Planting the Seeds of Social Change to End Child Marriage.

By Vanessa R. Anyoti. YWCA of Tanzania

“What is so scary about smart girls? Why are we so afraid to educate our girls? Is it because these educated girls will change the power structures of society?” Stavros Lambrinidis, EU Special Representative for Human Rights.

World YWCA, along with the AU Goodwill Ambassador on the campaign to End Child Marriage, attended a Taking Action to End Child Marriage Breakfast, organised by the Ford Foundation onvanessa September 22nd 2014, during the 69th UN General Assembly.

Child marriage is a horrendous violation of human rights. Darren Walker, the President of the Ford Foundation puts it this way, “Child marriage is a serious public health epidemic and human crisis.” It is estimated that, each year, 15 million girls are married before the age of 18; that is, everyday 39,000 of our sisters and daughters are married off.  The unfortunate reality is that girls who are married young, drop out of school and end poorly educated.  Additionally, these girls are most likely to die during child birth and are at a higher risk of abuse, violence and rape due to their lack of education, low status and ‘powerlessness’.

Guest of honour Garca Machel stated that her education allowed for her to be where she is right now and that “child marriage cuts every opportunity for the future for all women.” Hence, it is important to keep child marriage high on the global agenda and have a stand-alone target on child marriage in the Post 2015 Development Agenda. According to Garca Machel, “in order to break the cycle of discrimination that occurs, a girl child ought to have the same value and rights as a male child, thus the same opportunities.”

Garca Machel suggested what role Civil Society Organisations (CSO’s) can play to ensure that child marriage is ended in the next one to two generations. She stated that CSOs can translate and frame messages from the international, regional and national policies into understandable and relatable language for the community. Policies need to reach communities, through the training of people that work in these said communities; otherwise little impact will be made. In order to address child marriage, CSOs need to change the mind-sets of communities and often challenge cultural norms. Once the mind-set of the community is changed then we can begin to remind families of the value of every child. With that being said, sustained investment, to end child marriage, is needed as it is a difficult task to change mind-sets.

Suggestions on how to create a world without child marriage from Princes Mabel of the Netherlands are:

  1. To create an integrated approach to addressing child marriage – combining all social, political and economic aspects to tackle child marriage
  2. All stakeholders at every level working together to address child marriage
  3. A long term commitment, not less than a generation, to address child marriage
  4. A response equal to the magnitude of the problem needs to be provided
  5. And including child marriage in the post 2015 development agenda as a stand-alone goal and trickled down to the community level; focusing on those working in the communities.

The World YWCA commits to ending child marriage within the next generation. The World YWCA aims to mobilise young women to act for Post 2015, particularly to ensure that a human rights based approach is implemented and included in sustainable development, and to ensure that young women have control over and decide freely and responsibly on matters related to their sexuality including sexual and reproductive health and rights through comprehensive information, education and services.

Although the task to end child marriage seems overwhelming, we should approach the task as a challenge that can indeed be addressed with collective and sustained effort. In the words of Garca Machel, while we continue in this fight, let us remember that we are “planting the seeds of social change.”

The things that make for peace in the Post 2015 Agenda

By: Kgothatso  Mokoena  of YWCA South Africa

The World YWCA had the opportunity to attend the United Methodist women Peace Symposium in the margins of UNGAS in New York this week. The event had many interesting speakers and amongst them, Bill McKibben, Author and Environmentalist, Otilia Lux de Coti from Guatemala and Cora Weiss Human activists.

The Symposium aimed to underscore the importance of people-centred and rights-based policies, and brought the global policies, grassroots advocacy, and implementation. The symposium had two parts, speeches and interactive workshops which integrated traditionally and separated developmental sectors under a human rights framework which both reinforced the “Rights of peoples to Peace”

1. Food Workshop: this session introduced critical issues regarding food, development and peace. There was a focused on food as one of the basic elements of sustainable development. The right of food is recognized in international law and not only do all people in conflict situations experience vulnerability and risk with respect to food, but near 900 million people worldwide also confront chronic malnutrition, an millions more experience food insecurity every year. Participants on this workshop were able to make recommendations for advocacy with respect to international policy.

2. The water workshop: The second workshop was more of a dialogue between U.N. experts and those frontline communities struggling to clean, accessible, affordable water. Gender concerns, climate change and violence were incorporated into dynamics of accessibility, affordability and implementation to the Right to water. The Communities of Detroit, Tennesse, Malaysia and Mapuche people ling in Chile shared the on the ground situation and what they see as necessary to implement the Right to water.

3. The Health Workshop had a more rooted discussion and synthesized the various intersections of health with peace and security and development which were based from the concrete experiences from the ground. The workshop also formulated policy and programmatic recommendations that promote people’s right to health and how such rights intersects with peace, security and development in the context of the ongoing global policy discussions on the new Sustainable Development Goals, Security Council High Level of UNSCR1325 on Women, Peace and Security.

Harriett Jane Olson from the United Methodist Women Organisation said peace for her is providing educating children and helping them realize their dreams, that people in the world today lack information so much that they allow issues of no substance divides and cause so much havoc which leads to violence and killings in our regions. Harriet urged Faith Based Organizations to not only pray but actively part in ensuring that governments delivers on their promise on access to education for all.

Lakshimi Puri, assistant Secretary –General of the United Nations and deputy Executive Director of UN Women described peace as an ongoing process which begins with self to human security. She mentioned how the majority of people today suffer from different issues relating to mental health, poverty, inequality social injustices. Ms Puri brought to context, issue of Palestine and Israel to context, relating it to what we see happening in most places around the world today. The matter between the two countries and perhaps others, poses a threat to achieving MDG and leaves many in doubt, whether governments has what it takes to protect, support and nurture kgits people. Policies are made to guide people, but it’s up to us as citizens to own and be gatekeepers for our wellbeing, Ms Puri added.

Nyaradzayi Gumbondvanda, World YWCA Secretary- General said for her, peace is Educating a girl child, peace is ending child marriage within a generation, Peace is made by realizing gender equality to both men and women, most importantly peace is made when parents, communities , governments and all citizen play their part in ending violence against women and children…….. She added that understanding peace, we first need to define war and injustice, 39 000 girls are forced into marriages each day, and as long as we don’t see this as crime or wrong, then we are a careless society.

So much said about peace and its fruits, but can the world really be in Peace? When human beings always want what someone else has.  Whether it is land, materials, or natural resources that you have, someone out there wants it, and they are willing to take it from you.  This can even occur when one of the resources that are lacking are people, or a low number of a certain sex of a population.

How can we find peace when we keep imposing people’s beliefs or ideologies upon another group of people that believe differently?  We don’t have to look far, either historically or geographically, to find a war of ideology.  The war of ideology has moved thru history from before the crusades, to present day.  Just look at the Middle East.  People are willing to kill their own family members should they fall from the ideals of the ideals of their religion.  For many humans, the War of Ideals is the single, best reason to kill or die.

The third reason is the one that makes the least amount of sense to me.  Power and domination is the single reason why large-scale war has occurred.  When a country, or many times a single individual covets power and domination, war is usually the only resolution that can occur.  Again history to the present day has shown this to be true.  What does not make sense to me is why people choose to follow such leaders, when they will obviously lead to war, destruction, and death?

The future is young, and the future is female- Plan, Engage, Account, Collaborate and Educate

Everyone Counts

By Gloria Falefata Scanlan. YWCA of Samoa. 

“When I was a little girl I have this “motto” I called it my greatest mission which is to study hard, graduate and become a great successful person, then I can go anywhere I want to go. With United Nationals Small Island Developing States Conference (UNSIDs), and being a member of Young Women Christian Association (YWCA) that great mission is almost accomplished. I’ve always dreamed of being involved in something big like this and get the chance to meet people from different countries.gloria 2

On the 27th – 29th August I participated in the UN SIDS Youth Forum, where so many different topics were raised. They were divided into four (4) different Stations; Station 1: Climate Change and Biodiversity, Station 2: Water and Sustainable Energy, Station 3: Education, Entrepreneurship and Employment and Station 4: Health & Non- Communicable Diseases, Social Development of SIDS Youth for Sustainable Development including Disability.

 I chose to attend station 4 and I learned so much from it. How we as young people qualify to voice our opinions globally. The main issues I learnt about included: young women who give birth do have the chance to be educated again if they still have the passion to learn and study, that they have rights to education and the right to protect herself as a mother and seek protection of her child, how we stay healthy leads to a healthy environment, for example (exercise, eating healthy and living healthy). How we can prevent ourselves from spreading diseases by promoting Sexual Reproductive Health Service and finally, that EVERYONE IS EQUAL.

On the 1st – 4th September, I went as an UN Volunteer promoting online UN volunteers services. My job was to approach someone, ask them about which country, organisation they are from and what difficulties they have (Do they have little time to develop a project? Do they need someone to design a logo for them or a leaflet but do not have relevant programmes? They may want someone to edit / proofread their materials or to translate their communication materials but they don’t have money to hire anyone for the job. Staff training is another possible requirement.

 UN Volunteers have the solution for that.  Through the Online Volunteering Service they can provide these services for free. Moreover both the organisation and Online Volunteer benefit from it.

It was overwhelming; promoting the Online Volunteering Service with my beautiful smile makes each day counts. In addition, what makes me and one of my young volunteer, 17 year old Sujina Vaimagalo excited and proud to be  a volunteer. “It’s good to see some young volunteers from Samoa, let’s take a picture” “SMILE”…!! is what they all said.

On the 3rd of September, from 7pm to 8.30, I was part of the YWCA side event with our YWCA members, hearing young people from different countries sharing about their life journey, standing on that stage performing in front of people from other countries, the feeling of joy filled my heart.

 Most of all, I learned that no one is perfect and so everyone counts. Moreover, my YWCA membership has lead to this experience because if it wasn’t for YWCA I wouldn’t be a participant in the Youth Forum, through which I also became a UN Volunteer and especially being involved with UNSIDS. This year with UNSIDS held in Samoa, it was an unforgettable moment and part of my journey, as a young strong woman representative for YWCA of Samoa. “

Can a girl change the world?

By Marcia Banasko, Communications Officer, World YWCA.

Throughout history we have witnessed social and political transformations achieved through the collective actions of others and often led by the vision of an individual. As stated by Margaret Mead, American cultural anthropologist,

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, concerned citizens can change world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.”

The version of history we are taught in school would have us believe that all important change makers were men and that women had very little to do with the advancement of civilisation. However, we know this is completely false.mar

Women have changed the course of history in all realms of humanity. All across technology, economics, health, the arts, social and civil change, sports, education, science and religion, you will find female pioneers leading the way.  Women have affirmed an enduring place in history as a result of the diligent commitment of our fore mothers such as Emmeline Pankhurst – Suffragette leader, Angela Davis – political civil rights activist, Emilia Earhart – first female aviator to fly across the Atlantic, Maria Montessori – physician and educator, Alice Walker- author, Babe Didrikson Zaharias – athlete and Mother Teresa – religious humanitarian leader. Historical female political change makers include but are not limited to Cleopatra, Empress Toshi-ko of Japan, Catherine the Great, Mary Queen of Scots, Joan of Arc, Queen Nanny of Jamaica, Queen Nzingha of Angola in addition to contemporary leaders such as Presidents Isabel Peron, Joyce Banda, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf or Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher, Mary Robinson, Indira Gandhi, Pratibha Patil, Benazir Bhutto. The list is endless.

Today, women and girls continue to make history around the world. Take Malala Yousafzai, the 16-year-old Pakistani education activist who, in 2012, was shot by the Taliban on her school bus for speaking out about the importance of girls’ equal access to education. Malala survived the attack and, as a result, sparked an international campaign to ensure girls’ equal access to affordable and quality education. Through her small act of writing a blog for the BBC, Malala shared with the world the realities faced by thousands of girls in rural Pakistan. Today, Malala is hailed as a champion of girls’ rights to education and was recently nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. However, Malala is not the only girl making her mark in the history books.

In the global effort to end child marriage, various civil society groups, governments, NGOs, women, girls, men and boys are writing a new history with women and girls at the centre.  A group of Bangladeshi teenagers known as Wedding Busters are taking positive action to change the minds of parents in their community with the aim of making their region a child marriage free zone. In Bangladesh, 66% of girls are married before they reach the age of 18, often depriving them of a chance for an education and condemning them to ill health and economic hardship.

Wedding Busters is comprised of both girls and boys; girls who were at risk of child marriage act as advocates for other girls. In a video produced by Plan International, Sonhita, a 13-year-old girl who was married three years prior and now has a six month old baby, aspires to provide a better future for her daughter. Sonhita shares that she will ensure her daughter stays in school so as not to deny her of her dreams. Girls like Sonhita are the real game changers and history makers.


No mere pop star, Beyonce pushes the frontiers of feminism

By: Beth Lyons, associate director of YWCA Moncton

This week, I’d planned to write on the minimum wage in New Brunswick (which will be tied with the Northwest Territories for lowest in the country once Alberta and Newfoundland-and-Labrador increase their rates in the next two months) and how it affects women (women age 20 and over are the largest demographic earning minimum wage in New Brunswick). That was the plan, but then Beyoncé performed at the annual MTV Video Music Awards and I finally had to give in to writing a column about beloved Queen Bey.2014 MTV Video Music Awards - Fixed Show

What was so important, or even social justice related, about Beyoncé taking the stage at the VMAs? In the midst of her 20-minute set, which was essentially a condensed performance of the visual album she dropped in December, she stood on stage in a power stance in front a giant screen illuminated with the word ‘FEMINIST.’

Here’s some background on Beyoncé and feminism and why this is a big deal to many: Beyoncé’s songs have always featured themes of economic empowerment and independence for women; celebrated bodies that aren’t traditionally regarded as desirable under racist, colonialist, patriarchal standards; and held up supportive friendships between women as important. In 2006, Beyoncé unveiled an all-female band, The Sugar Mamas, that she tours with and features in many of her videos (during her 2013 Superbowl half-time performance, the Sugar Mamas’ musical director and lead guitarist, BiBi McGill, played a solo centre stage next to Bey, occupying a space typically reserved for male musicians).

Given this context (and the fact that Beyoncé is an incredibly successful artist and business person), folks have been eager to hear Beyoncé declare herself a feminist. In 2006, she disappointed many when UK Harper’s Bazaar asked if she was a feminist and she responded: “I don’t really feel that it’s necessary to define it. It’s just something that’s kind of natural for me, and I feel like . . . you know . . . it’s, like, what I live for. I need to find a catchy new word for feminism, right? Like Bootylicious.” (Bootylicious being the title of a track with her former group, Destiny’s Child).

A celebrity singer shying away from the label of feminist isn’t uncommon: Lady Gaga has done it (though she’s come around to embracing it), Katy Perry has said she believes in the strength of women but isn’t a feminist, Kelly Clarkson isn’t interested in the title, and both Sarah Jessica Parker and Madonna claim to be humanists, rather than feminists (sigh, that word really isn’t a gender-neutral alternative to feminism).

In the last few years, however, Beyoncé has clearly reconsidered her stance. She signalled this most strongly in her newest album, in which she sampled a TED talk from author Chimamanda Adichie titled We ‘Should All Be Feminists’ in a track. The sample begins with Adichie giving examples of how girls are raised to be less ambitious than boys and to view partnership with a man as the ultimate accomplishment in their lives. The sample wraps up with succinct definition of feminist: “Person who believes in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes.”

After releasing her new album containing this explicitly feminist track, Beyoncé also participated in an initiative related to Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In campaign and contributed to the Shriver Report on gender equality.

And then there were the VMAs.

Feminism is an often-maligned term, one that can be a difficult to claim; a term that one often pays a price for claiming. Given this, it was incredible to see Beyoncé, a former non-feminist, the most popular entertainer in the world, savvy business person, perform to the words of Adichie and then stand proudly, even defiantly, in front of the word feminist, claiming it for all to see.

It’s not just the fact that Beyoncé claims the label that warms the cockles of this feminist’s heart, but also the fact that Beyoncé complicates white, middle-class conceptions of feminism.

As I’ve mentioned in previous columns, social movements, even progressive ones, centre their most privileged members as well as the needs and priorities of those members. In the women’s rights movement, this has meant that women who are racialized, poor, disabled, immigrant and/or queer have often been marginalized within our efforts.

When Beyoncé proclaims herself a feminist and then puts forward incredible work that is informed by her identity as a black woman, we have to confront ways in which feminism has been narrowly defined and consider the intersections of various forms of oppression, including not just misogyny, but also racism and classism.

For instance, in early 2013 Beyoncé (who at this point had not yet released her new album, but was clearly growing increasingly interested in addressing gender-equality) announced a new world tour: The Mrs. Carter World Tour – Carter being the last name of her husband, Jay-Z. Many critiqued the fact that Beyoncé was choosing to drop her universally recognized first name from the tour’s title and simply become a Mrs. His Last Name (especially given that that she and Jay-Z both took each other’s last names upon marriage, becoming the Knowles-Carters).

Black feminists and womanists were quick to point out however that white feminists were forgetting to consider a historical context in which black families were destroyed and torn apart by the state, and on-going racist narratives that position black women as unlovable and as unfit partners and parents. Using the title of her tour to signal family-status could, therefore, be a radical and inspired choice by Beyoncé.beth

Similarly, Beyoncé’s work (particularly her videos and live performances) is often critiqued for sexualizing and objectifying women. White feminists, however, need to check our white (and, often, class) privilege and remember that black women’s bodies have been treated very differently than our own historically and in terms of pop culture. Framing a particular kind of body as desirable may be understood as problematic when simple analysis is used; when intersectional analysis that considers more than gender is employed, we may see transformative potential that we initially dismissed.

Just as feminism can’t be about simple analysis, Beyoncé standing on stage at the VMAs in front of the word feminist wasn’t just about de-stigmatizing the term, but also about challenging feminism to be broader, deeper, and more inclusive.

Source: Originally published in the Times & Transcript on August 28th, 2014.

 YWCA of Moncton, Canada.

Creating a Peaceful World

By Yoshinobu Sugiyama. Yoshinobu is a member of the Nagasaki Peace Messengers that recently visited the World Office to share his story.

I am Yoshinobu Sugiyama. I live in the city of Yaizu, Shizuoka Prefecture. Yaiza is a port city famous for tuna, but sixty years ago the ship “Daigo Fukuryu Maru”departed from Yaizu experienced a sad accident. It was sailing in the vicinity of a hydrogen bomb test and became contaminated with radioactive fallout.web

When I was an elementary school student, i visited the Daigo Fukuryu Maru Museum. There was a small glass bottle filled with radioactive fallout. I was surprised to learn that such powder-like materials killed Mr. Kuboyama, the head of the radio operators on the ship.

In the museum, I happened to meet Matashichi Oishi, one of the crew members at the time. Mr. Oishi has visited many places to speak about the danger of nuclear weapons, although he has been suffering from many diseases. He said, “I want the people of the world to know more about this incident and to pass down the history from generation to generation.” Through his worlds, I was moved and inspired to work for peace.

I think that all the people in the world have hopes for peace, but differences in nationality and religion often ruin the hope. We, high school students, have hopes and dreams for the future. It is our mission to convey the words and thoughts of people who, like Mr. Oishi, experiences such incidents so that the same mistake may not be repeated.

This year, a movie called “Godzilla”was produced in the United States. the original “Godzilla”movie was made in Japan in 1954. “Godzilla”is an imaginary monster, but the basic idea of this movie came from the incident of the Daigo Fukuryu Maru. Godzilla woke up from his long sleep at the bottom of the ocean because of the influence of a hydrogen bomb test. The character Godzilla, who attacks and destroys modern cities, seems to call for serious reflections by human beings who invented nuclear weapons.

I hope that we can create a world where human beings live not in confrontation but with love and understanding for each other. To realize such a peaceful world, we should join together, hand in hand.