Are we nearly there yet? Bringing Beijing home!

By Audrey Wilson, General Secretary of YWCA Ireland. Original Source of blog. 


Audrey Wilson

There is no doubt that 1995 was a pivotal year for women.  At the Fourth Women’s Conference in Beijing the pertinent issues facing women were highlighted and a historic political commitment to women’s rights was made. This commitment is more formally known as the Beijing Platform for Equality, Development and Peace.

From 3rd -5th November 700 people, representing 350 groups and 56 countries gathered in the United Nations office, Geneva with one common purpose, to strive to make the world a better place for women and girls. This forum organised by the Geneva Committee on the Status of Women, provided a unique platform for representatives of non – government organisations to review the achievements of the last 20 years and highlight areas of ongoing concern relating to women’s rights.

The forum was structured around a number of interactive roundtable discussions on themes including women and human rights, violence against women, women in power and decision making, women and poverty, women and health and women and education and training. A panel of experts started each session with stimulating insights, statistics and recommendations informed by their area expertise that paved the way for insights and recommendations from the forum participants.

As General Secretary of YWCA Ireland I felt honoured to represent our association at this important event. To join with 700 human rights activists in the heart of the United Nations is a truly empowering experience with overwhelming symbolism. It is encouraging that we have come a long way in advancing women’s human rights since 1995, however, as one of only two Irish delegates present, the voice of Irish women seemed hugely underrepresented in this review process. As a professional, a mother of daughters, a Christian, a young woman, a rural woman, the compelling challenge to bring home global policies to Irish communities is immediate.  Human rights are only effective if you know about them!

In order to further advance women’s equality in the twenty first century the opportunity to influence global and national policy must be afforded to women from all sectors of society.  Governments, women’s organisations, churches and the wider community must join forces in encouraging women to actively participate in shaping all policy, including policy that relates specifically to women. It is essential that all women, regardless of their social or economic status, know that the opportunity to make a difference is within their reach and that their voice matters.

YWCA Ireland seeks to support and encourage women as they lead change in our society. We are an association driven by the Christian faith of our founders and our members. We are passionate about enabling women and girls to raise awareness of, and to inspire action against, injustice in its many shapes and forms.

Being part of a sisterhood

By Jennifer Kakai, YWCA of Solomon Islands

Hi! My name is Jennifer Kakai and I’m from the Solomon Islands. I joined the YWCASI in 2013 and work as a communications officer.

Being part of the YWCA Regional Training is indeed a blessing for me.

The sisterhood spirit during the training is awesome.

Being new to the YWCA family and first attending any of the YWCA Training ever is indeed a great opportunity for me to explore the new world and most of all the impacts this training has on me , building my self esteem and realizing the leadership potential I have.

One thing that stood out for me during the training is the togetherness all the pacific sisters in identifying the issues we face in the pacific.

There I realized that I’m not standing alone…..but with a handful of young women identifying and fighting to address common issues it gives me the strength to continue fight for the other young women.

The session on advocacy gives me a clear path on my work as a communication officer. Being new to advocacy work, the session gives me a clear path. I know that it would be a challenge for me, but I believe with the help of my other colleagues, we can make it through.

I’m glad to be part of this training and moreover part of the whole YWCA Family, a group of women with courage and passion for all the young women around the world.

What Inspires You?

By Cherelle Leilani Latafale Fruean, YWCA of Samoa

Today we began the YWCA Pacific Leadership and Skills Building Training in Honiara. Young women gathered from the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea and Samoa to discuss the successes and challenges of young women leading change in the Pacific. We had an amazing group of facilitators from the World YWCA leading our discussion. They created a space where all of us felt safe, empowered and inspired!

One of the main themes of today was inspiration. What inspires you? Or WHO inspires you? Someone that truly inspired me today was Diana from the YWCA of the Solomon Islands. A young woman with a disability that didn’t let anything affect her enthusiasm for life or her passion for empowering young women! In the short moment I spent with her she set my whole mood for the rest of the conference. I was driven, empowered, motivated, energetic, hopeful and thankful. I was photoBy the end of the day, we had shared common struggles with our Pacific sisters and created some sustainable solutions. By the end of the day, we had collectively envisioned our ‘Big YWCA Dream’. A dream to have a World Class Young Women’s Leadership Programme that empowers and inspires women all over the world. By the end of the day, we had formed a bond amongst sisters, motivated by the struggles of our young Pacific women. By the end
of the day, we were inspired!

Advancing Women’s Empowerment & Gender Equality in the Next Decade

The new decade demands a boldness of vision, of action and collaborative action across constituencies.

By Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda, General Secretary of the World YWCA

Today, the women and girls of the world are echoing the same key issues that they raised twenty years ago as they gathered in Beijing for the 4th World Conference for Women. It’s the same 12 critical issues ranging from poverty, economy, violence against women, education, health, role of women in the media, rural women, the girl child, environment, and institutional mechanisms for which there is a call for greater implementation. This is in addition to the emerging issues of the last two decades that have found greater sharpness and focus, the concerns related to a bundle of issues related to health and rights ranging from maternal mortality, sexual and reproductive health and rights, HIV and mental health, to the emergence of modern technologies and social media that is shaping the forms of communication, the norms of accountabilities and the creation of greater opportunities for accessing services. Yet the world remains with deep inequalities and inequities across regions, within countries, across the full spectrum of socio-economic indicators, and participation and access to opportunities as well as the digital divides.

In order to accelerate the actions for achieving empowerment of women, young women and girls and the reduction of gender inequalities,  there must be a strong investment of political will, technical and financial resources towards practical programmes in communities that impact the social and economic rights and well being of women and girls. These should be accompanied by a clear investment in mobilizing the leadership of the underutilized resource  contributing to and influencing decision making at all levels of society. The changing of norms and values is crucial towards achieving some of these, and requires harnessing the positive attributes, practices and tools that is engrained in the ways of living and knowledge banks of communities including indigenous knowledge. At the same time, we must  vigorously and openly work to reject negative practices such as female genital cutting, early and forced marriages. Fundamentally, it is not sufficient to address the manifestations of inequality, it is also important to root out the structural and patriarchal causes that often find expression in legislation, socialisation of men and boys and limiting opportunities for women and girls. The new decade demands a boldness of vision, of action and collaborative action across constituencies.

Accountability to existing commitments at the national level as enshrined in our constitutions; at the regional level as reflected in various policy and legal instruments, such as the Maputo Protocol; and at the global level as informed by Beijing Platform for Action, CEDAW and resolution 1325 among others is crucial. It remains imperative that we advance the women’s human rights jurisprudence, and normative framework as part of global drive of vision.

UN Women, established in 2010 was a culmination of years of advocacy by women’s networks and engagement of the member states on the need for an effective mechanism within the UN that has status, is well resourced and can deliver impactfully in its mission. The position of Executive Director for UN Women therefore comes with huge and complex responsibilities! For which a greater expectation still exists for this organization, which is essentially in its infancy. The importance of providing policy, advisory and technical support, strategic partnership with civil society especially women’s groups and women’s fund and foundations, internal engagement for the UN to deliver effectively on gender equality for the individual mandates of programmes, funds and agencies as well as the role in leveraging quality and sustained relations with donors and the media remains at the core of success.

The founding Executive Director, Michelle Bachelet established a good foundation and raised the profile of the organization as it took its baby steps in the last two years. The emphasis on political participation, economic empowerment and violence against women remains at the centre of priorities today as it has done for years. What is key at this moment is to have a leader who can bridge the strong visionary perspective contributing to shaping the future of the development agenda especially at this moment with the MDG 2015 process underway, the 20 year review of the Beijing Platform for action and the ICPD review. It’s even much more important to have a leader who can leverage the opportunities that exist for delivering programmes and interventions in communities in a way that women and girl’s lives and well being is improved, that they have more opportunities for accessing education, healthcare services, food sovereignty, water and technology. These are the core social and economic rights that lie at the centre of daily struggles for billions of women across the world and through which gender inequalities manifest themselves. Women and girls should not continue to be a statistic, a case study and an anecdote in the humanitarian, development and security agenda. Rather, it is crucial that women and girls are leaders bringing knowledge, innovation, expertise and experience that lie at the centre of solutions and sustainable development.

For me, the daily struggle for women’s rights, a life of dignity and equal opportunities is not a job but a calling and a way of life since birth. Born and brought up in rural Zimbabwe during the war in a very resource poor family, selling vegetables and fruits to supplement school fees, raised by a widow, improvising the situation of women is not theoretical. I experienced first-hand the life of violence,  affected by health issues of family members such as HIV, walked the long distance to fetch water, firewood and goods. At the same time, I have also had the opportunity to access  good education, graduating as a lawyer and going further to study conflict resolution, human rights and gender. This theoretical and academic grounding is further reinforced by my experience. For more than twenty years, my professional life has been focused on women and children’s rights, spanning quality time in civil society, working in government and ten years in the United Nations.

Today, I lead the World YWCA, a global network of 25 million women and girls, present in 125 countries with services and programmes in 22,000 communities. Its main mission is to develop the collective leadership of women and girls for collective action towards a world of peace, justice, dignity, health and care for the environment. The intergenerational and transformative power of women, the commitment to take action and provide services in communities as well as raising the voice to in advocacy defines the organization’s approaches.

Stand Up tall and break the Taboo of Menstruation in Africa.

By Nelly Lukale, YWCA of Kenya

Unlike many believe, menstrual health is not just a ‘women’s issue’. We need to get people – boys and girls, men and women – to talk openly about menstrual health in every part of the world. Female hygiene should be at the top of each government’s list of priorities. In 2012, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said that ‘the greatest return comes from investing in girls and women. When they are educated, they drive development in their families, communities and nations. ‘Without access to toilets, sanitation facilities, menstrual pads and information, girls and women are unable to be the drivers of development they have the potential to be.nelly

While many governments and non-governmental organizations support several issues affecting girls and women in developing countries, menstrual hygiene management often gets overlooked. Millions of girls in sub-Saharan Africa do not attend school due to taboos and stigma related to menstruation. They do not have access to proper sanitary pads and instead they have to improvise with mattresses, blankets, newspaper, rugs or feathers. Using these devices instead of proper hygienic pads can cause severe health risks, such as infections in girls’ genitalia – but these devices are also ineffective and humiliating, often resulting in blood-stained uniforms leading to bullying from particularly male peers and even teachers. Many girls end up missing considerable amount of school, or at worst even dropping out, due to humiliation and stigma related to menstruation. In some cases, girls engage in transactional sex so that they can raise the money they need to buy sanitary towels, putting them at the risk of HIV and STI infection. Alternatively, young girls are forced to skip school during the time they experience monthly periods to avoid both the cost of pads or use of cloths. A girl absent from school due to menstruation for four days in a month loses 13 learning days, equivalent to two weeks of learning, in every school term.

With this high rate of school absenteeism, a girl literally becomes a “school dropout” while she is still attending school and in addition has to deal with emotional and psychological stress associated with menstruation.

Menstruation has become like a curse not only to African women and girls, but also to entire societies on the continent. Since menstruation is largely a private issue, the social damage is often hidden and rarely makes the news headlines. There are also cultural and social attitudes that render discussion of menstruation almost impossible especially between parents and their daughters. The need for affordable sanitary products for women and girls in Africa is a major public health issue that governments need to prioritize in their planning. They need to work together with civil society organizations and others to ensure that the appropriate services are made available, accessible and affordable.

Menstruation hygiene management is an urgent priority among women and girls, and essential products need to be made affordable also to the poorest, most marginalized and most remote girls and women.

Some African governments have made notable progress in the area of menstrual hygiene. For example, in Kenya the government dropped its import tax on female sanitary products in 2011 to help reduce costs by 18 per cent. African civil society organizations, NGOs and some UN bodies such as UNICEF and the World Health Organization have all publicly acknowledged that there is a significant link between the poor provision of menstrual hygiene solutions and low female participation in education. However, much more still remains to be done. Governments need to recognize that ensuring women’s and girls’ access to sanitary wear has not only positive public health implications, but implications on girls’ education and well-being on a much broader level. Educating girls also remains the single best policy for reducing fertility.

Prioritizing women’s and girls’ health in Africa, so girls can remain healthy, attend school and enter the work force, makes economic sense. Every woman and girl should be able to have access to the right products that enable them to take control over their menstruation. Access to water and sanitation is an internationally recognized human right, essential for protecting and realizing other basic rights – but yet this issue still receives far too little attention on both national and global levels. Improving girls’ access to proper menstruation products could lead to improved education, improved health and improve overall well-being of girls and women – but menstrual hygiene is not merely a women’s and girls’ issue. It’s an issue that can impact entire families, societies and countries, because when girls and women thrive, everyone benefits. It’s time to give this issue the attention it deserves.

Originally published by Huffington Post

Change is Possible

By Estefania Renzi and Silvina Gerbaldo, YWCA of Argentina

We Estefania Renzi and Silvina Gerbaldo are volunteers of YWCA Carlos Paz and Cordoba. We would like to thank YWCA of Argentina and former world president Mónica Zetzsche, for the opportunity argentinato participate in a training in the city of Buenos Aires, 800km from our city. This training made ​​us reflects on how to grow as committed people with our dreams, giving our best and also benefiting the YWCA with our future leadership.

Some of the things we learnt were:·

  • “The pursuit of happiness is within ourselves and we must learn to make the impossible possible.”·
  • “Our growth has cost but we can see the results along these days.”·
  • “To give of ourselves, however minimally, to another person can work miracles for those in need.”·
  • “We understand that happiness is achieved with the simplest and simple things and opportunities we face, we need to grasp them.”

We also thank Accionar Entrenamiento de Argentina for having taught us that one can leave their limitations and achieve their fondest dreams. With our message we want to encourage all those young girls who are daily struggling to find themselves, that you are not alone and that there is a movement that can support and sustain the achievement of your dearest dreams. Having shared this experience together, it has strengthened our friendship as YWCA sisters and made intergenerational leadership possible.

We look forward to sharing many more experiences together.


Palestine 12.8. – 10.10.14 – The first week in a foreign country

Elena Policante, young woman volunteer from Horyzon Switzerland (YMCA/YWCA Switzerland). Elena comes from Switzerland and is volunteering with the YWCA and YMCA movement in Palestine as part of a three month programme.

I think the first week in a foreign country is always special. You have to get used to many things like: language, culture, driving habits, temperatures and of course a lot of new people.

My first week was really diversified and interesting (maybe a little bit too much), which ended in a bad headache in the middle of the second week. But this is a luxury problem and I don’t want to complain about.

Except from a few questions and vicious looks, we didn’t have any problems at the airport. The flat was small but really comfortable. Who could complain if the supermarket, which is open until 1 pm., is right next to his house? ;) We were recognized as the “new neighbours” at our first walk through Beit Sahour.

Beit Sahour13.8

Ibrahim from the Joint Advocacy Initiative (JAI) showed us the office and drove us through Beit Sahour afterwards. He showed us the Alternative International Centre (AIC), the Alternative Tourist Group (ATG) and a house that got hit by a bomb from the Hamas.



We had already made the most important purchases in the evening and could thus enjoy a good breakfast on the second morning already. We walked to the JAI office, where we discussed our plans with Nidal. After that I went with Ibrahim to the YMCA, where I was scheduled throughout the week at the Rehabilitation Programme (REHAB). They introduced me to many different people and I could already accompany one of the field workers to four different clients. It was the first time I saw an Israeli watchtower and smelled the stink of the chemical water.

aida camo


At 8.30 am I started my day at the YMCA. I was able to accompany another field worker. It was my second time at the Aida Camp and I saw a black watchtower. Tower

It was burnt and destroyed by children from the camp. Afterwards we went do the Deheishah Camp. My head was totally full with new pictures and impressions. In the evening we went to the AIC and watched “Tears of Gaza”, a really impressive film!


Today, we did a little bit of tourism. At 9am we took the Taxi and drove to the Herodium, Salomons Pools and the Gate of Saint George. Afterwards we walked through Bethlehem and tasted some local delights including an array of various types of Hummus, Olives, Pita bread, Salad and other things. We also went to the Stars&Bucks, which is an amusing and delicious imitation of the well-known Starbucks. At the evening we went to the Sports Center to watch the final of a family soccer tournament. There were a lot of people around and even though we didn’t understand everything, it was really funny.


Today, I accompanied another field worker we went to a family in which the 14 year old son got shot by an Israeli soldier. Even though I didn’t understand a word, all the feelings in the room were really intense.

At the evening Markus and I went to the Singer Café in Beit Sahour and drank a Chai Latte and a Lemon Mint Juice. This is a really recommendable place; a good spot to debrief and reflect on the days events. The first week in Beit Sahour had already passed by.


I tried to sleep in but it didn’t work. I woke up at 8am because of the traffic and the sun. I went to the office. A driver brought us to the YWCA of Palestine in East-Jerusalem. We had a meeting with Mira, GS of the YWCA and Mayadah, Office Manager about the UNSCR 1325 conference in the end of September. After three hours of talking we went to the old city of Jerusalem. In the evening we went to the AIC, there was a lecture from Nurit Peled-Elhanan on the topic of “Palestinians in Israeli school books”. My head almost exploded with all the information and the realization of the level of propaganda but it was really interesting.


In the afternoon I accompanied one of the field workers into a village, which lies in between three settlements. Afterwards we went to the Al Azza Camp (the third Camp in one week). At the evening I got a bad headache. I wrote letters and lay around, hoping the headache would disappear. The next few days I spent in my bed, because of the headache.
I already saw a lot of things in those two weeks. There will still be a lot more to see in the next three months. Next week we will go to Jericho with the JAI office. A bit vacation =)

I think it’s important to take sufficient time to digest the information and always debrief with someone close.



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