Change is Possible: A Feminist’s Journey from Pessimism to Optimism

By Annie McNamara, Short-term intern from Collgate UniversityAnnie

Growing up in an idyllic suburb in western Pennsylvania, I lead a relatively sheltered childhood from the cruelties that plague the world, particularly those that women face simply due to their gender. While my parents made a conscious effort to educate my siblings and me on the hardships those less fortunate than us experienced, as a child, I could not fully grasp the realities of such hardships. Looking back, it seems so horribly silly to me that at 15, as I stressed over unwanted homework assignments and obtaining the perfect date to the school dance, a girl my same age faced far crueler obstacles, such as female genital mutilation and forced childhood marriages.

As I grew older, my coursework in high school and college truly exposed me to the injustices women and girls faced worldwide–transforming my initial ignorance on the subject into an outlook just shy of hopelessness regarding the attainability of women’s equal rights. While I desperately wished to discover a straightforward, concrete solution to end discrimination and violence against women, the obstacles in achieving this seemed too great to surmount, at least in my lifetime. Moreover, I became increasingly frustrated by my peer’s general apathy towards women’s issues, as too many turned a blind eye to the indisputable inequalities women experience, even in the United States.

However, after only a few short weeks since I began interning with the communications department of the World YWCA, I am filled with a renewed sense of optimism for the future of women worldwide, due largely to the organisation’s efforts and achievements. Firstly, the opportunity to be surrounded by smart, energetic women, proud to label themselves as feminists has been a refreshing experience, as my female peers at home often hesitate to identify themselves with the term due to its undeserved negative connotation amongst members of my generation. It is empowering to work in an environment of women reclaiming feminism as a positive movement, fighting for its ideal of equal rights for women.

Additionally, one of my responsibilities as a communications intern involves writing articles on the accomplishments of the global network as well as those of regional YWCA chapters. Through this responsibility, I have been enlightened to serious achievements for women due to the efforts of the YWCA and its partner organisations. More specifically, I was thrilled to discover that last week, the Malawi government announced the passage of legislation which will raise the legal age of marriage for girls from 15 to 18– certainly a huge milestone in bringing an end to child marriage worldwide. This achievement in Malawi can be attributed in part to the efforts of the World YWCA General , Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda, who is also the AU Goodwill Ambassador on Ending Child, Early and Forced Marriage. Malawi is a country that was specifically targeted by the AU, which speaks to the influence the YWCA possesses in the global fight of injustices against , such as child marriage.

Furthermore, I am inspired by the individual successes of YWCA chapters, such as the YWCA of Romania’s programme to address the issue of domestic violence against women in its country by providing educational workshops to females and males, coupled with counseling services for victims of domestic violence. Successful programmes of regional chapters demonstrate the idea that smaller movements can still promote change, especially in the minds of the individuals reached through each project.

While my time thus far with the YWCA has left me with a sense of optimism that the fight for women’s equal rights can be won, it has also exposed me to the reality that much more must be done in order to achieve this. However, my optimism prevails, as I now understand that while no concrete, straightforward solution exists in achieving equality for women, incremental change, fostered by both the global network and the regional chapters, can have a lasting impact, and can help us obtain our ultimate goal.

Technology and Economic Empowerment of Women in Fragile States

By Krista Seddon, YWCA Australia. At the UN Commission on the Status of Women.

Side Event: Technology and Economic Empowerment of Women in Fragile States: A Multi-Country Perspective from Africa and Asia ‘We need to focus on the future young women want, but also the future that young women deserve. We need a clear focus on economic empowerment and how technology can be leveraged to empower young women and girls,’ said Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda, World YWCA General Secretary, when opening the event.

Opening statements were made by Belinda Bennet, Board Member, World YWCA. Belinda set the scene by sharing with the audience two stories on how technology has been leveraged in Northern India. Women who live in a rain feed area are using technology to communicate in order to reclaim skills they have been traditionally known for, such as growing Millet. She shared another story about an e-commerce programme in Bangladesh which is being used to connect rural and urban women to allow them to buy and sell fruit and vegetable baskets.

Anne Sipilainen, Under- Secretary of State, Finland, linked Resolution 1325 and the Beijing Platform for Action talking about the importance of accountability of these human rights instruments. She said technology is an important tool for breaking down the barriers of gender equality. ‘ICT can be our ally, ICT needs to be included in training provided in post-conflict situations. It can provide a platform for creating accessible economic opportunities for women and girls’.

Vanessa Anyoti, is a youth programme coordinator with the YWCA of Tanzania. She started by talking about the population statistics of Tanzania. With a population of 49 million with 66% under the age of 25, 53% of those young people are unemployed. Young women face more barriers for economic participation. The YWCA of Tanzania is looking to create a custom app for young women working in farming and agriculture that provides information on the weather, credit, and farming techniques.

Yadanar, YWCA of Myanmar, spoke about a young woman who participated in the YWCA holistic development programme or microfinance program.me This young womawan was provided with access to a mobile health clinic and a scholarship to help her attend ICT training. The income generated through this training has led to more education, university and security for her family. She is now mentoring and supporting other young women.

Cherelle, YWCA of Samoa, a young women and a business owner, spoke about how young women take action for themselves. She talked about the importance of innovation. Recently she worked on a project called Ray of Hope which raised $150,000 for the development of a women’s refuge center in Samoa.

The important messages that came across in this conversation we’re that often young women are seen as vulnerable. But these young women are challenging that stereotype. These young women are already leaders, making decisions and creating change for a better future.