfare, orphans and vulnerable children, children heading households and children affected and infected by HIV and AIDS. Within this programmes we developed youth in life skills (Computer, Business, Accounting and handwork etc.). Most of our beneficiaries have shared their stories and will continue to do so as they grow. Nelson Mandela had a great passion for young women development and empowerment, and because of this his foundation introduced a programme called “Youth, Change Agents”, this mainly focused on young women’s leadership.

Since stepping down as president in 1999, Mr Mandela became South Africa’s high-profile ambassador, campaigning against HIV and AIDS and helping to secure his country’s right to host the 2010 football World Cup.

2001 – Diagnosed with prostate cancer

Mr. Mandela married Graca Machel on his 80th birthday (widow to the late President of Mozambique Mr. Samora Machel) and was later diagnosed with prostate cancer and survived. Even though he had serious health issues, he spent time negotiating for peace in other African countries including DRC and Burundi amongst others.

2004 – Retires from public life

At the age of 85 he retired from his public life and shared a wish to spend time with his family and friends and just engaged when attention was really needed. “Don’t call me, I’ll call you,” he warned anyone thinking of inviting him to future engagements.

2005 – Announces his son has died of an HIV-related illness

It was time when taboos still highly surrounded the AIDS epidemic, Mr Mandela announced that his son had died of AIDS, and urged South Africans to talk about AIDS ” to make it appear like a normal illness”.

2007 – Forms The Elders group

On his 89th birthday, after the death of his surviving son Makgatho, he formed The Elders: a group of leading world figures, to offer their expertise and guidance “to tackle some of the world’s toughest problems”.

2010 – Appears at closing ceremony of World Cup

Tata’s wish came true, he wanted to see the world cup in African soil, and was blessed as it was hosted by his beloved country, South Africa, and appeared to greet the guest and fellow country men.

The country continues to celebrate him and later 2012 the first South African banknotes featuring his face went into circulation.

In the news recently, it has been reported that Nelson Mandela has not been well, and indeed it is true, he has been treated in hospital for the past two years, and in 2011 he was diagnosed with abdominal problems and later went for Cholecystectomy (removal of gall bladder).

But in recent months he has been troubled repeatedly by a lung infection. Today marks the 22nd day in hospital since June 8th, 2013 the whole world is in prayer for his speedy recovery and good wishes for the family.

Nelson Mandela’s life is a true model of leadership; his life has given me a life long lesson of humanity. His charisma, self-deprecating sense of humour and lack of bitterness over his harsh treatment, will continue to motivate me.

South Africans have been holding an all-night prayer vigil for former President Nelson Mandela, outside his former home in Soweto and the hospital in Pretoria where the World YWCA General Secretary Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda and YWCA-SA led in prayers.

I wish Nelson ‘Tata’ Mandela and the family all the best, and would like to call upon the politicians and media to show respect by dedicating this time to the family. I also wish to encourage South Africans to continue to celebrate a life well lived, a life shared by all for all, a life of a father who’s gift to us worth more than Gold.

Nelson Mandela

Speaking from the dock in the Rivonia court room, Mr. Mandela used the stand to convey his beliefs about democracy, freedom and equality.

“I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities,” he said.

“It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

My Women Deliver 2013 Experience

By Sarah Ashaya Soysa, from the YWCA of Sri Lanka, whom recently attended Women Deliver Conference 2013, representing Y-Peer Sri Lanka as part of the 100 Young Leaders of Women Deliver. Below Sarah shares her experience:

I was super excited to be a part of the largest global event of the decade to focus on the health and empowerment of girls and women- WOMEN DELIVER 2013! I felt equally excited when I touched down in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I even had the pleasure of meeting a couple of famous Sri Lankan doctors and parliamentarians in the flight itself and this made me realise that this was a huge conference. As a young person I felt that we (young people) are important and was eager to see what other arrangements and great programmes we would have in the conference.

sarah ashaya soysa & Thushi Vijay

Sarah Ashaya Soysa & Thushi Vijay

I took part in several great sessions and learned a lot of strategies and good practices on youth friendly service delivery models. The importance of investing in young women was discussed in most panels including the opening ceremony and this was given a lot of importance. Another hot topic was the need for a conversation with men, engaging men in the struggle for equality for women and girls. During the panel the following areas were discussed:

What strategies have worked and the success of engaging men in campaigns,

Shared experience of country best practices from participants.

Different perspectives of certain people on engaging men both positive and negative.

I also attended a meeting where several advocates on safe abortions got together to plan their activities for September 28th, 2013 and to learn about what Asia Pacific Safe Abortion Partnership has been doing. Sri Lanka suggested a photography session on advocating for safe abortion where I and my fellow youth activists will be playing a major role. It was great to see so many discussions around claiming our rights to sexual and reproductive health, how political commitments to end AIDS can dive improvements in women’s sexual and reproductive health, what political commitments governments have and why they are not met. In conjunction with this we addressed peer education models in such settings and access to safe abortion care under the international human rights legal frame work. In Asia it’s very much about who we know when it comes to advocacy not what we do or what we know! Policy advocacy and budget advocacy, the importance of stressing the same message over and over, Vertical and horizontal progress of advocacy are a continual battle.

In the conference they had ‘The cinema corner’ which was a room that screened inspiring films related to women and girls empowerment. It was great as many touching stories, projects and documentaries were shown giving us the movie atmosphere and the exhibition halls were amazing. Many booths had good information, innovative ideas, showcased their work and shared their best practices.

Sadly, however the youth corner (a youth friendly space-zone) was not very vibrant and active and they didn’t have any cool activities for youth to be engaged in other than the daily meetings taken by the 100 young leaders. The youth corner was mostly deserted and no enthusiasm was shown. This could have been improved much and furthermore young people should have been part of the opening and closing panel discussions and ceremonies, this would have been super!

Instead of tokenizing young people, we want our voices really heard this would have been more interesting to me personally.

There were plenty of interesting important events and side events to attend and it was very difficult to choose which one to go to. It was too good and I just wish we had a better possibility of getting all the knowledge and expertise from different panelists and discussions. As a whole the experience I got and the friends I made were great! The final panel discussion was awesome. Kavita N. Ramdaas, Ford Foundation Representative and Global Fund Senior Advisor, Former President and Chief Executive Officer, of course you are inspiring!

Thank you women deliver 2013!

Stories from Women in Syria

By Jo Allebone World YWCA Short-term Advocacy Intern, Jo attended the 23rd Session of the Human Rights Council  (HRC) in Geneva, Switzerland. (Original source of blog: http://jojoia.wordpress.com/2013/06/14/day-18-stories-from-women-in-syria/)

This morning we attended the last Women’s Rights Caucus for the Human Rights Council. The Caucus is co-organised by the World YWCA, World Women’s Summit Foundation (WWSF) and Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF). The meeting provided an opportunity for members to hear from women who are working in NGOs in Syria and Jordan on what is ‘really’ happening to women and girls in refugee settings in these countries.

Jo Allebone

Jo Allebone

This is an important issue for the World YWCA as it has member associations in Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine and Egypt – all of which are affected by and connected to the Syrian conflict. Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda, World YWCA General Secretary welcomed us to the meeting, she’s always so powerful when she speaks and brings everyone right back to the heart of why we’re here in Geneva.She reminded us that we need to make sure there’s a connection between what’s being talked about at the HRC and the realities of what women refugees are experiencing.

We know that the HRC will look at adopting the resolution on violence against women, and she challenged us to consider how today’s discussion can inform our broader engagement and advocacy at the HRC. She also noted that we need an intergenerational focus in our dialogue, from girls and young women as refugees, to women and mothers, and older women. The first guest speaker was Ms Fardous Albahra, from the Syrian Women’s League (SWL), who reminded us that what’s happening in Syria is not an armed conflict, it’s a revolution to reach democracy and justice.

The regimes have been focusing on different strategies to crack down on the revolution. Many Syrian women from a range of social classes have been raped and imprisoned, but there has been a particular focus on disadvantaged women. The aim of such tactics are to break the human spirit, disempower communities, and ultimately deter people from continuing their participation on the revolution.

She shared with us an insight into politics in Syria. Unsurprisingly, very few women are involved in Syrian politics. Fewer still are part of the women’s movement.

The majority of the women involved in Syrian politics don’t support the SWL’s call for women to have the right to pass their nationality on to their children. It was in fact the democratic secular men in parliament who supported it. The SWL hopes that the revolution will end soon, and that a secular and democratic government will encourage women’s participation in decision-making, politics and public life. They called for the international community to oppose human rights violations, and to support their long-term strategy and constitution for women to become a part of political life in Syria.

Next we heard from Ms Sabah Al Hallak, also a representative from the SWL who provided a brief overview of how the conflict in Syria began, and reminded us that women are disproportionately affected during times of conflict.

She said that women in Syria are calling for peace, and the SWL is doing whatever it can to seek women’s involvement in the political process, and demand women’s rights in the next government’s agenda. She noted that the media has played a big role in enforcing negative framing of women, and in exaggerating claims about violations towards women.

Unfortunately I didn’t have time to chat to her about this (she was whisked off to her next speaking engagement), but I presume that the government and media are closely aligned and work together to perpetuate a sense of fear among Syrian people.

Ms Dana Abu Sham, from the Arab Women Organisation of Jordan (AWOJ) reminded us that domestic violence is seen as a part of some Syrian cultures, particularly rural areas, and that this was occurring prior to the revolution.

She spoke of the AWOJ’s work outside of refugee camps, and the current challenges around data collection, and so was reluctant to make concrete statements about which issues were most impacting on women.

She shared a very different perspective on the way that men, particularly Arab men view women from Syria, and women from Jordan.

“Syrian women have a reputation of being fair-skinned, very beautiful, knowing how to please men (both physically and emotionally), and being sweet-talkers.

Jordanian women on the other hand are not as fair-skinned, they are more aggressive and they will stand up to a man”, she said.

It’s not uncommon for wealthy Arab men to fly into Syria or Jordan for one week, pay a small dowry to the girl’s impoverished family, marry her, and after a week of pleasure leave her forever – with nothing.

When child brides get married and do not register their marriages in host communities, then it is considered illegal in that country. Moreover if she were to have a baby, then automatically that child is considered illegitimate. The ramifications on her rights and the rights of the child are overwhelming. So what can women’s organisations in Geneva do? We were urged to continue our work on women’s rights especially in refugee settings, protecting women from all forms of violence, particularly in conflict situations, and to advocate for women to be involved in peace negotiations.


 Prior to the 21st Ordinary Session of the Heads of State and Government in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on 26-27 May, the Gender is My Agenda Campaign (GIMAC) network, held a Meeting on Gender Mainstreaming in the African Union on 20-21 May. This meeting marked the 10th GIMAC anniversary. Below Beline Kanimba Unogeye, from YWCA- Rwanda shares her thoughts and experience during the African Union (AU) Summit. 

What have I learnt this week? There are no words that would do justice to what I have taken from this experience. Two words: WOMEN’S EMPOWERMENT, over the last few days these two words have been on the tip of all tongues and the topic of all discussions.

Lucrece Funmilayo Falolou, YWCA Rwanda and Huguette Rufine Yakpa from the YWCA of Benin

Lucrece Funmilayo Falolou, YWCA Rwanda and Huguette Rufine Yakpa from the YWCA of Benin

On Sunday the first question we were asked among us YWCA women was: What is the one thing that will change the lives of young women in Africa? A number of answers were given but I would like to highlight only a few of them because I believe they were fundamental in steering our thinking wheel. The first being women’s empowerment of course, if women in Africa are empowered their lives will change forever, if they have access to information they will able to share it and empower other women through mentorship. The third suggestion that struck me was that women need equal opportunity to show what they are capable of doing.

As you all may see these points build on each other, these young women’s lives will change because if we start accessing information, we will empower and mentor them, then they will be able to show what they are capable of doing. This ladies would be how we could achieve the goal given to us this week of Intergenerational Leadership between young women and their mentors.

Other lessons learnt on this first day include but are not limited to, the global strategic movement whose vision is a fully inclusive world where, Justice, Peace, health, human dignity and freedom care for the environment are promoted and sustained through leadership.

We were also given the opportunity to fully immerse ourselves in the concept of safe spaces and how to apply the safe spaces model. We discussed the general characteristics of a safe space for example we all understood that a safe space is a co-operative and supportive place, that has a presence of moral and ethical values where one can express their thoughts and feelings freely.

The second part of my experience was being able to attend the GMAC conference that was held for two days May 20th and 21st. I was primarily captured by the simple but powerful quotes shared by the panelists. As well as the enriching discussions between the panelists and those of us who attended the meeting. When we first begun the conference Grace Kabayo, Executive Director, Pan African Gender Association for Development, suggested to everyone to leave the GMAC conference with a distinguished mindset. I felt that opening the meeting with such a powerful thought shared set way for open minded discussions and contributions.

One of the questions asked by a 13 year old girl that stayed in mind was, if tradition helped or limited young African women? It makes wonder if a child this young is questioning tradition have we really become orphans of tradition or victims of modernization? That question I leave to you. During our discussion we saw that young women have been limited by tradition but also as Hon.Phoebe Asiyo, Chair of Kenyan Eminent Persons and former parliamentarian stated “We can go nowhere if we do not know where we came from.” It limits us in the sense that some traditional practices set us back physically and emotionally, for example the woman who shared the story about how she was forced to sleep with her husband for 3 days after his death, all this in the name of tradition. To this degree we see how tradition limits us, which is why intergenerational dialogue is important because values are dynamic. If we as women can come together and try to fight against such practices then we can move forward. The way to fight for a voice is by uniting. This way tradition will hear our cries. As Dr Reggy Anyango said “Africa must unite or parish. Final independence will give us voice and power”.

Heartbreaking stories, statistics, and truths about children in conflict

By Jo Allebone World YWCA Short-term Advocacy Intern, Jo is currently attending the 23rd Session of the Human Rights Council  (HRC) in Geneva, Switzerland. (Original source of blog: http://jojoia.wordpress.com/2013/06/08/day-12-heartbreaking-stories-statistics-and-truths-about-children-in-conflict/)

Today we attended an event on on the human rights of children during conflict, sponsored by The Worldwide Movement for Children’s Rights.

His Excellency Jean-Marc Hoscheit, Permanent Representative of Luxembourg opened by saying that without the very real possiblity of punishment, there is no way of preventing children’s rights from being violated during conflict situations.

He said that in terms of doing justice for children who’s rights have been violated during conflict, punishing the perpetrator is but a fragment of the picture.

More importantly it’s about acknowledging that their childhood has been completely destroyed, and that they require ongoing support to be able to reintegrate back into the community. They need physical rehabilitation, psychological support, and education.

More than 3 million children in Syria suffer from the consequences of the ongoing conflict. Many  have died trying to find hospitals or shelter.

A whole generation of Syrian children have been traumatised, raped, mutilated, and murdered. There are frequent reports of them being used as human shields, as well as trained as combatants and messengers during armed conflict.

Mr Hoscheit reiterated Luxembourg’s commitment to ending the bloodshed in Syria, and called on the international community to respect international agreements and honour their duties.

Mr Victor Ullom, International Commission of Inquiry on Syria shared with us some horrendous statistics from his most recent report on kidnapping, torture, children being killed due to being suspected combatants or spies, and children being forced to watch their parents being killed. In 2013 alone, over 40 child combatants have been killed according to his reports.

However, it’s highly likely that these numbers are underrepresented due to the difficulties of accessing data and reporting of such incidences. The Syrian Government doesn’t let the Committee conduct any investigations inside the country which definitely restricts their efforts. They do the best they can by talking to NGOs, people exiting the country, and they use Skype to interview people inside the country.

Next on the panel was powerful and passionate Justice Renate Winter from the CRC Committee, who began with another heart-breaking statistic: there are more than 380 thousand child soldiers around the world.


Justice Winter recounted how she has seen many child soldiers in her life as a judge, and not one of them isn’t traumatised.

She talked about many children between the ages of 4 and 10 years of age who know nothing but war and violence. Sadly, she said that she sees that the average age of child soldiers aren’t increasing, they’re decreasing.

When chatting with a war lord in Sierra Leone, he told her that the problem is that there’s no cheaper weapon than a child – they don’t eat much, they are “stupid” and will do things that an adult soldier would never do, they are readily available, and they are easy to intimidate.

He told her that when she came to him with an equal alternative that he would stop.

And then another harrowing story. A war lord had sent 200 children to cross a field that he knew was littered with land mines. Once the children had crossed (there were few left at the end), the war lord then sent his precious adult soldiers safely across the field.

She said one of the major problems with the international justice system is that there isn’t a single government in the world that would pay for the years of rehabilitation needed to provide the victims and witnesses of these crimes with the kind of care that they need in order to heal and reintegrate into the community.

There was some discussion with panelists and delegates about prevention – how can you stop this from happening? While there are some efforts to educate and work with some military groups regarding the use of child soldiers and the impact of conflict on children, the outlook is pretty bleak.

According to Justice Winter, there is no way of stopping it, and that the best we can do is better deal with adult perpetrators and children (be they victims, witnesses or perpetrators) in international and national courts. Her belief is that no child should be convicted of war crimes, and that adults should feel the full force of the law.

I left this session with a heavy heart.

I’m glad it’s Friday so I have time to digest all of this, and reflect on another intense week of learning.

Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights & Premiere of Girl Rising

By Jo Allebone World YWCA Short-term Advocacy Intern, Jo is currently attending the 23rd Session of the Human Rights Council  (HRC) in Geneva, Switzerland. (Original source of blog: http://jojoia.wordpress.com/2013/06/06/day-12-sexual-and-reproductive-health-rights-premiere-of-girl-rising/)

Today the Sexual Rights Initiative and the World YWCA co-hosted a side event on sexual and reproductive health rights and the post 2015 agenda.

Kgothatso Mokoena

Kgothatso Mokoena

Panellists included:

  • Dianela Pi, Ministro Conserjero, Mission of Uruguay
  • Alanna Armitage, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)
  • Sandeep Prasad, Sexual Rights Initiative and High Level Task Force for ICPD
  • Kgothatso Ekisa Mokoena, World YWCA

Ms Armitage spoke about the recent global survey that was conducted in 176 member states, providing data on what states are doing to combat gender equality and to support women’s empowerment. Some of the key findings from the report included that:

  • 85% of all countries reported commitments to increase women’s participation in the formal and informal economy
  • 70% are committed to improving the welfare of the girl child
  • 8 of 10 countries are committed to increase women’s accessibility to information and counselling on sexual and reproductive health
  • 50.4% are committed to providing access to safe abortion services
  • 158 countries have implemented laws to increase the legal age of marriage to 18 years

However, 3 of 4 countries with the highest rates of child marriage don’t show commitment to ending it as a practice.

Ms Mokoena from the World YWCA did a great job of providing a grass-roots perspective on sexual and reproductive health, highlighting the gap between service provision and education as a major issue.

She spoke about the importance of implementing both service provision and education at a community level, to ensure that women, young women and girls are well informed of the options available to them.

For me, the biggest take-home messages from this session were:

  • sexual and health rights are human rights. We must defend the gains we’ve already achieved, and continue to push forward where there is resistance
  • the 2015 millenium development agenda isn’t being adequately monitored and reviewed, and this needs to be addressed
  • education is crucial – we need to ensure that women, young women and girls can make informed decisions about their sexuality and sexual and reproductive health rights
  • cultural practices, tradition and religion are never reasons to prevent women from accessing reproductive and sexual health care, including safe abortion
  • we’ll never transform gender relations unless men and boys are part of the solution
  • There’s a lot of work to do!

After the session we attended the premiere screening of Girl Rising, hosted by Plan International.


The film spotlights the personal journeys of nine unforgettable girls born in unforgiving circumstances and their empowerment. The film aims to raise awareness that education and empowering girls can break the cycle of poverty in just one generation. You can read more about their work here.

READ MORE FROM JO ON HER BLOG PAGEhttp://jojoia.wordpress.com/

Annual day of discussion on women’s human rights & learning to read between the lines

By Jo Allebone World YWCA Short-term Advocacy Intern, Jo is currently attending the 23rd Session of the Human Rights Council  (HRC) in Geneva, Switzerland. (Original source of blog: http://jojoia.wordpress.com/2013/06/06/day-11-annual-day-of-discussion-on-womens-human-rights-learning-to-read-between-the-lines/)

On Wednesday we were back in the main room (the one with the funky ceiling) for the Annual Day of Discussion on Women’s Rights – great to see a whole day dedicated to this subject at the Human Rights Council (HRC).

United Nations

United Nations

It was an important day for the World YWCA and the Y movement, because we had prepared a statement that focused on child, early and forced marriages that Jenna read out to the assembly in the afternoon. There’s no guarantee for NGOs as to whether they’ll actually have an opportunity to speak, because it all depends on what states have to say (they are given priority) and how much time remains after they have all spoken.

Here’s a video we made in the lunch break that explains what the statement is all about:


The first panel discussion of the morning focused on reflecting on efforts to eliminate violence against women, from the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action to the 57th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW).

The opening statement was made by Ms Navanethem Pillay, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, with the discussion moderated by Ms Rashida Manjoo, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences.

Panellists included:

  • Ms Patricia Schulz, member of the CEDAW Committee
  • Ms Florence Butegwa, Representative to Ethiopia (OIC), and Representative to the African Union and UNECA, UN Women
  • Dr Fatma Khafagy, Ombudsperson of Gender Equality, Egypt
  • Ms. Simone Cusack, Senior Policy and Research Officer, Australian Human Rights Commission; Author and Expert on Gender Stereotyping; and
  • Juan Carlos Areán, Member of the Secretary-General’s Network of Men Leaders senior program director at the Family Violence Prevention Fund (FVPF)

Ms Pillay provided an overview of the recent history of women’s human rights, highlighting CEDAW and the Vienna Declaration as milestones in reframing the debate on women’s human rights.

Ms Schulz spoke on behalf of the CEDAW committee and how it worked to frame violence against women as a form of discrimination. She also noted the importance of the contribution that NGOs make on informing this issue, and that the Committee has institutionalised the participation of NGOs and civil society in its work.

She said the influence of the Committee is growing despite the fact that some states don’t implement its recommendations. However, she also acknowledged that
violence against women continues all over the world and that dealing with it is not just the job of the Committee alone.

While the Committee has no legal power to enforce its recommendations and many states are slow and irregular in their reporting, the CEDAW convention provides a holistic legal framework to be able to effectively tackle this issue in an international setting like the HRC.

Ms Butegwa then shared some positive trends regarding violence against women, noting that 34 African countries now have legislation to eliminate violence against women. She thanked the participation of the CEDAW committee and supportive states in making this a reality.

We then heard from states on the issue, what their country had done to address the issue, and their suggestions for next steps to eliminate gender discrimination and violence against women. States who were particularly strong in their positions included: Brazil, Estonia, Canada, Lithuania, Chile, South Africa, Norway, USA, and Greece, as well as the European Union.

I noticed a common theme emerging, that was first noted by Ms Pillay in her opening address, and that is that implementation of resolutions is still a big problem.

Sierra Leone suggested that we need detailed action plans that are country-specific, include targeted strategies for different population groups, and media strategies and effective message dissemination for public education and awareness-raising campaigns.

READ MORE FROM JO ON HER BLOG PAGEhttp://jojoia.wordpress.com/




Courageous Human Rights Defenders

By Jo Allebone World YWCA Short-term Advocacy Intern, Jo is currently attending the 23rd Session of the Human Rights Council  (HRC) in Geneva, Switzerland. (Original source of blog: http://jojoia.wordpress.com/2013/06/03/day-9-courageous-human-rights-defenders-and-beyond-the-rhetoric-on-eliminating-violence-against-women/)

Most Monday mornings I could happily forget. But this one was different, it was definitely one to remember.

Jo Allebone

Jo Allebone

The first session of the day was a side event on forgotten and ignored conflicts co-hosted by the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), Femmes Africa Solidarité and the World YWCA.

The phenomenal Madeleine Rees, General Secretary of WILPF chaired the session and opened by reminding us that while the topic of discussion isn’t the most high profile, it’s important for the UN to be reminded that they have an obligation to track and monitor these issues.

The panel comprised some of the most courageous women I have ever encountered:

  • Aminatou Haidar, President of the Collective of Sahrawi Human Rights Defenders (CoDESA), Western Sahara
  • Eliane Naika, Senator, Madagascar
  • Brigitte Balipou, Board Member of Femmes Africa Solidarité (FAS) and Founding Member of the Women Lawyer Association of the Central African Republic, Central African Republic
  • Nyaradazayi Gumbonzvanda, General Secretary, World YWCA

Aminatou Haidar is an incredible Sahrawi human rights activist and an advocate of the independence of Western Sahara. She’s well known for her non-violent protests, has been imprisioned several times because of her independence advocacy. She’s the recipient of the Robert F Kennedy Human Rights Award.

She had the difficult task of conveying 40 years of conflict in 10 minutes, but she did it extremely well. She explained that women in the Sahara are still deprived of almost all human rights, including the right to public representation, and called for feminists to present their solidarity with Sarahran women.

Brigitte Balipou, founder of the Women Jurors of Central Africa, drew our attention to a conflict that has been going on for decades.

She spoke of recruitment of child soldiers, forced marriages, rapes, murders, and the violations of fundamental human rights, and added that in Central Africa:

  • 46,000 children don’t have access to education
  • many women are victims of sexual violence
  • there’s only 1 doctor for 80,000 people in the non-occupied territories and no doctors at all in the occupied territories

She said that all the structures of the Government have been dissolved since being overthrown by the rebels, which has contributed to a climate of insecurity not only in her region, but also in that of neighbouring countries such as Congo, Chad and Sudan.

She appealed to the international community and the Human Rights Council (HRC) to give humanitarian assistance in Southern Africa, saying that they want a strict applcation of the declaration of the human rights of women so the population can live in peace.

She said that at a local level agreements have been signed, but there’s no hope of solving this problem without additional support – even the churches are in the hands of the rebels.

Nyaradazayi Gumbonzvanda, one of our fearless leaders from the World YWCA then wrapped up the session by asking the question, who are these conflicts forgotten by? Because they’re certainly not forgotten by the women who are at the epicentre of the conflicts.

The media shifts its attention when it decides an issue will no longer make headlines, political attention shifts when there’s a lack of pressure, provision of resources diminishes, and as a result it is not at the top of the UN HRC council priority list. This limits our ability to mobilise assistance for these countries.

So what are the implications? The repression and impunity in these countries will continue without intervention. And where there is impunity there is fear, and there’s less opportunity for civil engagement.

So how do we protect peace advocates and human rights defenders in these countries?

Nyaradazayi made some recommendations for what you can do at a global level:

  • she stressed the importance of practically applying CEDAW, and looking at the region of a country that is being investigated, not just the country itself
  • she said special rapporteurs on various issues can play an important role in bringing visibility to issues of conflict, even when this isn’t their specific mandate
  • she talked briefly about citizen journalism and social media – so we ca give women living in these situations a voice, and get the real stories out there into the public sphere

Finally, she called for the delegates in the room to find ways to echo these womens’ voice and continue to fight for peace and solidarity around the world.

And then there were comments from the floor. This was the point at which the dynamic in the room changed.

Some of the delegates claimed that there wasn’t adequate attention given to their country’s situation, and others claimed that particular population groups such as men, have been left out of the equation.

Regrettably, the delegates presenting these views shouted them at the panel, talking over one another, and attempting to demand the floor from the Chair. The tension in the room was so thick you could’ve cut the air with a knife.

One gentleman left the session outraged, yelling in Arabic from the back of the room. Sadly there was no Arabic translator so we missed out there. I understand however that WILPF and the World YWCA will be meeting with these people in due course to better understand their position.

It was the first time here at HRC that I’ve seen people disrespect the assembled group and the Chair (who did a fantastic job of reigning people in).

READ MORE FROM JO ON HER BLOG PAGEhttp://jojoia.wordpress.com/

Child, Early and Forced Marriage

By Jenna Lodge Foster, World YWCA Short-Term Advocacy Intern. Jenna is currently attending the 23rd Session of the Human Rights Council  (HRC) in Geneva, Switzerland and below shares her reflects a HRC side event organised by the World YWCA, Plan International, UNFPA and various Permanent Missions to the United Nations including Canada and others.

The issue of child, early and forced marriage is gaining popularity as more countries shed light on such a violation of the Rights of the Child.  Flavia Pansieri, UN Deputy Commissioner for Human rights, opened an intriguing session on Child, Early, and Forced Marriage, sponsored by Plan International and co-sponsored by the World YWCA.

Jenna Lodge Foster

Jenna Lodge Foster

Child, early, and forced marriages happen around the world. Did you know that 10 million girls are married before the age of 18? Marriages are sometimes with men who are 2-3 times their age. 46% of girls under 18 are married in South Asia. 1 in 3 girls will be married before their 15th birthday.

This topic is considered to be an egregious is some countries while others see it as a right of passage for men. The more basic problem is that the early marriage of girls impacts of the other realms of life. Girls are pulled out of school early, not giving them the opportunity to complete their education and rise to their full potential.  There is an expectation from the families they are married into to have children. This can have serious implications on a girls’ physical, emotional, and psychological well-being.  Economic empowerment is decreased. The potential to be autonomous is greatly reduced. Girls may be forced to stay at home, leaving them to be completely reliant on their husbands.

If marriages continue at this rate, more than 140 million girls under the age of  18 will be married by 2020. This is an alarming statistic. NGO’s, governments, and communities must be willing to raise this issue and protect the rights of girls. As an advocate for women and girls, it is vital that NGOs like the YWCA cultivate strong advocates to rally around girls to protect them, empower them, and raise awareness about this issue to reduce this occurrence.

Celebrating milestones and staying connected

The World YWCA held The International Leadership Institute for Young Women (ILI), themed “Her Future – The Future Young Women Want” in Bangkok, Thailand, and hosted 53 young woman representatives from over 45 countries around the world. 24 year old Rebecca Phwitiko, President of the YWCA of Malawi and World YWCA board member who was a participant at the event, shares her experience.

Rebecca Phwitiko

I have grown more confident over the last two years. I have learnt to trust myself when I stand in front of people and watch the way they seem to be hanging on to my every word. It’s amazing, this feeling, this knowledge that what I have to say actually matters. This is what the YWCA has done for me, in spaces much like this one, this International Leadership Institute in Bangkok, Thailand.

This session is about connecting the local to the regional, and the global. It is about equipping us with the skills that will culminate into strong advocacy action around the future young women want, ahead of the MDG review in 2015. It is also a critical reference point for a global young women’s strategy as we approach World Council that same year.
I come from Malawi, where a woman is president! We celebrate such milestones. But challenges remain. There are a lot of pregnancies, as is the case in most Sub Saharan African countries. And during the ILI I found out that the Asia Pacific region is facing the same problem. So for me, this was an important eye opening aspect of this session, learning and appreciating the trends in other regions. Because advocacy is not just about ‘our issues’ it’s also about ‘their issues’.

It’s the perfect setting for new friendships, new knowledge. 50 young women, from all over the world, small and big states, old and new YWCAs, conflict and developed regions, coming together to build a network of young women champions. Its all happening amid overwhelming Thai hospitality, courtesy of the YWCA of Thailand.
Important lessons about advocating with evidence, supporting each other and staying connected on a journey of advocacy, a journey of leadership. Its yet another illustration of the World YWCA’s commitment to young women and their leadership. The Young Women’s Champions Program will see us, this group for young women, supporting each other in national, regional and global advocacy spaces.