When you see it, you be it!

By Laurie Gayle, YWCA of Great Britain.

I want to spend a little time extracting some data for us to digest before going on to talk about how YWCA programmes address the gender gap relating to STEM.

Laurie Gayle

All the experts agree that the greatest job growth in the world is predicted to be in the industry of engineering. There is an enormous shortage of engineers and big data talent to meet industry needs now and in the future and so, attracting more women to these fields is critical to solving this problem.

So, why is there a problem? Overall it comes down to the world not producing enough students with the right skills. In the last 20 years, engineering enrolment has remained stagnant in the US despite enormous industry changes. Whilst technology has radically evolved, interest levels have not and this is particularly true for women and girls.

Just 18% of engineering degrees are awarded to women, 10% of practicing engineers are female and 3% of technology CEOs are women. Why? Because of the slander that says these fields are men’s work only. We, as women, committed to equality, must get better at challenging this. It is NOT a fact that some jobs professions are just better suited to men. Let’s all remember what I’m about to say and repeat this when appropriate: Whilst you are entitled to your own opinion, no matter how wrong, you are not entitled to your own facts.

So now, I want to establish a little bit of a baseline. Who has heard of Stephen Hawking? How about Neil de Grasse Tyson, director of the Harlem Plantearium in New York? Who can name a woman, let alone a woman of colour or who has a disability, with the same level of recognition in those fields?

This is a large part of why this issue is so multi-layered and the crux of it for me is a simple doctrine: We are what we see. Women and girls don’t see themselves doing certain careers, certain things, because they literally don’t see themselves doing these things. If you don’t see a woman playing sport, if you don’t see a woman engaging in politics, if you don’t see women taking on leadership roles in their community or working in academic disciplines of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields, you’re less likely to conceive that one day you could or should be doing these things.

There’s some really interesting research that has come out from the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media about this. What they found is the media (that’s film, television, news outlets etc.), do not portray or highlight women engineers or computer scientists at all. An interesting exception however, is in the United States, particularly on television, where women forensic scientists are extremely well-represented because of shows like CSI. What the data tells us is because there is significant saturation in media representation for this field, and women in this field, there is less work to be done in achieving equality in forensic science because of this: women gaining forensic science degrees has risen 75% over the last decade. So, the proof is there that several layers of society need to bump up showcasing women in STEM roles because clearly, when you see it, you be it!

The YWCA movement of over 25 million girls and women the world over is great at recognising this. I want to highlight what one of the YWCAs here in the States has been doing around bolstering interest in girls around STEM.

The YWCA of Pittsburgh runs three distinct programmes designed to supplement regular academic settings and bring girls to STEM and STEM to girls. ‘Tech Girls’, ‘STEM Impact’ and ‘STEM Art’ are all about nurturing girls’ confidence to use STEM tools, improve basic literacy and coach girls to utilise and interact with STEM to encourage creativity and expand their horizons.

This is just one piece of the puzzle. Think about strategies you think would work to integrate girls into STEM. What can you do as an individual? What can you do as a community? What do you expect civil society and NGOs to do in terms of programming? What should our Governments be doing? What sort of societal changes can start the domino effect?

To sum it all up, I want conclude with something Martin Luther King Jr. used to say. We cannot take the tranquilising drug of gradualism. This incremental approach towards equality isn’t good enough anymore. We’ve got to get better at insisting for ‘now’ and not settling for only a footstep forward. The reason this is important is because of this statistic which, when I read it, rocked my world. If we keep adding women to STEM fields, and politics, and other arenas at the rate we have been, we will not reach gender parity for another 800 YEARS. Whilst we all know that statistic is simply unacceptable, it’s not unchangeable. So let’s do something about it.

 

 

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Leadership and Unity

by Inunonse Ngwenya, YWCA of Zambia.

Inun

Inunonse Ngwenya

Great leaders inspire and motivate people. Leaders stand for something far greater than themselves, they promote peace , justice , equality , positive change and good values. We need governments and CSO’s that will help young people build resilience to cope with the same responsibilities of leadership by ensuring that the many youths are considered in key government positions. I am reaching out to poor people, the sick and the old stretch your hands across the world. Leaders show that you care for the most fortunate women and girls out there, including those that seem to have lost their way and I am calling on all those that can help them to see a brighter day.

Unity is like harmony leaders reach out to those women and young girls in the streets open your eyes and see all we need is unity and understand we can do anything if we believe. The brightest future will always be based on a forgotten past, you can’t go on well in life until you deal with your past failures and heartaches. When you were born you were crying and everyone around you was smiling so live your life so that when you die you are the one smiling and everyone around you is crying. Too much water will and shall pass under the bridge for me to forget as the saying goes.

Despite the advances in the world that have taken place through great leadership, around the world indigenous children consistently number among the most marginalized groups in society and are frequently denied the enjoyment of their rights, including the highest attainable standard of health, education, protection and participation in decision-making processes that are relevant to their lives.

As young leaders we have the responsibility of promoting participatory citizens advocacy by making people aware of their rights and the obligation of governments of the day to serve their citizens. Great things are not done by impulse, but a series of small things brought together. As leaders do all the good you can, by all the means you can in all the ways you can. In all the places you can, in all the times you can and to all the people you can as long as ever you can. Governments have a critical role to play as catalysts for positive change when they act to uphold the rights of indigenous children. This commitment includes promoting the meaningful participation of indigenous peoples, supporting surveys that give a clear picture of the situation of indigenous communities and their children, introducing legislation to ensure respect for and protection of indigenous peoples’ rights, and developing effective mechanisms of implementation and enforcement.

Young women and girls are calling out to the World leaders, raising our voices shouting that it’s been a long time since we entered your hearts. We belong to one global village with a goal and objective to achieve at the end of the day.

Together we can make a difference.

The YWCA of Sri Lanka at the World Conference on Youth

By Myrtle Mendis, YWCA of Sri Lanka.

The World Conference on Youth was held in Sri Lanka in May 2014. It was a wonderful opportunity for the YWCA of Sri Lanka to show case itself and increase its net working with a number of organisations and active individuals with common interests and aims. Sarah Arumugam – Programme Director of the YWCA of Sri Lanka lost no time in contacting the organisers and getting involved. For Sarah it was time consuming and hard work but the results proved that it was worth the effort. The National General Secretary – Subhashinie Perera participated in the very elaborate and colourful opening ceremony of the World Conference on Youth. Natalie Raymond from the YWCA of Panadura – a local branch – participated as one of the 100 Sri Lankan delegates, chosen from among over 1000 applicants.

The Peak Experience for the YWCA of Sri Lanka was the parallel event held on the 8th of May titled Faith and Culture Dialogue on Sexual Reproductive Health (SRHR) and Rights and HIV -the co-sponsors being the YWCA of Sri Lanka and the World YWCA. The moderators, Marcia Banasko – Communication Officer, World YWCA and Sureka Wijerupa – Youth Coordinator of the YWCA of Sri Lanka did a great job. The panellists invited by Sarah were highly respected and very knowledgeable persons in their respective disciplines. faith

The event was conducted in a very informal manner so that many were able to express their opinions and share their experiences.

Two Y Peers, Sureni Weerasekera and Champa Kankanagme from the YWCA of Sri Lanka shared the experiences and challenges they encountered as they participated in the workshops on SRHR and HIV. Both of them are new young leaders trained through the YWCA of Sri Lanka Y Peers programme which is funded by the World YWCA Power to Change Fund. Hans Billimoria – Director, Grass rooted Trust presented the cultural barriers and challenges faced in addressing SRHR and HIV to young person’s very vividly based on his findings and experiences. He described a long term plan they have begun to train students in schools through a programme to be included in the school curriculum.

Shuba Kayastha – Programme Officer, ARROW spoke on Breaking down Barriers for Child Marriage. Many realised, may be for the first time, not only the mental trauma but also the physical disabilities and sufferings associated with Child Marriage.

Sarah- from the YWCA of Nigeria speaking on Community Experiences in Advocacy SRHR and HIV detailed further barriers and challenges adding to what Hans Billimoria presented. Sumaya Saluja of Youth Advocacy Core UN Global Education First Initiative spoke of the difficulties faced by Youth Peer Educators as they encountered cultural barriers, highlighting the fact that disseminating accurate information on these subjects need to be tactfully and sensitively handled. UN AIDS – Mikaela Hilderbrand showed how important it was to engage faith based youth groups in global and partnerships to address these issues.

The audience was very appreciative of the programme and took part in the discussion. It was heartening to note that a member of the Sri Lanka Parliament Upeksha Swarnamali was present and assured the YWCA of her support. As senior volunteers of the movement we are happy to see how younger women are growing with the movement. We congratulate Sarah, Marcia and the Programe Team who organised the event.

The Clock Is Ticking

The clock is ticking. One month has passed since 276 teenage girls were kidnapped from a state school in the town of Chibok in Nigeria by armed and uniformed members of the group Boko Haram. These young girls are still being held captive, their condition is unknown, they are at extreme risk of being sexually abused and trafficked and the leaders of Boko Haram have threatened to sell them as slaves and into child marriages.

YWCAs around the globe join with our sister organization, the YWCA of Nigeria and the rest of the world, in calling for an end to this gross violation of human rights and the immediate release and safe return of these girls to their families and communities. Child, early and forced marriage is an unacceptable violation of the rights of children, especially adolescent girls with long-term negative consequences on their health and wellbeing. It denies children their childhood, disrupting their access to education, limiting their ability to participate in economic and social spheres, and jeopardizing their health — including increasing the risk of dying from complications during pregnancy or childbirth. It renders girls and young women more vulnerable to intimate partner violence, including sexual violence, and can increase the risk of HIV.

Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda

Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda

Child marriage resulting from physical and/or emotional force is a form of violence itself. In Nigeria, 39 percent of girls are married off before their 18th birthday; 16 percent are married before they turn 15. Child marriage can be prevented and eradicated in a single generation and the YWCA movement joins thousands of women and men around the world in calling upon governments, international organizations and communities to urgently put an end to it.

Why were these girls targeted and abducted in the first place? Simply because they wanted to attend school to get an education! Globally, 123 million youth aged 15 to 24 lack basic reading and writing skills, and 61 percent are young women. Access to education is viewed as a threat to norms because it shifts power dynamics and gender relations in countries. When girls have access to education, they are in a much better position to earn a fair wage and they also have increased opportunities for social, economic and political decision-making.

Inequitable access to education is clearly a form of violence against girls and, according to UNICEF, denying children access to quality education increases their vulnerability to abuse, exploitation and disease. It is important to note that girls, more than boys, are also at greater risk of abuse when they are not in school.

At the YWCA, we believe strongly that girls should have access to education to prepare them for future success and that they deserve to live a life free from violence of any form.

The statistics on violence against women and girls are staggering and pervasive. Gender-based violence is not just a problem in Africa or the United States; it is a global problem of pandemic proportions. According to the United Nations, up to 70 percent of women experience violence in their lifetime, and women between the ages of 15 and 44 were more at risk from rape and domestic violence than from cancer, car accidents, war and malaria combined.

And human trafficking is a modern day form of slavery that impacts millions of women and families in communities both domestically and internationally. According to the United Nations, an estimated 700,000 — two million women are trafficked across international borders annually. If you take into account rates of trafficking within the United States, that number swells to nearly four million women per year.

Women and girls are not property and gender-based violence is a human rights issue and it must not be tolerated under any circumstances. YWCAs around the globe have a longstanding history of advocating against gender-based violence in all of its forms, which can include physical, sexual, psychological and economic. Violence does not discriminate — it affects women and girls of all ages, of all economic and social classes, of all races, cultures, religions and traditions. The YWCA sees the impact of such violence every day, as one of the largest providers of domestic violence and sexual assault prevention services and programs in the United States and around the world.

So as the chorus of international outrage grows louder, the leaders of the YWCA are raising our collective voices to strongly advocate for the rights of women, girls and families and we call on the government of Nigeria to protect and “bring back our girls!”

The time to act is now; tomorrow may be too late.

 

From Anguish to Action – Bring Back Our Girls!

By Raechel Matthews, YWCA of Australia.

Last Sunday in Australia and many other countries around the world, it was Mother’s Day. A day when children of every age reveres, rejoices and remember our mothers; families come together; and mums are made to feel special and spoilt.Raechel Matthews EDITED2

However, over 8600 miles away in Nigeria, for 282 mothers, this Sunday will not be a day of celebration and joy. It will mark 28 days – almost 1 month – since their teenage daughters were kidnapped by militant Islamic group; Boko Haram. 28 long, agonising days since any confirmed word of their wellbeing, whereabouts or future has been made. For these mothers, the anguish, the wait and the frustration must be unbearable. And the anger they must feel, well, that must be infinite. I sit typing this blog in Sydney and I am incensed, outraged and distressed, so I cannot imagine how those directly impacted must feel.

I have been following this story since it broke and have been utterly disappointed by the underreporting of this act of terrorism and utterly perplexed as to why the Nigerian government, prominent world leaders and other organisations have been so slow to act. In the past two days First Lady Michelle Obama, actress Angelina Jolie, education advocate Malala Yousafzai and former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan have joined media efforts to rally support, and whilst this shows some promise, directives to find the girls have been few and unclear. Understandably dealing with Boko Haram and their aggressive tactics (there have been further kidnappings, killings and bomb attacks since April 14) requires care, but delays in deploying military assistance to find the girls, where every minute and hour counts, beggars belief.

Belonging to a global movement that is World YWCA, where our primary purpose is the education and empowerment of women and girls, the actions of Boko Haram–whose name means ‘Western Education is forbidden’ – is incomprehensible. Boko Haram’s leader has threatened that the 282 girls will be sold for marriage, condemning them to a life of sexual servitude; never to see their families again, as a punishment for simply attending school in eagerness to learn. In contrast, I work daily with a team of compassionate professionals who are committed to keeping children in school; women and their families safe from harm; and providing education and skills to communities to become resilient and stay connected. I am part of an international group determined to break the cycle of intergenerational disadvantage and oppression and I know collectively, our efforts will help not only these schoolgirls, but other schoolgirls affected by gender discrimination and misplaced cultural and societal attitudes.

So, I urge my YWCA sisters to tweet #BringBackOurGirls; Facebook news articles about this issue; sign the global (or your local) petition at change.org and keep following the story. Maybe we can’t help in person, but we can assist with our collective voice. Join these 282 mothers as we wait and hope for positive news, and let’s show our support as a movement.

58th UN Commission of the Status of Women

By Krista Seddon, YWCA of Australia. Krista was part of the World YWCA delegation at CSW 58 and shares with us her reflection of this experience.

Personal backgroundblog1  

My name is Krista Seddon I am 27 years old and I recently attended the 58th Commission of the Status of Women at the United Nations in New York. I was selected to attend through a competitive selection process along with 8 other women on the YWCA Australian delegation.

As a delegate I was part of the World YWCA team made up of around 40 women from many different countries. These women feel like my second family, my sisters. During the conference we were working on average 16 hour days. Some members of our team, even longer. Week one’s focus was on side events and parallel events put on but the NGO community, multilateral organizations like the World Bank, and Governments. These events were an important space for us to raise the profile of the YWCA by asking questions and approaching panelists, to advocate on behalf of the 860,000 million young women around the world. Our key messages were;
• Ensuring Gender Equality remains a standalone goal in the post 2014 development framework and mainstream gender across all targets.
• End Violence Against Women
• Ensure young women have control over and decide freely and responsibly on matters related to their sexuality including sexual reproductive health and rights through comprehensive information, education and services.
• Ensure meaningful participation of young women in decisions that impact their lives and in all sectors.
• End child, early and forced marriage
• As a faith based organization, provide an alternative view that advocates for the powerful and positive role religion can play in ensuring women’s empowerment.

In the second week the focus changed to the government negotiations on the Agreed Conclusions. The final document that is produced each year is agreed by all member states. This document was especially important this year because it sets the governments commitments to the new Sustainable Development Goals or Post 2015 Development Framework. The MDGs were a driver of change, funding and advocacy since 2000. The new framework must put gender at the forefront.

A powerful moment for me was during the final negotiations on the last day and the chair of CSW allowed members of civil society into the closed negotiating room. It made me realize the importance of civil society and NGO’s being present and participating. We hold governments accountable and we played a part in making sure the governments reach a conclusion. The YWCA and our advocacy messages are important voice in combating the conservative views of the religious right and other organizations that with to cut back women’s rights, services and freedoms.

The photo below captures the moment when we gave a standing ovation to the delegate from Egypt Mervat Tallawy, President of the Egyptian National Council for Women. At this point I had tears in my eyes from listening to her powerful closing remarks:
“The future agenda for women faces a lot of challenges and we still have to work extensively on this. Women are the ones carrying most of the burden of the family, the community and country. Yet we are still here questioning and haggling whether or not women should be independent or autonomous – this is not logical. We will not accept any retreat from ICPD, Beijing and their review conferences. We will never give into the prevailing wave of conservatism in all regions of the world. Not accept that women be the last bastion of colonialism. We shall not allow fundamentalists and extreme groups to disarm women from their rights. Mr. President, I am speaking here for all the women of the world. We will continue to struggle for our rights.”

The World YWCA
A highlight for me was being part of the World YWCA team. The YWCA embodies a feminist model of leadership that is about being inclusive, connected, sharing power, intergenerational leadership, being accountable at every level, modelling ‘next practice’ and being grounded in a human rights based approach. The World YWCA shared power; throughout the two weeks there was never one leader. The YWCA practices a shared model of leadership; building on peoples strengths a working collaboratively to achieve the outcome. The model is successful because it recognizes that everyone is a leader in their own right.

We had a clear shared vision; we participated in a training day before we started the conference and we’re trained in the key advocacy messages of the organization. We practiced our ‘elevator pitch’. We were given advocacy materials to support our work. We were given advice, guidance, encouragement and mentoring.

As a young woman I felt empowered through the opportunities and safe spaces the organization to explore their own leadership potential and take on responsibilities. I am so grateful for the intergenerational leadership and mentoring; all of the young women were paired up with a more experienced mentor. It was explicitly stated that the relationship would be a two way learning process. This was a powerful dynamic that supported the execution of the advocacy strategy.

On the final day of negotiations, large numbers of civil society were camped out near the entrance of the closed negotiation room. As an important reflective process but also a political maneuver, the YWCA did an ‘affirmation circle’. This is where you sit down in a circle and in turns go around and celebrate the unique and wonderful attributes of each member of the circle. What do they do well, what do they bring to the group, why you appreciate them. After two weeks of 16 hour days and high emotions, you can only imagine how this played out; we were all a blubbering sweaty mess. But what was fascinating was how it changed the energy in the hallway. People wanted to sit near us; they wanted to take photos of us. It was powerful because it changed the tide of negativity that was building around the negotiations and we created a positive environment that people wanted to be apart of.blog2

My vision for the future of the World YWCA is for the Y to operate in every country around the world. I hope that it will expand and provide grassroots leadership development to a generation of young women so that in 20 years time, every sector will have a strong and fantastic female leader, who can attribute her skills and leadership to the YWCA. I love the Y and I will stay a member for the rest of my life.

The Future I Would Like to See

By Vanessa Anyoti, YWCA of Tanzania. Vanessa recently attended the International Conference on Population and Development in New York, and shares her views. 

Being a young woman and on the United Republic of Tanzania’s delegation, my experience with the first two days at the 47th Commission on Population and Development has beenSAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES inspiring to say the least.

The theme of the conference is “The assessment of the status of implementation of the Program of Action (PoA) on the International Conference on Population and Development.” The conference opened with some highs. It was noted that the gaps that are delaying the implementation of the PoA are: the full realisation that human rights are the driver of development, poverty, lack of gender equality, the largest population of youth, sustainable development, universal access to Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) and the security of place and mobility.

It is an honour to be recognised as a civil society organisation (CSO) on the government delegation! However, this experience has taught me that CSO’s need more space! With only three short presentations allocated to CSO’s at the end of each day, our voice is not being clearly heard. We need to play a larger role in the conference as we know and experience first-hand the effects of the implementation of the PoA at the grassroots. Leaving us to wonder: how do we fight for our space? And how do we get more government delegations to adopt CSO’s?

With the largest population of youth the world has ever had, we acknowledge that youth have a powerful voice. However, how do we get governments to listen to and value our input? Also, what is the most effective way to communicate so that we are not being forced to compromise in the end?

What I have also realised in these few days is that there are processes and procedures of navigating the United Nations system and being involved in the conference. It is best to know at the national level what your government is doing in relation to the PoA and who is responsible for assessment and implementation of the PoA. This way, you are able to join the process earlier on and be more likely to have an influence.

Regardless of how hard it is for all the delegations to agree on a common outcome, being that all governments are at different levels of social and economic development, there are some key issues I would like to see addressed in the outcome of the conference. From a young woman and a Tanzanian perspective, I would love to be able to know that at the end of the conference that governments will agree to address the following issues in the next 20 years to come, in addition to addressing the gaps that PoA from the 1994-2014:

  • Gender equality
  • Sustainable development
  • Universal quality education with a particular focus on young women and girls and promotion of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programmes
  • Universal health with a particular focus on SRHR, maternal health services and HIV/AIDS prevention and care and non-communicable diseases
  • Poverty reduction
  • Youth employment and empowerment
  • Comprehensive sexuality education
  • Investment in clean and renewable energy

All in all, it has been a great learning experience for me, and I am hopeful that we can come up with a great outcome from the conference. Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin urged the delegations not to shy away from issues, stating that change has to come and we have to make that change happen. I was reminded by Ishita Chaudhry that “young women and girls cannot be afraid of challenging injustice, young women and girls need to be wildly and deeply inspirational.”

On 5th April, 2014, we had the youth caucus at Planned Parenthood Federation America (PPFA) and a strong youth statement is endorsed by many organizations and our youth got a slot to speak out at the CPD 47th session on the first day 7th April, 2014. The main point of the oral statement is “governments must demonstrate their political commitment to sexual and reproductive health and rights by prioritizing the removal of financial and legal obstacles to essential services and discriminatory laws and practices that violate our rights; transformation of weak health systems; and the elimination of social and economic inequalities, violence and discrimination. Furthermore, we are hopeful that member states will take action toward the implementation of the ICPD Program of Action by validating emerging issues at the highest levels.”

As a young woman, I also want to add the meaningful participation of young women at the national, regional and global level at the decision making roles.

“We, together, can really make our voices be heard.”