Iconic Dr Ruth delivers something a little different at CSW 2010

By YWCA of Canberra CEO, Rebecca Vassarotti

As week two heads into the difficult negotiation stage, CSW delivered something different today with a session involving Dr Ruth Westhhimer, the iconic  psychosexual therapist, who pioneered speaking frankly about sexual matters.

At a lunch time panel discussion, hosted by the Mission of Panama, delegates were treated to the wisdom of Dr Ruth, as she shared her experience, the evidence and her perspectives around working with individuals and couples on issues around sexual relationships.

Some of the words of wisdom shared with the room included:

  • the importance of all people to understand what is right for them sexually (and otherwise) in the context of their values, beliefs and where they are at.  She stressed the importance of people understanding this for themselves, rather than being pressured to confirmed to a particular view or behaviour
  • the importance of cultural understanding in terms of norms, and particularly education.  She noted that when working in the area of sexual and reproductive health, it is vital that people delivering this education are within the culture and understand the cultural norms operating within the communities they are working in.  She noted that when working in communities, educators must understand the diversity of beliefs, understandings and myths operating in cultures in order to be effective
  • the importance of consent, and for both parties to be comfortable with activity.  However, once there is consent, people should feel free to express themselves in the privacy of their own homes
  • the importance of focusing on relationship when responding to sexual and other health matters.  Issues should be worked through together, and both partners should be involved in decisions around sexual health

This was a great session, where significant information around working on issues of great cultural sensitivity was delivered with great humour, humility and authority.  It was a session I would not have expected to be part of CSW but one that was greatly enjoyed.

CSW 2010: Women in Fuschia

By YWCA of Canberra Executive Director, Rebecca Vassarotti 

We have already mentioned the decision made by the World YWCA delegation to wear scarfs as a way of identifying ourselves as YWCA delegates throughout the conference.

As part of our debrief and reflections at last night’s briefing, a discussion was held about how useful this has been as a strategy.

Everyone shared how wonderful it has been to be able to identify each other through wearing the scarfs.  It has also been incredibly successful as a tool to increase our visibility and give volume to the YWCA’s presence at the conference. It has been a great tool to create a sense of belonging amongst our delegation

In fact, what we are now finding is that the scarfs have generated interest and excitement around other delegates at the conference.  People are asking ‘what is the scarf all about’.  It has provided us with an opportunity to discuss with others the work of the YWCA , who we are and what we stand for.  People are now identifying it with some of the key issues that the YWCA is advocating for including wondering if it is a symbol around awareness raising around HIV AIDS and Violence Against Women.  Finally, women want to be part of the fuschia scarf delegation.  Women are asking if they can buy scarfs, and we are discovering other YWCA women in other delegations who wish to be part of this.  This has meant that a few of us, including our General Secretary have given our scarfs away.

Ping Lee, from the YWCA of Taiwan (one of the delegates unable to obtain official accreditation) was the generous YWCA woman who made this possible.  She sourced 100 scarfs during Chinese New Year!  Her amazing effort has meant that we have created a brand which has started comment and interest for all participating in CSW.

CSW 2010 Looking Back, Looking Forward: Strategies to Promote Young Women and Girls’ Activism

By World YWCA staff Sarah Davies

I attended a very interesting panel today at CSW 2010 on young women and girls and their role in development. Co-organised by AWID, IWHC, CREA and Women’s Forum of Kyrgyzstan, the strategy session invited women’s rights and development organisations and youth activists to identify concrete strategies and share good practices that can be applied to initiatives focused on young women and girls.

It was agreed that there is greater acceptance of the importance of young women and girls in development work but the panel also raised some interesting reflections on how and why we include young women and girls as development actors.

When panelists were asked some of the principles they have for working with young women the responses were diverse as:

–          Realisation that young women have particular needs

–          Movement building aspect to engaging with young women

–          Multigenerational approach is critical if we are to truly address gender equality

–          There is also culture specificity when working with young women. Rights are universal but their application in cultural contexts is very important

–          Participatory process is key  – there must be a personal connection to young women and girls

–          Involvement of young women who have new and creative ways to find solutions to they problems they face

–          Full engagement of young women in the problem solving process

–          Young women need to be involved in the institutional processes of their organisations to ensure succession

There were also reflections around the issues of young women and tokenism. Some organisations tend to see young people as part of their constituency but the problems begin when that young person comes in and leads a programme. The same can also be said of minorities such as lesbians and indigenous women – power struggle between generations begin.

The issues of young women can also be pigeon holed. Young women only lead young women’s’ programmes and young women staff get given the youth work but we should be adopting strategies in our programmes and movements where young women can lead ANY programmes.

When asked what principles should be avoided when working with young women and girls, the following was said:

–          Empowerment programmes that are about individual self empowerment can alienate young people from their peers. Taking an individualistic approach can have a negative effect

–          Strategies that really work are when young women are empowered to influence communities around them

–           UN agencies are now targeting vulnerable youth groups such as IDU’s, HIV positive youth and sex workers which is important but policymakers need to address the diverse youth needs as youth in a holistic manner.

–          There is a big difference between youth led organisations and NGOs working for young people – this should be explored and acknowledged more.

What was also interesting was that CREA has a staff that is made up mostly of young women under 30 and the majority of them are leading programmes. As the panelist said –  it helps us practice what we preach.

The AWID panel was a thought provoking session to attend as it raised a lot of questions and reflections about tokenism and some of the intergenerational stereotypes and clichés we are all guilty of indulging in from time to time. It was also one of the few panels I have attended where the majority if panelists were young women – so well done to AWID and their partners for keeping it real.


Talking about sex at CSW 2010

By YWCA of Australia Vice President Roslyn Dundas

Pathfinder International in coalition with a few other organisations such as the Youth Coalition and Population Action International hosted a side event here at CSW on March 1, 2010 looking at Adolescent and Youth Sexual and Reproductive rights. It was great to link with other young women working on issues such as HIV and AIDS and other reproductive rights issues.

We heard from two young women leaders. Ishia Chaudry, founder of the Youth Parliament Foundation in India reminded us all that “you don’t need qualifications to be an activist and believe in something.” Maria Ines Romero from the Youth Coalition called for greater realisation of the fact that “young people should be able to exercise their right to education and information – and this is more than a simple biology lesson.”

Young women need to be involved in discussions and decisions about reproductive rights around the world, especially due to their current knowledge and experience. At the most recent YWCA Regional Training Institute held in the Asia-Pacific YWCAs in the region recognised the link between violence against women, sexual and reproductive health and rights and HIV – and looked to engage with partners and others to speak and advocate for women’s education, economic justice, sexual and reproductive rights, violence against women, HIV and AIDS and human rights, through the leadership of women and young women including at international campaigns and celebrations. CSW is an important forum to do this advocacy and remind many leaders from around the world of the role of young women in tackling the HIV and AIDS pandemic.