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.

The Fight against Child Marriage

By Jesca Mmari, YWCA-TANZANIA attends the AU Summit and shares her reflections.

This year is an important year for the women of Africa. For the first time, the African Union (AU) has dedicated the year 2015 as a “Year of women’s empowerment and development towards Africa’s Agenda 2063”. It is reason to celebrate and join our efforts towards achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment now more than ever. There is a need for collective efforts in expressing what we women want; including the changes in policy and development that support the growth of women.

But as I look at young girls in the society it is sad to see that our communities still engage in child marriage, even though it is against human rights. These young girls who are married are not yet mature enough to bear children and take care of a family. They are committed to heavy responsibilities and when they fail to perform these, they are either physically or emotionally abused. In this year of women, I urge the AU to step up in ensuring that the rights of young girls and women are well protected. jesse

I attended a dialogue held by the AU Goodwill Ambassador for Ending Child Marriage, Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda; on Ending Child Early and Forced Marriage which brought together different stakeholders. There was a heart moving story of a survivor of child marriage from Zimbabwe, Miss Loveness Mudzuri. It greatly touched all of us as we faced a 19 year old mother of two who was forced out of the house by her parents after she got pregnant as they felt ashamed. She was forced to live with the man who got her pregnant and could not continue her studies after giving birth. This is one of the problems that young girls experience in our society. Most of them lack comprehensive sexuality education and that makes them fall into the hands of men who manipulate them and get them pregnant.

At the dialogue, the AU Commissioner for Social Affairs, H.E. Dr. Mustapha S. Kaloko said “If equal opportunity is given to both boys and girls, girls do better than boys”. I saw this statement as enough motivation for the parents who marry off their young daughter thinking that their place is in the kitchen cooking and cleaning. Parents should change their way of thinking and instead give them the same chances as boys to study in a suitable environment. Parents should engage in conversation with their children on the changes in their body and how to respect their bodies. This can build good relationships between parents and children and help children consult their parents in case of a problem rather than falling into peer pressure advice.

Our governments need to commit on the marriageable age of a girl (which is 18, but there could be advocacy for a higher age) and setting appropriate punishment for all involved in the marriage of a younger girl. But also, the government needs to commit to a holistic approach in education. The AU can hold the states accountable on reporting how they implement laws and policy to end child marriage.

It has been said that “If you educate a girl you educate the whole community”. Let’s all join efforts from the local to the global level and fight to end child marriage and build the Africa we want.

 

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.

LAC Beijing+20 Review meeting

By Barbara Lont, YWCA of Suriname.

I feel very blessed and privileged to have been at this the Latin America and Caribbean (LAC) Beijing+20 review meeting. It has been a new experience for me on such a high level. I have sharpened my network skills and learned more about advocacy.

To start from the beginning, it was quite exciting travelling from Paramaribo to Chile. It was an 18 hours flight with stops at Trinidad & Tobago, Curacao and Bogota. When I was going in the plane to Santiago I met Yuleida Alvarez from Colombia.

was picked up by a friendly taxi driver and within half an hour at Hotel Atton Vitacura. For me the weather was a little cold. The hotel receptionist was very friendly and checked I could check in on 11 o’ clock.

Our first meeting was with Icilda, a very good mentor. She prepared us for what to expect from the meetings and to be aware of protocol. At the NGO CSW that was held in the Ambassador house of Argentina I met the delegate of Suriname and also other women from different countries. The time to discuss the Caribbean issues was much to short but we could make a list of the most important issue. This list was well presented by a Jamaican young woman named Rachel Ustanny.

Barbara Lont

Barbara Lont

The first day was the meeting of the Presiding Officers of the Regional Conference on Women Latin America and the Caribbean. Several countries have presented their progress on VAW and SRHR and HIV and other issues on the status of women. The second day was the continuation and two NGOs were given the opportunity to advocate their issue. Other NGO’s would get the opportunity the next day. The third day was to finalise a LAC Statement for the special session on Beijing+20 in March 2015 in New York. The NGO’s didn’t get the opportunity to speak. Although the YWCA delegation had prepared a statement.

At these meetings I learnt all about politics and the various issues in each country. I networked with women from, Trinidad, Jamaica and Guyana. I talked about the World YWCA and our vision to engage young women in this whole process. I also gave an interview to the NGO CSW LAC about my experience of the meetings. Through those meetings my interest on the subject on women and economy has grown and I would like to go deeper into this subject.

 I also met eight great women and young women. It was an awesome and learning experience. Thank you World YWCA for this opportunity.

“Africa rising” – Beijing +20

By Alice Bwanausi, YWCA of Malawi.

It has been an amazing experience to be in Addis, once again! Barely a month since I was here for the CSO’s consultative meeting on Beijing+20, in October. The weather has been kinder this time around unlike the chilly weather in the middle of October that had me sleeping in my formal dress jacket, due to the light clothing I had packed, thinking Addis would be as hot as Blantyre back home!

Residing at the Elilly international hotel, a stone’s throw away from UNECA meant we didn’t have to deal with the Addis traffic jams each morning as we walked to the conference centre, which was a hive of activity throughout the week of hosting the 9thregional Beijing +20 review meeting. group 1

YWCA young women where in the lime light throughout the consultative meetings as they took centre stage in contributing to the draft CSO’s document on recommendations to the Beijing platform for Action process, that would be presented to the intergovernmental meeting for ministers. The young ladies spiced up the serious meetings with interjections of song- famously the ‘moto moto we mama wee’ which had all the participants on their feet and provided a well deserved ice breaker!

The UN Women launch of “Africa rising” was an awesome occasion that saw some of us rubbing shoulders with the gender minister of my country, Malawi. She gave a resounding closing speech for donors such as UN Women stating that they need to continue providing resources for women programmes and for CSO’s to engage with governments. This also provided a very opportune time for me to invite her to an event that will be hosted by YWCA Malawi later this month (which we had been trying to get her to attend and the good news is that she will be coming : ) We did a victory dance inside!) Later on an Ethiopian band spiced up the colorful evening which had all of us stepping to the beat with our young women displaying their dancing skills, much to everyone’s pleasure! dance

Addis, a city under reconstruction, has an interesting array of buildings, ranging from grand at one moment, traditional at another and dusty at another. The construction of the railway line which will cut across town needs the skills of a crafty driver to get through the maze of constant traffic jams! Never the less all this is over taken by the vibrant mix of color that is Addis, its beautiful people, the colorful display of their traditional wear and rich Ethiopian dishes. I have not worked up the courage to try their staple dish ‘injera’, it’s an acquired taste but it’s part of every menu at every eating place.

As I return back home I am energized by the powerful messages of our great mentors like mama Mongela, the woman who took women to Beijing twenty years ago and is still championing the women’s fight for equality and advancement. ‘ don’t knock men down, just speed past them, overtake, smile and wave at them’, as you continue with the fight, after all they are made of more fragile substance (clay) than the bone of the rib, that we are made of!

Amasaganalo!

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