Making progress, keep marching

by Inunonse Ngwenya, YWCA of Zambia.

For young women and girls around the global social isolation, economic vulnerability and a lack of appropriate health information and services are critical problems that prevent a healthy transition from girlhood to womanhood.

Inunonse Ngwenya

Inunonse Ngwenya

Young Women and girls need to maximize our potentials but we do not think that we can do it alone, we need mentors and a society who really understands our needs, gender equality and implementation of policies that help us realize our dreams. Young people are not problems we are part of the solution. We need fewer meetings, less papers and documents, and much more implementation.

Despite numerous pronouncement and government assurance that gaps in programming and policies are first identified, there is still the lack of proper implementation of programmes, at the local and national levels. The measures taken to implement the policy have had hidden agendas whose main objective is to serve the party in power and we refuse as young leaders to have such mindsets and leaders.

One would expect that the citizens would play a critical role in shaping political decisions and holding leaders accountable however, the outcomes are always different and suggest that the elite continue to influence and nurture the behaviour and attitude of the masses on any major policy issue. The culture and perceived mind set of the citizens is that instead of demanding for service to be provided by different institutions of the government, they end up begging for favours from political leaders. Improving participation is not so much about improving consultation processes that enable government to deliver its services more efficient and effectively but more about how government can help to unleash citizen power and to tap into the enormous talent, ingenuity, energy and local knowledge that citizens have to offer.

The government has a role to play in providing resources and developing coordinating frameworks, but the people themselves have the best ideas about what needs to be done and what solutions will work in their community. Participation in this context can therefore be defined as the process of shaping citizen-government partnership to achieve development.

Women and girls often occupy a lower status in societies as a result of social and cultural traditions, attitudes, beliefs that deny them their rights and stifle their ability to play an equal role in their homes and communities and the global at large. Governments in equal partnership with the private sector and young people especially young women and girls with special emphasis on marginalized and vulnerable groups should work towards investing in building the capacities of young people and in creating an enabling environment for young people to meaningfully participate in all stages of decision making and implementation processes.

Young women and girls should show unity, transparency, accountability, and responsibility in their initiatives and engagements at local, national, regional and international levels when it comes to programmes that affect them so as to have a voice rather have people speak on their behalf. After all we know our agenda very well and we deserve the best. In Conclusion even if it’s just small steps as long you are making progress, keep marching.

Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) region

By Sophia Pierre-Antoine, YWCA Haiti

We have to make sure that women’s issues are an essential element on the agendas of all heads of States, all governments.

These are the words of Michelle Bachelet, former Head of UN Women and current President of Chile, now in her second term. During the 51st meeting of Presiding Officers of the Regional Conference on Women in Latin America and the Caribbean held in Santiago, Chile, the World YWCA delegation worked tirelessly to ensure that this was a reality.

Our diverse delegation represented Belize, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Haiti, Honduras, Suriname, and Trinidad & Tobago. We were nine women and girls’ rights activists with a purpose. Our days started at dawn and ended late at night because we made sure to be the first to arrive and the last to leave at all Government, UN, and NGO/Civil Society led events. Our goal? To network and to raise awareness and knowledge of the World YWCA’s agenda. During this past week’s convening, I had the privilege to meet with delegates from Women Machineries all over the Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) region, from my home country of Haiti, and with members of UN Women and Civil Society organisations. Already, I have been in touch with government officials and civil society organisations from various countries of the LAC region, which want to support the work of YWCA Haiti. I am eternally grateful to the World YWCA for creating this space for young women. It truly was the embodiment of transformational, intergenerational leadership.Sophia

Each of us selected government and civil society delegates with whom we would constantly engage and advocate for our cause. I don’t think I have ever said the phrase “Young Women” in my life as much as I have during this week in Santiago. As governments of Latin American and Caribbean countries drafted the Beijing +20 agenda for the region, it was a key moment for us to remind them of the importance of hearing and including the voices and experiences of young women.

To include the voices of young women is to guarantee that the specific issues, wants, needs, and rights of the girl child, the adolescent girl and the developing woman are not forgotten, or worse, erased.

Access to the following rights were discussed throughout the week:

  • to education;
  • to bodily autonomy and inclusive/comprehensive sexual and reproductive health; this incorporates access to safe abortion methods, birth control, and maternal (pre-post natal) health care;
  • of lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex women to live openly and without fear
  • to participate in government and leadership positions;
  • to work in male dominated fields (sciences/engineering for example), for domestic work/ child-elderly care to be valued, and for the right for a young woman to choose sex work as a profession and get access to social and health services;
  • to social security for women-headed households;
  • to access funds for gender mainstreaming initiatives;
  • of HIV positive women and girls to live without stigma and access health services;
  • to programs protecting women and girls from gender-based violence including domestic violence, rape, sexual assault and harassment, organized crimes, disappearances, trafficking, sexual exploitation, feminicide;
  • to the protection of women human rights activists and journalists;
  • of rural women to live without the pressure of the consequences of climate change and of genetically modified food on their crop production and food quality;
  • of indigenous women, migrant women, and afro-descendent women to live without racist and xenophobic attacks;
  • of women with differently abled bodies to occupy space within the public and private sphere.

In one week I have learned so much about the important role of civil society in government and UN led meetings, the power of concise language and advocacy, and what actually happens behind closed doors at such events. I feel that my eyes were further opened about many truths and realities and I feel even more inspired to continue fighting actively for the rights of women and girls.

The “leaders” of our delegation, Khalea Callender (YWCA Trinidad & Tobago / World YWCA) and Icilda Humes (YWCA Belize / World YWCA), mentored us and made sure every single detail went smoothly throughout the entire week. The input and advice that I received from them is extremely valuable and I know that I will continue to carry them with me in my personal life and career path as I flourish as a young woman. I have formed deep bonds with sisters from other YWCAs and the United Methodist Church (UMC) as we shared experiences, hardships, and debated heated topics. We also shared victories, tips and tools for us to continue to empower ourselves and women and girls in our respective countries.

To Paola Quevedo (YWCA Bolivia), Delia Medel (YWCA Chile), Yuleida Alvarez (UMC Columbia), Andrea Gradiz (YWCA Honduras), Marie Soledad Benjamin (UMC Haiti), and Barbara Lont (YWCA Suriname): you are all amazing women, you are a force to be reckoned with, and you are agents of change and leaders in your own right. I love you all and wish you all the best in the struggle for women and girls’ rights.

I cannot thank the World YWCA and YWCA Haiti enough for this opportunity. I am confident that the outcomes of this past week will have a positive impact on our fight for the rights of young women.

In peace, love and solidarity,

Sophia Pierre-Antoine, YWCA Haiti.