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.