By Inunonse Ngwenya. YWCA of Zambia.

Inunonse Ngwenya

One of the main reasons developing countries  are unlikely to achieve  many Millennium development goals and escape the persistence of poverty that plagues even poorer countries that still manage to achieve decent levels of economic growth, is a lack of government  revenue towards paying for schools, hospitals, roads and public service. A recession in developing countries provides yet another excuse for them to renege on their overseas aid commitment and every drop of government revenue is important.

In almost every society in the world, young people get fewer opportunities than adults to make their voices heard in public arena. The 12th Article of the UN Convention on the Rights of the child states that every child has the right to express his or her opinion and be heard in all matters that affects them. Children have the right to say what they think should, when adults are making decisions that affect them and to have their opinion taken into account.

Education is a critical component of a healthy transition into adulthood. During childhood and adolescence, learning occurs more intensely than during other phases of life. During adolescence, young people develop physical and cognitive skills and acquire the knowledge and information necessary to becoming healthy, productive adults. Providing quality education in a safe environment and keeping children in school is a cross-cutting strategy that links different development priorities. For example, being in school has been associated with delays in the age of sex, marriage, and childbearing. Appropriate targeted policies and programs that help to keep young people enrolled throughout adolescence and connected to the social network that schools provide can have important impacts on their personal development and can minimize their vulnerabilities to the challenges that exist outside of the school environment and help them secure and reduce poverty levels.

Every Child has the right to the best possible health.  Government must provide good health care, clean water, nutritious food and clean environment so that children can stay healthy.

Advocacy is a process of communication, or a set of actions targeted directly at the people who make decisions. Considering the amount of time people spend at work it makes sense that the workplace should provide information, education and services relating to Sexual reproductive health and rights issues. (SRHR)  Knowledge for action for young women and girls for sure is the power to make a difference in our societies, so partner with us and be that change we want to see.

Youth policies, both those aimed at building capacity and those meant to mitigate the effects of poverty, must address the distinctive environments in which young people live. Close attention needs to be given to the differences between the social and economic circumstances of urban and rural areas. In cities and towns, educational and health resources are more readily available than in rural villages. Cities also present a more diverse set of income-earning opportunities. But it is far from obvious that young people especially those who are poor are in a position to take advantage of these urban resources and opportunities. For the urban poor, school enrolment rates fall well below the rates of wealthier urban residents. In multiple dimensions of health, the urban poor hardly fare better than rural villagers. To some, the diversity of urban living standards may be seen in a positive light, suggesting possibilities for upward mobility. But to many poor girls and boys, this same diversity may be interpreted quite differently, as evidence of an unbridgeable gulf between their circumstances and those of the urban elites. The social risks of city life may jeopardize both poor young people and those who are better off, as is clear from higher urban rates of HIV and AIDS.

We need a new crop of young women and girls in our societies to raise the struggle to preserve what is ours, a crop that will stop at nothing to achieve economic independence. We are all born as blank keys and as we grow our parents, environments, society  are tools God uses to shape us and make us into the keys we ought to be.

Agri Business For The Future Young Women of Africa

By Patience Mbah Atim, from Agro Hub Cameroon. Patience recently attended the African Union Summit, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia below she shares her reflections. 

Each time I think of African Union 2014 theme “Agriculture and Food Security” I say to myself ‘finally’. I wonder why it’s taken so long for them to come up with this theme and I must applaud whoever is behind this theme.



Permit me talk on this as a young woman and agricultural entrepreneur from a country where statistics says 70% of the country depends on agriculture for a livelihood (Cameroon). I have been opportune to attend some of the pre-summit meetings such as the Gender Is My Agenda Campaign (GIMAC) consultative meeting on gender mainstreaming from the angle of Empowering Women for Agriculture and Food Security. The two days meeting brought together women organisations, policy and decision makers. One of my favourite presentations was that of Dr Carlos Lopes, UN-Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa. He had all the statistics; ‘It is widely documented that women are the backbone of the African agricultural sector’.

In some countries, the female share of the agricultural labour force exceeds 55%, if women had the same access to productive resources as men, they could increase yields on their farms by 20-30%, and this could raise total agricultural output in developing countries between 2.5-4%. Yes so we have heard and from many others but it’s enough! We are tired of being just a statistical value; of being just another woman somewhere in Africa. It’s about time our leaders realise we the young women and girls are the key to Africa’s development; I want to believe this is the driving force behind the African Union theme.

The economic contribution of the African woman has most often than not been neglected and undervalued. As a young woman in agriculture, the challenges are just so enormous; lack of access to land ownership, lack of capital and land inputs, market opportunities, gender bias and climate injustice. Empowering women economically is a paramount. The rural woman has to move from subsistence to sustainable agriculture. This can be achieved by investing and including the participation of young women and girls in sustainable agriculture that protects the environment and the farming community for the next generation.

A round of applause to the World Young Women’s Christian Association and it’s partners for bringing together 50 young women from across 13 countries in Africa, under the guidance of over 30 mentors to engage in an intergenerational dialogue with other women organisations, ambassadors, ministers, and policy and decision makers. Together we have put out a strong statement that marks out our priorities and recommendations. Our hope is to ensure our leaders all have a copy. We call on them to commit to ensuring we achieve the Future young Women and Girls Want.  Women account for 70% of food production in Africa, which is cultivated on just 1% of Africa’s arable land. Women’s contribution should be recognized and valued; their constraints, options, incentive and needs should be assessed and factored in the transformation agenda, then food insecurity will be history.

Microfinance and low-income Belizean women: A Critical Stance on Microfinance

By Tricia Gideon, World YWCA Board Member from the YWCA of Belize.

“A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. […] True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.”

-Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Tricia Gideon

Tricia Gideon

Micro-finance is a development approach that offers financial and social services to low-income groups using social capital as collateral. Micro-finance institutions (MFIs) have helped to increase women’s income and nutritional intake and have all offered health and educational services in areas where they operate and have assisted women to eke out a survival in the informal economy, but none of them have encouraged women to rethink the way relations in society are constructed, let alone actively challenge those relations. Women are responding to micro-finance programmes out of distress to meet family needs and not because new opportunities have presented themselves.


Westley (2005, p.3) enumerates many factors threatening the financial viability of Caribbean MFIs: (1) low repayment rates (due to poor MFI enforcement), (2) high transaction costs due to small economies and populations sizes, making it difficult to take advantage of economies of scale, and (3) heavily subsidized loans which all contribute to a non-expansive micro-finance sector. Also, unemployment and under-employment rates and educational and income levels are higher in the Caribbean compared to Asia, Africa and Latin America; and social safety nets are relatively better than other low-income countries, presenting fewer possibilities for MFIs. With fewer possibilities for viable MFIs in Belize, the survival needs of poor Belizean women will not be met at an optimal level that will enable these women to overcome their poverty.

Micro-finance enterprises operate in the unregulated informal sector that lacks the social safety nets and better economic activities that single Belizean women need to maintain sustainable livelihoods. MFIs cannot use microenterprises as compensation for poor Belizean women’s limited access to a market economy nor can it offer these women the security they need in times of unexpected illnesses and expenses. In Belize, where female-headed households are a common feature, they need, even more than dual-headed households, to secure viable economic activities.  More importantly, poor Belizean women cannot challenge their subordination if they are disconnected from the formal sector. Kabeer (1996, p.38-39, 44) contends the goal of MFIs should not be to draw women into a credit mechanism that locks them into a perpetual contract of small loans, but to empower them to gain access to bigger loans and better financial and non-financial services in the formal financial sector.

Of course pushing poor Belizean women into the formal sector will not automatically lead to their empowerment or reduce their domestic burden either, but it will address their survival needs far better than if they remain in the informal sector, for example, increasing their access to pensions, social security and unemployment benefits and other state benefits.

Micro-finance may further reduce government aid to low-income people and increase their reliance on external funding. With the introduction of microfinance and the desire to expand its coverage across the country, the Belizean state may find it easier to relinquish their social responsibilities for caring and providing for its citizens. Consequently, the burden to survive will rests upon poor Belizean women and men, instead of it becoming a social matter that involves the state and community. Also, Belizean microfinance projects receiving external funds run the risk of becoming more sensitive to their investors’ and donors’ needs than to the needs of poor Belizean women.

Micro-finance carries a short-term agenda that will insufficiently raise poor women’s income, bringing temporary relief to their economic situation without enacting structural change. Poor single women need viable and secure economic activities that connect them to the formal sector, so their basic needs are met at a level that will allow them to rise above their poverty and actively challenge the existing power imbalance that is the source of their poverty.


Owed something for nothing?

By Marcia Banasko, World YWCA Programme Associate from the YWCA of Great Britain

David Cameron British Prime Minister

The recent announcement by the UK government to axe housing benefit for under 25’s reinstates the government’s lack of touch with reality. The plan goes as follows low-paid and unemployed young Britons shall be required to live with their parents if they cannot afford market rents because this will save the national budget 2 Billion pounds a year. Since, David Cameron took power the coalition’s major focus has been reducing Britain’s budget deficit, which peaked at over 156 billion pounds in 2009/10 or 11 percent of GDP.

But don’t panic!!! Mr Cameron insists that in special cases such as for young people who are victims of domestic violence and need a safe place to live, then the government will provide housing. However, he never listed any other special cases, such as young mums who cannot live with their parents because of lack of space or general economic pressures. What about these special cases Mr Cameron??

There are around 400,000 low-paid and unemployed young people in the UK. This is a significant number of young people, how can the government expect young people to afford market rent and realistically how can they expect their parents to continue to support them when they may too be low-paid, another economic factor is unemployment. Therefore, I believe the government should be concentrating on youth employment creation and developing opportunities for further education and training.

By taking this action of axing housing benefits for under 25’s the government simply further discriminates against under 25’s right to autonomy as young responsible adults. Mr Cameron argued that the current benefits system reduced incentives for people to work. However, most young people I know are desperately seeking employment but unfortunately there are not enough jobs or no jobs out there at all. It’s nothing to do with lack of incentive to work, of course there will be the few who don’t want to work but in these ‘special cases’ it is very much down to lack of confidence and self-esteem as they lack the skills to gain employment or may have left school with no qualifications.

‘For literally millions, the passage to independence is several years living in their childhood bedroom as they save up to move out; while for many others, it’s a trip to the council where they can get housing benefit at 18 or 19, even if they are not actively seeking work,’ said Mr Cameron.

‘It’s a TRIP to the council’, really Mr Cameron a ‘trip’ yes because we all know council housing is heavenly. Probably as majestic as number 10 Downing Street!! Furthermore, it’s difficult to successfully register for council housing. In reality waiting lists can take up to one year if not more. A ‘trip’ like we are all dreaming of the day we can get council housing and skip merrily down the street to the council?!

Society has always discriminated against young people from Socrates to modern day. I believe the solution to creating an independent generation lies in job creation, education and affordable childcare.

YWCA Prepares for CSW

By YWCA of Canberra Executive Director, Rebecca Vassarotti 

CSW has not yet started but YWCA is already working to progress issues that we believe are key to improving the lives of rural women.

From the left- Rebecca Vassarotti, Alison Laird, Jessica Hamilton

Over the last few days, YWCA women from around the world have been converging in New York to ensure the voices of local women are heard at the 56th session of the Commission for the Status of Women.  Women from countries including  Trinidad Tobago, Sweden, Nigeria, Sri Lanka, Eqypt, Australia, the United States of America, Liberia, Kenya, Finalnd and Columbia are participating in the YWCA delegation to this year’s CSW. On Friday we prepared through an introduction and orientation to UN Human Rights system and CSW, shared our experiences of the issues facing women in our countries and considered the key issues that we believe should be addressed by governments meeting at CSW. Key issues that emerged included the importance of the use of language that is appropriate and accessible for rural women, ensuring that leadership models are able to be accessed by rural and particularly young women, that violence against women as a key priority, access to health services, particularly sexual and reproductive health rights and services.

On Saturday 25th, a number of delegates attended the Ecumenical Women’s session and joined women’s faith based organisations in planning advocacy for the event. Michelle Deshong, member of the YWCA Australia delegation provided a powerful and thought provoking reflection of the experience of Aboriginal women living in Australia.

We also joined together to reflect on what the task ahead was, how best to support each other and the group and what specific roles would be required over the two weeks of the Commission session.

While CSW is yet to begin, the World YWCA delegation is coming together as an immensely talented team who is no doubt going to make an incredible impact at the meeting. Collectively we have committed to honouring the privileged that has been afforded to us in representing the 25 million women and girls who are part of the YWCA. We hope to give voice to the women who are part of the 22000 communities in which we work and aim to be an authentic voice to rural women, and provide a link for rural and local women to international policy and decision making. This is a huge responsibility. However, getting to know the amazing women who are part of this delegation, I am energized and inspired that we will make a difference to the lives of women through participating in this event

Harmful Traditional Practices in Ethiopia

By Alemtsehay Zergaw

On International Women’s Day, the World YWCA participated in many exciting and inspiring events. Alemtsehay Zergaw, Programme Associate, Communications, from the YWCA of Ethiopia, participated in one of these events. Alemtsehay gave a speech at a side event at the XVI Human Rights Council on violence against children as a result of harmful traditional practices. Alem shares the speech with us.

About 3200 miles from here, a girl is born to a remote rural family in Ethiopia. Her name is Amarech which means beautiful.  From the very beginning of her coming to the world, she is coldly received in a tradition where the high expectation was for a baby boy that is normally perceived as a source of honour and an assurance of the continuity of the family line.

Before she is 3 year old, she will have to endure a painful traditional genital mutilation practice with the full consent, and often presence, of her own parents. She will be raised with the mindset that she lives to serve a man, to give him a baby and to serve him in the house. She will then grow up in the house carrying the burden of cleaning the house, fetching water on her back from a river a few miles away, cooking food for the family, domestic tasks which are normally considered the necessary tasks of a girl in a house hold. She may as well endure rape and abuse by men while fetching water or going to school.  When she is 7, her parents will force her to marry an old man. If by any chance her parents haven’t agreed to give her to an older man, she could be abducted and forced into marriage anyway. She will end up in early marriage with an old man and face early pregnancy.  Early pregnancy complicates her health and she could face fistula problems. There are no clinics to go to. And she doesn’t have money. If she feels strong and gets bitter and escapes the early marriage, she then ends up in a big city. She doesn’t know anyone in the city and so she has to make money to avoid ending up on the streets. She may end up working as a domestic maid, endlessly, for a very small salary or as a sex worker. In the latter case, she will be at higher risk of HIV infection and of dying of AIDS related illness due to a lack of treatment and good nutrition.

Such is the life of the girl child in a typical small remote rural town in Ethiopia. Long upheld traditional social values and practices continue to discriminate and act as violence against girls like Amarech. These practices are continued even after by some community and faith leaders. I will briefly explain some of these practices, and end with a brief summary of what the YWCA of Ethiopia has been doing to tackle some of those problems. As exemplified in Amarech’s life story, some of the traditional harmful practices in Ethiopia include: a traditional preference for a son, female genital mutilation (FGM), early and forced marriage, marriage by abduction, encouraging girls to be silent and subservient, shouldering domestic tasks on the girl, etc.  The preference of having a son preference involves favouring the social, intellectual and physical development of a boy child over that of a girl child. Most of the time girls are required to quit school in order to take care of the household chores, or they are prevented from engaging in games and other activities with peers in order to stay home and supervise younger siblings. Girls are reduced to domestic labours both during childhood, and later in marriage.

Early marriage and abduction is common in Ethiopia, especially in rural settings whereby girls between the ages of 7 to 18 are often already married before the girl is physically, physiologically and psychologically ready to shoulder the responsibilities of marriage and child bearing, and many do not have access to basic sexual and reproductive health information or services. Complications from early marriage are deadly for a girl, one of them being complications from early pregnancy. Many girls attempt to escape this practice imposed on them by running away to big cities from rural parts of the country. Either they run away from early marriage or their parents send them to the city to work because they are poor. These children come to the capital with no preparation and no support. Most of them are hired as a domestic workers or sex workers or end up living on the street.

At the YWCA of Ethiopia, we offer support to young domestic house workers who are migrating from rural parts of Ethiopia. These teenage girls are often under the control of their employers, and they are paid very little money or even worse, no wage at all for their labour. Many of them send what little they have earned to their relatives in the countryside, leaving them empty handed by the end of the day. Having nothing in their hand, no education, nowhere to go, they have to stay serving their employers forever, or face a challenging life ahead if they run away from their employers. Once they escape, then they are exposed to rape, abuse, beating, street pregnancy, STI and HIV. It is very common to see teenage mothers on the street of Addis Ababa. They don’t know their rights or what is happening to their bodies, and they have no access to violence related service and SRH information.

At the YWCA of Ethiopia, we train these young women and their employers separately to build awareness on violence, coercion, peer pressure, sexual and reproductive health and sanitation for the benefit of young women and girls that are employed. By building support systems and financial skills, at least in the cities, the YWCA of Ethiopia attempts to offer a bit of hope for these girls and young women facing dire circumstances throughout their life time. These efforts in Ethiopia are supported by the World YWCA’s global advocacy and monitor the implementation of key international agreements on gender equality and the human right of women and girls, as well as encouraging faith communities to challenge religious and cultural norms that are harmful to girls and young women.

I thank you for the opportunity to share with you few words about these problems on this special day for women.  It is special because this year marks 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day. I feel glad that I have had the chance to make Amarech part of a historic event where people around the world converse about the challenges and celebrate the life of women and girls.  I would like to mention that, while violence against children due to harmful traditional practices in Ethiopia is by no means harmful to girls only, girls are more exposed to violence due to social and cultural norms.

We must change these practices, and for this to happen leaders at all levels – religious leaders, government, community elders and civil society, must condemn harmful practices against the girl child.

Amarech means beautiful. I hope she has a life as good as her name!

Who is going to be next?

By Samia Khoury

“Yesterday evening Sabeel organised a special Ecumenical memorial service at St. Stephen’s Dominican church in Jerusalem for the victims of the Coptic Church of St. Peter and St. Paul in Alexandria, Egypt.  It was a very meaningful service with the readings carefully chosen and the intercessions especially written for the occasion. The young woman who led us in the singing had a beautiful voice which added a special aura to the solemn event that we were gathered for.  And as we lit the candles, I could not help but wonder who is going to be next.  It was only last November  that we also  had another service organised by Sabeel  in memory of the victims of the Catholic Church in Baghdad, Iraq.

Samia Khoury

The Christians of the Middle East are in fact the first Christians.  They are the followers of Jesus Christ who was born in Bethlehem.  That is why we are often surprised when people inquire about when and how we were converted to Christianity.  I remember writing a reflection in February 2006 on behalf of Sabeel for the Presbyterian Church in the USA Mission Yearbook for Prayer and Study.  I started it with the following paragraph:  “The message of Jesus was launched from this Holy Land, to spread east and west, and has come back to us dressed in various new garbs.  It has taken root in foreign soil, and has sprouted in different shapes, colours, and flavours.  Sometimes, its original garment is hardly recognizable to us indigenous Christians of the land who are rapidly decreasing in number due to Israeli restrictions and political instability.”

Not only did this message come back in a different garment, but it came back to us with the wave of colonialism and split the indigenous Christian Church. Even new born babies started to carry foreign names, making it easy to identify the faith of a person from his or her name.  Despite that, we continued to remain Arabs, whether Palestinians, Syrians, Lebanese, Iraqis, Egyptians, etc.  And we remain Christians, faithful to both our country and our faith. In fact some of the outstanding leaders of Arab Nationalism were Christians. I am not writing a historical document to list all those who were involved, but I am trying to reflect on who benefits from this kind of extremism that is tearing the region apart by driving a wedge between the indigenous Christians of the Middle East region and their Muslim compatriots?

I remember after 1967 when the Palestinian Territories fell under the Israeli occupation, how easily the doors of the USA were opened for Palestinian emigration – mostly  Christians – from the Palestinian Territories.  Now all efforts with a variety of tools and strange hands are playing to split the people in each of the Middle East countries under the guise of political freedom and democracy.  The basic policy of the colonial powers has always been “divide and rule”.  So it is not strange that the powers that have succeeded in tearing up the whole Middle East into small states, and their allies or collaborators, are still at work fragmenting each state into political, ethnic and religious conflicts.  When the masses lose hope in the absence of freedom, independence and stability, the ground becomes very fertile for extremism that could be used in different ways.

Hopefully both Christians and Muslims of the region are aware of who is at the root of all this, and that all learned people, lay, clergy along with Muslim clerics, will engage in a campaign of building awareness to quench the fire that has been ignited as a result of those bloody massacres, so that we do not need to worry who will be next.  It only takes a spark and then, God help us, if it turns into a conflagration.”

Samia Khoury is an outstanding woman leader within the Palestinian community. Her voluntary work in community organisations is marked by genuine effort and huge commitment. Samia Nasir Khoury retired in 2003 after serving for 17 years as president of Rawdat El-Zuhur, a coeducational elementary school for the lower income community in East Jerusalem. She continues to serve as treasurer of the board of the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in East Jerusalem and on the board of trustees of Birzeit University in  Palestine.

Samia was deeply involved with the YWCA, including serving as the national president of the YWCA of Jordan for two terms (as the Palestinian West Bank had been annexed to Jordan in 1950). When Jordan severed its ties with the West Bank in 1988, the YWCA of Palestine was reestablished, and she was its first president from 1991-96. Her breadth of international experience has also included addressing two UN NGO Forums: in New York in 1996, and in Athens in 2000.

Samia writes about justice, truth, and peace for the Palestinian people, the relationships between people and the land, the context of Christian-Jewish-Muslim relationships in the Holy Land, concerns for children in conflict, and gender issues.

CSW 2010: Indigenous and Inspirational Women

By YWCA Australia Vice President Roslyn Dundas

Indigenous women from around the world are ensuring their voices and unique experiences are also being heard at CSW. On Wednesday the International Fund for Agricultural Development and the International Indigenous Women’s Forum convened a panel “Indigenous women working for change and moving ahead since 1995”.

Speakers included Tarcila Rivera Zea (Peru), Victoria Haraseb (Namibia), Govind Kekar (India) and Megan Davis (Australia). One of the key themes that arose was the lack of access to education. Tarcilia from Peru called for the allocation of aid to strengthen the traditional knowledge of indigenous women – affirming local knowledge and supporting women to be in a position to transmit that knowledge to another generation.

The forum noted that while Indigenous activists defend traditional culture based on human rights, we also need to continue to review traditions – as there are traditions that require transformation to respect women’s rights (such as female genital mutilation)

Megan, a Cobble Cobble Aboriginal woman from South East Queensland, spoke of the recently announced Australian National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples. This congress has a mandated requirement of 50% representation from women. Megan noted that while this was a significant win, it does not mean the job is done. We cannot let men think there is equality now, as there are still underlying and hidden issues that will impact on women’s participation in the Congress. Megan is the Australian candidate for the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

The forum concluded with a challenge for us all to examine ways we can ensure positive policies from one government to the next, as indigenous women often find hard fought for wins overturned following elections. And this linked back to the opening discussion about education, as Tracila reflected an education is needed to be able to participate in the political processes.

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