Educating a Woman is educating a family, a community and the Nation

By Kgothatso Mokoena, World YWCA Programme Associate. Kgothatso was part of the World YWCA delegation during the 24th Session of the Human Rights Council.


Kgothatso Mokoena

The General Assembly adopted the plan of action for the first phase of the World Programme in July 14, 2005. The plans had concrete strategy and practical guidance for implementing human rights education nationally and promote a holistic, right based approach to the education system that includes both Human rights through education.

On September 17th, 2013 during the 24th session of the Human Rights Council at United Nations, I attended a Panel discussion on challenges in Human Rights Education for Women. My reflections were that; Human Rights Education has to deal with legal basis, personal attitude and the skills everyone should strive to possess, to protect and implement human rights. Still I think in depth interventions needs to be taken for state practices on Human rights education for women and in general to be implemented

Mr Christian Courtis, Human Rights Officer, Human Rights and Economic and Social Issues Section, OHCHR said; For girls and women living in poverty, education is not only the key to a brighter future it is also a key to survival. Using education as a primary strategy, could harness the potential of girls and women to learn, lead and act on their vision of change for themselves, their families, and their communities. Due to poor or lack of education: Women in Sub-Saharan Africa are more than 1.5 times as likely as men to contract HIV, Millions of women in America have difficulty understanding practical health information, More than 10,000 girls a day will get married before they turn 15, More than 60% of the 110 million children out of school are girls, One in three women and girls in the developing world live on less than $2 a day.

Educated girls and women are less vulnerable to HIV infection, human trafficking and other forms of exploitation, are more likely to marry later, raise fewer children who are more likely to go to school, and make important contributions to family income.

Education is widely accepted as a means of empowerment, economic growth, and general improvements in welfare, meaning it is essential in breaking the cycle of poverty. In July 2010, it was found that there are equal proportions of male and female children living in South Africa, and girls – by and large – do not experience discrimination when measured by access to school. In South Africa, there is no undue discrimination between boys and girls, with regards to access to schooling, there is, however, a significant change in gender parity at the high school level, in particular at Grade 10 with more boys dropping out than females. Yet, when it comes to the school-leaving level, Grade 12, it is found that in poorer areas, fewer girls actually complete their education, and this is often attributed to teenage pregnancy. I’m reminded of a quote; “Human Rights Education can make a real difference in one’s life” Navy Pillay

Mr Wolfgang Benedek of the European Training and Research Centre for Human Rights and Democracy, Graz from Australia shared through an informative film screening “A path to Dignity” a film which demonstrates the power and impact  of human rights Education, shares successful practices and projects in India, Australia and Turkey illustrates the power of human rights education in transforming people’s lives and empowering individuals to make a difference in their communities ( I found it very interesting, but the question remains; how many women and girls have access to it? In all discussion few acknowledge that technology is still a challenge to some, and millions may not even get to read this powerful manual or download the film.

It is therefore essential that in human rights education activities to ensure; Continuity of the implementation of all phases of the World Programme for Human Rights be maintained, the accountability of states for human rights education be clear and all relevant efforts for human rights education by all actors be integrated.

“Educating a Woman is educating a family, a community and the Nation.” -African Proverb

The Right to Development is the right to be heard, acknowledged and implemented!

By Ramya Kudekallu, World YWCA Programme Associate. Ramya recently attended the 24th Human Rights Council and spoke on a panel.

With less than a thousand days left until the end of the current MDGs, world leaders are being pressured into working on the post 2015 Development Agenda.  I was absolutely ecstatic to be invited as a speaker at the side event ‘International Youth Leadership in the Right to Development’ at the Human Rights Council’s 24th Session currently taking place.

Ramya 2

Ramya Kudekallu

The event was sponsored by the National Alliance of Women’s Organisations UK,  and the Ariel Foundation International, and co-sponsored by the World YWCA and Inter-African Committee on Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Girls. The event had the support of the Right to Development Office and UHCHR Institute for Shipboard Education.

I believe the right to development is simply the ownership of human rights. The Declaration to the right to Development passed by the General Assembly uses powerful language such as ‘Promoting and encouraging respect of human rights’, ‘free and meaningful participation’ and ‘fundamental freedoms.’  But the reality is that over half of our world’s population neither has access nor is aware of these possibilities.

The amazing thing about the World YWCA is that the essence of its work lies in the voices of young women. We prioritise young women’s leadership and take great measures to include reflections, suggestions and strategies from young women from all the regions of our global movement. It is important that these messages find places amongst local, regional and international platforms of advocacy. To fully satisfy the access to the right to development, it is critical we recognise the challenges young people face and find the APPROPRIATE solutions.

The World YWCA resource ‘The Future Young Women Want- Global Call To Act’ is a fantastic reference to what young women from across our movement want to see in the Post 2015 development agenda.  Many of these recommendations are around ending violence against women, access to sexual and reproductive health rights, facilitation for young women to be on decision making platforms and free non discriminative access to education, economic empowerment and resources.

The UNDP report on the MDG acknowledges that gender inequality is mediated through a number of channels ranging from social-economical suppressions to harmful traditional and cultural practices. This is where the YWCA steps in with its active work with young women so that we may find the courage and tools within ourselves and around us to hold our governments accountable.

As a law graduate, it is always a privilege to make any kind of recommendation at the Human Rights Council. The World YWCA has a profound way of creating opportunities and allowing the potential for growth.  I hope our world leaders come to sound conclusions and that the next era of social justice and development surpasses the previous.



Advances, challenges and ways forward

The review of the ICPD in Asia Pacific kicked off with a civil society (CSO) forum; Advances, Challenges and Ways Forward: Asia Pacific CSO forum on ICPD beyond 2014,  in advance of the Sixth Asia- Pacific Population Conference (APPC). Below Yadanar and Sureka share their experience:

Asia Pacific CSO forum on ICPD beyond 2014 was organised by the United Nations Economic Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) from 12-13 Sep, 2013 in Bangkok, Thailand.

Sureka from YWCA of Sri Lanka and Yadanar from YWCA of Myanmar participated as World YWCA representatives for this forum.

Sureka is the youth co-ordinator of YWCA Sri Lanka and the project co-ordinator of the young women lead change.” My vision for young women is to be more educated about the Sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), and according to the vision and the strategic frame work of the world YWCA which empowers the young women throughout the world, especially the excluded communities.”

Yadanar is the young women’s coordinator from the National YWCA of Myanmar. “My vision for young women is that we are equipped with leadership skills, have the opportunity to grow, our voices are heard, our sexual and reproductive health and rights are respected.”

Asia & Pacific CSO

Yadanar and Rajini Sureka

 13 organizations from 5 regions participated in the forum. Among the 120 participants, 30% are youths.

During the forum, we actively discussed about SRHR, education, comprehensive sexuality education, access to safe and legal abortion, poverty reduction and sustainable development, ageing and migration. The participants are grouped according to the regions and have to map and prioritize issues, obstacles and challenges in each region and share evidence based best practices in addressing the challenges in policy making and other advocacy efforts and then all the participants have to discuss about developing the CSO statement and recommendations to 6th Asia Pacific Population Conference.

50 young leaders from Asia and the Pacific gathered in Bangkok on 14th -15th September 2013, prior to the 6th Asia Pacific Population Conference, and formed the regional platform to ensuring that the rights of young people are met, respected, and protected. The young people came up with recommendations for five thematic areas: (1) Education, (2) SRHR’s for adolescents and young people, (3) Comprehensive Sexuality Education, (4) Abortion, and (5) Young people and Migration.

After these 2 forums, the draft statement and recommendation is done to submit for 6th Asia and Pacific Population Conference which will be held from 16-20 Sep, 2013. We really look forward that the statements and recommendations are accepted with significant change for the future.

Our gratitude goes to World YWCA for giving this wonderful opportunity to participate in these forums, make new networks and share our experiences. We are really looking forward to and determined to make significant change for young women in our country and for our countries.

Challenging Barriers: Living with Disabilities

BY INUNONSE NGWENYA, Project Worker from the YWCA of Zambia.

“For whatever reason, it happened to and it can happen to anyone else.  By being disabled I will not condemn myself to suffer for the rest of my life. I believe this information can inspire many who are in the same difficult situations in their lives. People give up in life because the lack inspiration never should a persons living with disabilities give up because along the way they will meet amazing people who will make their dark day bright.” – A young woman living with disabilities from Zambia.



Persons with disabilities remain amongst the most marginalized in every society. In every region in the world, in every country in the world, persons with disabilities often live on the margins of society, deprived of some of life’s fundamental experiences. They have little hope of going to school, getting a job, having their own home, creating a family and raising their children, enjoying a social life For the vast majority of the world’s persons with disabilities, shops, public facilities, transport, and even information are largely out of reach.

Zambia Federation of disability organizations (ZAFOD) was formed by 11 member NGOs in Zambia. Under ZAFOD, the Zambian civil society, including YWCA, envisions a society where persons with disabilities, enjoy equal rights and opportunities that are generally available in society and are necessary for the fundamental elements of living and development, including education, employment, health, housing, financial and personal security, family life, participation in social and political groups, religious activity, sports, access to public facilities and freedom of movement.

So far, there is an uphill task by CSOs for realizing such a vision. The good news however, is that some private companies have began to take heed and have employed chefs that are deaf in their restaurant. Secondly Ms. Patricia Jere, a woman living with disabilities was appointed the permanent secretary in the ministry of Justice back in 2011. She is one the highest qualified Women Lawyers in Zambia. These cases encourage YWCA Zambia and other CSOs in Zambia to deliver programmes for young women living with disabilities. Pick n Pay stores for instances employed some people living with disabilities as cashiers. It is our call, as YWCA Zambia to call all key stakeholders to join and expand such bold initiatives by government and private sector to create such opportunities to empower young women living with disability.

Gender issues in disability

Women with disabilities have got equal rights as women without disabilities and should be treated at par with those without disabilities. They also have equal rights with men with disabilities. Zambia’s environment still perpetrates unfair treatment and discrimination of women with disabilities hence violating their human rights. YWCA Zambia’s programmes are attempting to addresses this on a general programming level.

Under the new five year strategic plan (2013-18), YWCA Zambia places women’s empowerment as one of  5 strategic priorities.

  • Youth,
  • Disability,
  • Gender balance
  • Sports and Recreation

YWCA Zambia subscribes to the position that sporting and recreational facilities should be accessible to all disabled people more so, the young people as a matter of right as opposed to just leisure.  Although there are commendable attempts to provide various sporting and recreational activities to young people in Zambia, YWCA Zambia has observed that most of these facilities are not user-friendly with young people living with disabilities. Civil Society needs to takes up cases of inaccessibility to such facilities to the duty-bearers so that the affected youth can enjoy their rights. Notable challenges faced by young people with disabilities in Zambia includes; inaccessible infrastructure and denial of entry.


Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women

By Laurie Gayle, Board member of the YWCA of Great Britain shares your experience of the 55th CEDAW (the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women).


Laurie Gayle

To paraphrase a lady who’s been getting quite a lot of press in Britain this Summer[1], it is a truth universally acknowledged that Government will always fight its corner…even if the room they find themselves in is round.

Such was the case in July, when I attended the 55th CEDAW (the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women) session and the UK examination at the United Nations in Geneva on behalf of YWCA Great Britain. To the casual observer, only a troglodyte of a country would not comply with the treaty which many have labeled the International Bill of Rights for women. Of course, the devil is always in the details and the cause of concern for the United Kingdom, whilst less overt than that of the country which had been examined the previous week (Democratic Republic of Congo), is marked by subtlety and intersection.

The examination came after a year of immense struggle. Recent policy changes, namely the introduction of the Equality Act, austerity measures and the Welfare Reform Act have had a regressive effect on the rights of girls and women in the UK.

Even more unsettling are members of the current government, led by Theresa May, Minister for Women and Equalities, stating that they are currently looking at options to repeal the Human Rights Act and also leave the European Convention on Human Rights. Seeing that CEDAW is the Human Rights treaty for women, the above directly contradicts the Government’s repeated statements during CEDAW55 that they take the treaty ‘very seriously’.

The Government was asked over 100 questions and participated in the dialogue with the United Nations for the better part of 6 hours. By UN standards, the examination was a damning one and the formal recommendations proposed by the UN and published at the end of July solidified this.

No bones about it, the UK CEDAW report card isn’t great for a country which has always considered itself ahead of the proverbial curve where women’s rights are concerned. The Committee did not prevaricate where recommendations were urgently needed. Issues borne out of the Universal Credit system (one of the major elements of recent Welfare Reform Act), were exposed as not having undergone a gendered assessment and as such, the Committee urged the Government to adopt measures to prevent manipulation of the system by abusive male partners. Further recommendations related to economic policy focused on ensuring that government spending reviews continuously and wholly focus on balancing the impact of the austerity measures on women’s rights.

And it wasn’t just benefits that felt the brunt of the war on welfare. Access to legal aid was cut as well and here, the UN strongly rebuked the Government and implied that reforms must be looked at again to assess the impact on how women are protected.

Further to this, the Committee requires the UK to now unequivocally provide access to justice and healthcare to all women, regardless of their immigration status or nationality whilst they’re in the United Kingdom. Part and parcel of this, the UN also want to see the establishment of a framework to nationally address trafficking and urges the ratification of the Istanbul Convention to criminalise forced marriage – both of which are rife in the UK.

But the recommendations that were most localised to the UK context revolved around the more subtle nature of patriarchy and sexism at work in the country. The Committee now calls for measures to work with media outlets to eliminate stereotyping and objectification of women in the media, with express emphasis on the advertising industry. On top of this, they’re calling for implementation of a regulator to intervene in matters such as this and of discriminatory, sexist reporting. This is a first.


UN UK reporting

In all, the UN’s full recommendation list is 11 pages, and interestingly is largely based on the direct input from the NGOs involved in the process.[i]  Proving again that NGO participation is crucial for a democratic process like CEDAW to be more than just two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner.

For the process to work further, those who want to hold the Government’s feet to the fire must to do the following (as individuals or as part of an organisation):

  • Contact their MPs and ask what they are doing to address the CEDAW recommendations in your constituency
  • Use CEDAW ‘language’ in any lobbying or advocacy materials
  • Raise general awareness about CEDAW with your networks and encourage them to share with theirs
  • Embolden others to get involved in shadow reporting  for the next examination

The UN now requires the UK Government to report on their progress within a year’s time as well as the year following. By then – July 2015 – an election will have taken place in Britain and we’ll know if the Government really takes its obligations under International Law seriously or if they just know how to take a punch.

The Haiti Adolescent Girls Network

Islindy Merius is from the YWCA of Haiti and was also a participant at the recent North American and Caribbean Young Women’s Leadership Confrence .

According to a recent World Bank report only 14% of teachers in Haiti are actually trained in sexual and reproductive health (SRHR) and even this training is considered poor by world standards.  On July 17th the YWCA Haiti’s Espas Pam group took part in a programme set up to help shape the future of Haiti’s educational system.  The Haitian American Caucus held its third annual teacher summer training institute (TSI) in Croix des Bouquets, Haiti. This year’s theme was “L’Union Fait La Force; Preparing Teachers for the 21st Century.” The focus of the 2013 summer institute was to provide teachers with the tools necessary to shift the educational paradigm in Haiti.Image

The YWCA Haiti’s Espas Pam group is part of the larger Haiti adolescent Girls Network which is dedicated to the empowerment, safety, health and well-being of adolescent girls in Haiti. The group began in 2010, in response to the increased rates of sexual violence against girls in post-earthquake Haiti.   After three years of implementing, the network has developed a successful model that changes the trajectory of vulnerable girls’ lives through the mentorship and assets based approach of educating girls on the subjects of sexual and reproductive health (SRHR), financial literacy, gender based violence and leadership.

This year 13 girls from the YWCA Haiti’s Espas Pam were chosen to work together with the organiszation Enpak, in theatre training to help present at this year’s Haitian American Caucus Teacher Training Institute. Currently, Haitian curriculums on sexual and reproductive health and rights are limited, often beginning when girls have already begun menstruation, and both boys and girls are already sexually active.  The objective of this presentation was to provide teachers with information on the importance of educating girls on SRHR, and more specifically talking to them about menstruation prior to its onset, in order to give girls a solid base, a positive experience, and an association with SRHR from the start.

The girls worked hard to present a skit showing the difference between the experience of a girl’s first period without having prior knowledge of the subject, and the experience of a girl’s first period after having been equipped with solid knowledge based on puberty and menstruation.  This skit was based on research conducted in Haiti on girls’ experience of menstruation.  According to a study done withinin 4 secondary schools throughout post-earthquake Haiti: 27% of adolescent girls in Haiti did not have any information on their period prior to its onset, 43% of adolescent girls believed their first period was a symptom of an illness and 18% agreed with the statement “I thought I was dying” the first time I had my period .  On the contrary, when girls have knowledge of what is happening within their bodies, their experience is often one of excitement and the realiszation that they are becoming young women with the ability to reproduce.

Due to the leadership of the mentors in the YWCA Haiti’s Espas Pam group, the girls are now talking about a subject that is sometimes considered taboo, but isyet critical to the understanding and perception of women’s health.  In a country where women’s health is often neglected, this baseline information is critical to the future of women’s health.  Based on their own understanding of this topic after learning about it in Espas Pam, these 13 girls were given the opportunity to pass on their knowledge they have gained and share it with future teachers; while at the same time demonstrating that learning can be interactive and fun.  This topic brought up a plethora of insightful questions from teachers that attended and all were interested to get their hands on the sexual and reproductive health material in Haitian Kreyol, which is currently being created by the Haiti Adolescent Girls Network.

This forum was an example of how paradigms and minds are changed one step at a time.  While the Haiti Adolescent Girls Network works with some of the most vulnerable girls in the community, this forum was an example ofshowed how, when we work with the most vulnerable girls and educate them, not necessarily in a traditional setting, they are then empowered to share their knowledge with those that who will then pass this information on to the youth of Haiti, that who make up the majority of Haitian society.