Who will represent the youth in the Advisory Council?

By Nina Meiling, European YWCAs Committee Board Member, YWCA of Netherlands


(Left to right: Heidi from YMCA, Sarah from WAGGGs and myself)

Earlier this year I went to the Council of Members meeting of the European Youth Forum in Brussels, as a representative of the European YWCAs. The ‘big thing’ during this meeting with the more than 100 Youth Organizations of Europe was the election of 20 youth representatives for the Advisory Council of the Council of Europe.

Next to the fact that it was wonderful to see everybody again that I met in November 2012, it was also a good opportunity to create new relationships, hear about all the opportunities for the YWCA within the Youth Forum, and to strengthen the knowledge of existence of the YWCA. (What? The YMCA? No, that’s another organization. I am from the young WOMENs Christian Organization).

Well… I have some fixing to do here!

However, so far I have established a good relationship with the other faith based organisations (like the YMCA, the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts who are similar to the YWCA, the scouts, and a few other faith based organisations like the Jewish students and Ecumenical youth). We work together in preparation of the meetings of the Youth Forum and share our experiences and expertise. It is nice to have such a pool of experience at my disposal and a group of people to go to for advice. And apart from that they are wonderful people too!

Apart from choosing 13 representatives from the International Non-Governmental Organizations and 7 representatives from the National Youth Councils from all over Europe, I joined a discussion about youth employment and found out that the difficulties that exist in for instance the Netherlands (my home country) are really happening everywhere in Europe. A lot of young people are unemployed, have a hard time obtaining experience, and many companies are abusing the use of internships to avoid paying for the work of young people. The European Youth Forum has improved its policy paper on youth employment from 2008 in quite an impressive way, and it is available in case you are interested in it (there is much more at your disposal: think of papers on youth entrepreneurship, youth rights, vote at 16, non-formal education, structured dialogue, gender, etc)

I am very happy with the people that got selected for the Advisory Council! Among them are for instance the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGs) who will help the YWCA ensure that gender equality will be on the agenda, the YMCA who share the same values as the YWCA and other organisations that will make sure that the youth (both men and women) will be included in decision making.

Next time I want to take one young woman from a European YWCA member association to the Council of Members and/or the General Assembly to share the learning and the huge opportunities, and to increase our partnership with Youth Forum.

Girls are important

By Rebecca Hasenfeld, World YWCA Intern from Colgate University.

Girls are important and need to be treated with the equality and respect they deserve. Girls contribute to dictating what the future will hold and play a large part in society. Though this may seem obvious to a young woman from the United States, since I have begun an internship at the World YWCA office in Geneva, Switzerland, I have learned that girls are not guaranteed the same freedoms or rights in many parts of the world.


(Copyright Girleffect.org)

Amid my research, I was struck by the number of girls who face early and forced marriage. For example, I learned that 14 million girls are married every year before they reach 18, and 1 in 9 girls in the developing world are married by age 15. However, I realized that these issues go beyond the statistics. Women suffer long term impacts, especially in the realms of poverty, education, health, inequality and violence. It reaches beyond the individual and communal levels, stretching globally.

And this is just in one realm. Gender discrimination has many different manifestations. There is also overlap in the issues girls face internationally, and looking at this one problem has only given me a glimpse into the struggles women face.

Growing up as a young woman in the United States, these problems have not played a large role in my life. It has been interesting to learn about the woman and girls who have come into contact with violence and abuse that affects so many of them. It is easy to forget that girls around the world face these great problems, but learning about these different issues has proven to me the importance of awareness.

Having just celebrated the International Day of the Girl and the publishing of the “Girl Declaration,” I have observed the efforts of various organisations to try to acknowledge these issues. The World YWCA, in particular, is a signatory on this document and has played a special role. This participation has showed me that every player matters in a global fight against such a prevalent issue. Recognition of the different problems that girls face puts these issues on the international scene and makes them present in a world that has become smaller and more willing to work together. These efforts have opened my eyes to the different conditions women endure in different parts of the world, but that there are ways to improve them.

Specifically, I am able to see the way joined efforts can create momentum for a common cause. Since the Girl Declaration’s official launch 10 days ago, over 30,000 people have read the Declaration and taken to the web to demonstrate their support. It is inspiring to witness such efforts, individually and globally, to campaign on behalf of girls. I think it is important for there to be a universal movement on this issue as it stretches across the world.

It is promising to see the effort that is put in to events like the International Day of the Girl and the “Girl Declaration,” and this provides hope to many girls around the world. These initiatives invite more work to be done and more support for girls worldwide in the future.


By Nelly Lukale, Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights Champion, YWCA of Kenya

Following a resolution of the United Nations General Assembly on the follow-up to the International Conference on Population and Development “ICPD Beyond 2014”, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) in collaboration with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) undertook an operational review of the implementation of the Programme of Action (PoA) on the African Continent. The ICPD was first held in 1994 in Cairo with the purpose of linking population issues with development. It declared that gender, education and health, including reproductive health, were areas important for balanced development. The conference adopted a Program of Action and set specific goals to reduce infant, child and maternal mortality, universal access to reproductive health; and provide universal education.

An African Regional Conference to review evidence of progress, challenges, gaps and emerging issues in relation to the achievement of the goals set out in the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) took place in Addis Ababa Ethiopia from 30th September to 4th October 2013. The conference was expected to chart a new course to scale up its efforts, and establish new ways of approaching population issues.

Nelly Lukale

Nelly Lukale

African youth met for a two day pre-conference before the main conference and set out their priorities. The forum brought together Ministers of youth, youth leaders, UNFPA senior staff and other youth groups from different countries that work with adolescents and youth to review progress, challenges and key human rights issues for youth. It was organized to create a platform for dialogue and sharing experiences so as to make recommendations on the post International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD beyond 2014).

These recommendations will eventually feed into the regional intergovernmental conference on ICPD in Africa, for the next twenty years. The youth discussed a number of important issues including sexual and reproductive health and rights, education, youth employment, family planning and maternal mortality as well as inclusive participation, security and governance.   They called upon their governments to ensure there is actual fulfillment of promises on youth matters and programmes. They also appealed for more investment and allocation of resources particularly for rights-based health interventions for young people, who account for the overwhelming majority of the continent’s population.

I was privileged to attend a two day Advocacy in Practice (AiP) workshop organized by International Women’s Health Coalition (IWHC) and other partners. This is a workshop that is held in advance of any important regional conferences or UN negotiations. It gives participants the opportunity to take what they have learned into practice and action. It was an intense two day event that helped participants strengthened their skills to effectively advocate for sexual and reproductive health and rights at the national and international levels.

Over 20 young women and youth activists from Kenya, Tanzania, Ghana, Cameroon, Nigeria, Liberia, and Zambia participated in this AiP. Participants identified priority areas that needed to be included in the final document such as ensuring the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women and adolescents, including access to safe and legal abortion, modern contraception, comprehensive sexuality education; ending harmful cultural, traditional, and religious practices such as female genital mutilation and early and forced marriage; eliminating gender-based violence, including marital rape and intimate partner violence; and ending violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

The activists also wanted to ensure that governments are held accountable for promoting and protecting the rights and health of their citizens. The AiP partners were present at the main conference tweeting live and also keeping a close eye on the government negotiations and how they addressed the critical issues and recommendations from youth and CSOs.

Civil society organizations who also had a two day pre-conference and came up with recommendations called upon governments to ensure there is comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services and it should be freely available through the primary health care system, accessible to all without discrimination, and provided in a way that respects human rights, including the rights to privacy, confidentiality, informed consent, and bodily integrity.

With only a few months left to the end of the ICPD PoA; many of the promises to young people set out in Cairo remain unfulfilled. Millions of girls and women worldwide are still without adequate sexual and reproductive health services and universal access to comprehensive sexuality education for young people is yet to be delivered. It’s noted that Equal access for the youth to health, education and economic opportunities doubles the potential for development and helps societies to break the cycle of poverty which is still prevalent in Africa. Young people still do not have seat at most decision-making tables and there is need for inclusion of the youth in decision making as it is the best way to address their issues. Governments should emphasize on inter-generational leadership hence promote age and gender balance.


Mon expérience au Conseil des Droits de l’Homme à l’ONU – 24ème session

De Maëlle Rabilloud, YWCA Mondiale du bénévolat.

Maelle Rabilloud

Maelle Rabilloud

Bénévole à la YWCA Mondiale depuis le 1er juillet 2013, je n’envisageais pas de rester à Genève en septembre. Mais après avoir passé deux mois fantastiques ici, lorsque l’on m’a parlé de la possibilité d’assister à la 24ème session du Conseil des Droits de l’Homme, je n’ai pas hésité une seconde pour donner ma réponse : un grand OUI ! J’avais déjà eu l’opportunité d’assister en juillet à la 55ème session du Comité pour l’élimination de la discrimination à l’égard des femmes, qui s’occupe  de suivre la mise en œuvre de la Convention sur l’élimination de toutes les formes de discrimination à l’égard des femmes (CEDAW – 1979) et j’avais déjà été impressionnée par le niveau des débats et les rencontres que j’avais faites. Cela m’a ouvert les yeux sur tellement de sujets dont j’ignorais la profondeur, comme par exemple l’ampleur de la violence et de la torture faites aux femmes en République Démocratique du Congo. J’ai aussi été profondément choquée par différents récits.

Suite à cette expérience, mes collègues m’ont proposé de participer au Conseil des Droits de l’Homme. Donc me voilà prête, le 9 septembre, pour assister à cette 24ème session à l’ONU, dans la fameuse salle XX. La première chose que l’on remarque est le gigantesque plafond sculpté et coloré qui surplombe la salle, œuvre d’art de l’espagnol Barceló. Il est absolument impressionnant dès la première minute où l’on rentre dans la pièce. Cela permet aussi de repérer les « habitués » du Conseil des Droits de l’Homme, et les « nouveaux » puisque, évidemment, les nouveaux ont tous la tête en l’air alors que les habitués n’y prêtent plus attention.

Main room

(Copyright UN Geneva Information Service)

Le premier jour, pour l’ouverture, il y avait énormément de monde, il était difficile de se trouver une petite place ! Ensuite, cela s’est calmé, on a pu avoir accès aux places assises et à la traduction. Des discours très prenants se sont enchainés sur les situations des droits de l’homme les plus critiques à l’heure actuelle (le cas de la Syrie était très souvent cité, mais aussi sur l’Égypte, le Bahreïn, Israël/Palestine…). L’après-midi du jour d’ouverture, le Conseil des Droits de l’Homme recevait la première ministre thaïlandaise, Mme Yingluck Shinawatra cela montre la renommée et l’importance de ce Conseil des Droits de l’Homme.

Tout était nouveau pour moi, je regardais partout, j’ai observé la façon dont les diplomates se comportent, comment ils communiquent entre eux ou négocient informellement, ou encore comment certains viennent juste au moment de lire leur texte et repartent aussitôt. Et j’ai trouvé ça assez frustrant que chaque État n’ait le droit qu’à 3 minutes de parole, ils ont à peine le temps de s’exprimer en profondeur sur un sujet. Les différentes sessions se déroulent quasiment toutes de la même façon.  Elles commencent par un exposé de la situation en question ou l’explication d’un rapport qui intéresse les droits de l’homme par un expert, et sont suivies d’un « débat » que je qualifie plutôt de « commentaires » de chaque État et parfois de certaines ONG. Les États n’ayant la parole que pour 3 minutes, peu de choses sont vraiment dites, et tous veulent parler donc il est difficile d’avoir vraiment un dialogue interactif et un débat. Il faudrait réfléchir à une solution pour rendre ce dialogue plus « vivant » mais ayant un temps limité et un très grand nombre d’États, cela me semble compliqué.

En plus du Conseil des Droits de l’Homme « officiel » dans la salle XX, il y avait tous les jours des réunions informelles ainsi que des « side events » organisés par certaines missions permanentes auprès de l’ONU ou diverses ONG. Je dois reconnaître que ce sont ces réunions qui m’ont le plus intéressées lors du Conseil des Droits de l’Homme. Les « side events » duraient en général 2h et abordaient un sujet précis, présenté par des experts en la matière ce qui était particulièrement intéressant. Habituellement 4 ou 5 panelistes expliquaient leur point de vue, leur propre expérience dans leur pays, et ensuite la présentation était suivie de questions/réponses avec les personnes qui assistaient à l’événement (des membres de missions permanentes d’un État, des membres d’ONG…). Lors de ces side events, on avait vraiment la possibilité de présenter son point de vue, de réagir à certaines présentations, et certains échanges et sujets étaient très captivants. À titre d’exemple, je peux citer certains de ces side events que j’ai particulièrement appréciés : “Human Rights and armed conflict” ; “The International Criminal Court 15 years after the Rome Statute: Prospects for the future” ; “Decriminalizing abortion”; “ State practices and challenges in human rights education for women”; “Women defenders in conflict zones”…

De plus, j’ai eu la chance d’assister aux négociations de certaines résolutions. La résolution que la YWCA Mondiale a particulièrement suivie concerne « Child, Early and Forced Marriage ». J’ai beaucoup appris lors de ce processus. C’était une opportunité géniale pour moi de pouvoir être plongée au cœur même des négociations, de suivre la création du droit dès le début. Il faut y voir pour y croire, je ne pensais pas que l’on pouvait réellement débattre pendant des heures sur l’utilisation de tel ou tel mot employé, je comprends maintenant toute l’importance du moindre mot, suivant la définition propre qu’en ont les États. C’est un processus vraiment particulier et je suis heureuse d’avoir pu en observer le fonctionnement, de voir quel rôle une ONG peut jouer, comment les États s’influencent entre eux, la façon dont ils essaient de négocier encore après, dans les couloirs… Et je suis encore plus ravie de savoir que la résolution a été adoptée à l’unanimité, prenant en compte une de nos remarques (l’ajout de la notion d’inégalité homme/femme comme l’une des causes principales des mariages forcés pour les jeunes filles).

En conclusion, je remarque que j’ai été effectivement bien plus impressionnée par le Conseil des Droits de l’Homme que par mes précédentes expériences. Je ne regrette vraiment pas ma décision, ça a été une opportunité formidable. Je dois ajouter que j’ai eu la chance de ne pas être seule et d’avoir beaucoup appris grâce à une fervente défenseuse des Droits de l’Homme, Marie-Claude Julsaint. Elle a été une excellente professeure ayant un vrai don pour expliquer les choses simplement. Elle est vraiment passionnée par ce qu’elle fait, ce qui donne encore plus envie de s’y intéresser ! Enfin, cela m’a permis de mettre un sens « pratique » à tous mes cours théoriques, de mieux comprendre le fonctionnement du droit international, de découvrir beaucoup de choses, et surtout, cela m’a confirmé mon envie de travailler dans le milieu des droits de l’homme.

Microfinance and low-income Belizean women: A Critical Stance on Microfinance

By Tricia Gideon, World YWCA Board Member from the YWCA of Belize.

“A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. […] True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.”

-Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Tricia Gideon

Tricia Gideon

Micro-finance is a development approach that offers financial and social services to low-income groups using social capital as collateral. Micro-finance institutions (MFIs) have helped to increase women’s income and nutritional intake and have all offered health and educational services in areas where they operate and have assisted women to eke out a survival in the informal economy, but none of them have encouraged women to rethink the way relations in society are constructed, let alone actively challenge those relations. Women are responding to micro-finance programmes out of distress to meet family needs and not because new opportunities have presented themselves.


Westley (2005, p.3) enumerates many factors threatening the financial viability of Caribbean MFIs: (1) low repayment rates (due to poor MFI enforcement), (2) high transaction costs due to small economies and populations sizes, making it difficult to take advantage of economies of scale, and (3) heavily subsidized loans which all contribute to a non-expansive micro-finance sector. Also, unemployment and under-employment rates and educational and income levels are higher in the Caribbean compared to Asia, Africa and Latin America; and social safety nets are relatively better than other low-income countries, presenting fewer possibilities for MFIs. With fewer possibilities for viable MFIs in Belize, the survival needs of poor Belizean women will not be met at an optimal level that will enable these women to overcome their poverty.

Micro-finance enterprises operate in the unregulated informal sector that lacks the social safety nets and better economic activities that single Belizean women need to maintain sustainable livelihoods. MFIs cannot use microenterprises as compensation for poor Belizean women’s limited access to a market economy nor can it offer these women the security they need in times of unexpected illnesses and expenses. In Belize, where female-headed households are a common feature, they need, even more than dual-headed households, to secure viable economic activities.  More importantly, poor Belizean women cannot challenge their subordination if they are disconnected from the formal sector. Kabeer (1996, p.38-39, 44) contends the goal of MFIs should not be to draw women into a credit mechanism that locks them into a perpetual contract of small loans, but to empower them to gain access to bigger loans and better financial and non-financial services in the formal financial sector.

Of course pushing poor Belizean women into the formal sector will not automatically lead to their empowerment or reduce their domestic burden either, but it will address their survival needs far better than if they remain in the informal sector, for example, increasing their access to pensions, social security and unemployment benefits and other state benefits.

Micro-finance may further reduce government aid to low-income people and increase their reliance on external funding. With the introduction of microfinance and the desire to expand its coverage across the country, the Belizean state may find it easier to relinquish their social responsibilities for caring and providing for its citizens. Consequently, the burden to survive will rests upon poor Belizean women and men, instead of it becoming a social matter that involves the state and community. Also, Belizean microfinance projects receiving external funds run the risk of becoming more sensitive to their investors’ and donors’ needs than to the needs of poor Belizean women.

Micro-finance carries a short-term agenda that will insufficiently raise poor women’s income, bringing temporary relief to their economic situation without enacting structural change. Poor single women need viable and secure economic activities that connect them to the formal sector, so their basic needs are met at a level that will allow them to rise above their poverty and actively challenge the existing power imbalance that is the source of their poverty.


Talking Youth at the United Nations

By Ramya Kudekallu, World YWCA Programme Associate.


Ramya Kudekallu

There has been a fascinating evolution in the history of youth involvement in the United Nations.  I believe it started during the UN General Assembly of 1985, when member states selected that particular year as International Youth Year. It was a moment where youth participation was acknowledged and youth development, especially in the area of peace was accepted. It took another decade for the organisation to invest once again in this area, when in 1996 the General Assembly adopted the World Programme of Action for Youth (WPAY), to address the challenges and opportunities for young people.

Fast forwarding to the current year of 2013, although much has been done to engage young people through WPAY and other agencies, there seems to be, in my opinion, an inequality in the platforms in which they may participate. The European Youth or the Youth Division of the African Union are excellent examples, but these are regional mechanisms and we need a global podium.

This is the moment I announce ICMYO! The International Coordination Meeting of Youth Organisations (ICMYO) pronounced ‘Eek- mee- oh’ as I learnt, is a membership network of International Youth NGOs and regional youth platforms. I had the pleasure to attend my first ever ICMYO meeting, which is held annually in New York City, USA. ICMYO is lead by a task force, usually representatives of its member organisations who invest time and resources in facilitating youth engagement with international mechanisms, such as the UN and other policy processes concerning young people.

The meeting was most interesting because it was the first time I had been in a room in which every individual was heavily and passionately interested in the youth agenda. The ICMYO meeting, as a process, takes the time to understand and involve its participants in understanding how best to include young people in various forums, whether international, political or social. With a host of skills and experiences and the backdrop of the United Nations General Assembly, I found myself huddling around a table in the Orange Café of the UNFPA office, with a grave expression on my face as we began to dissect the relevance of our age group in the Post 2015 Development Agenda.

ICMYO Delegates

ICMYO Delegates

And to prove that ICMYO meant business, we were given an audience with the UN Secretary General’s Envoy on Youth, Ahmad Alhendawi. As a part of UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon’s deliberate action to involve youth in the Five year Action Agenda,. Ahmad was appointed early this year. He defines his role in the ICMYO meeting as one that is political but with the core interest of youth. He stated that it was important to find the channels of investment and bring in the private sector so that young people could be seen not just as an investment, but as entrepreneurs themselves. The envoy was candid when he spoke of his role as being ‘purely advisory’ but placed strong emphasis on the fact that youth organisations across the world had to push for their interests. It was an interesting interaction and this envoy is one that I will be following quite keenly from now on. Ahmad will speak for the largest generation of youth the world has ever known, it is in the interest of every ‘civic sound’ citizen, youth or not, to see what he comes up with.

ICMYO is a fantastic initiative and kudos to the task team that drives it, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and I look forward to the progress I am sure we will collectively make. I also recommend that Youth Organisations across the globe seriously consider membership and joining the initiative http://www.icmyo.org/