World YWCA Day Tray Lunch – Placing young women and girls at the centre

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World YWCA Day 2015 was all about “Celebrating our Work and Envisioning 2035”. It was a day for the YWCA movement and friends to come together to celebrate the work of the movement and the women of the YWCA. Around the globe YWCA’s held breakfasts, hosted discussions, workshops, danced, sang, worshipped and celebrated the amazing work and history of the outstanding women, young women and girl leaders across the YWCA.

At the Geneva Press Club, in Geneva, Switzerland, the World YWCA held a special tray lunch panel discussion titled – “Bold and Transformative Leadership – Placing Young Women and Girls at the Centre”. Moderated by Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda, World YWCA General Secretary and Pauline Mukanza, World YWCA Communications Programme Associate, the panel discussion highlighted the persistent gender inequalities that have continued to undermine the MDGs and in parallel the fearlessness of the women’s rights movement, NGO’s, UN agencies, young women and girls to address these challenges. Bronwyn Kili, from the YWCA of Papua New Guinea, opened the discussion by sharing her experience as a YWCA member for the last four years and explained how this has benefited her in realising her own agency as a young woman. Ms. Kili stated, “What I say counts, I have an opinion and should contribute to the conversation. If women are vulnerable then even younger women and girls are more vulnerable and thus we must be part of the agenda.”

The World YWCA organised an diverse panel made up of excellent women leaders including: Malayah Harper, Chief Gender Equality and Diversity Division, UNAIDS, Susan Schorr, Chief Media & Public Information, ITU, Titta Maja, Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland and Elaine Neuenfeldt, Executive Secretary Women in Church and Society of the Department for Mission and Development at the Lutheran World Federation and Veronica Birga, Chief Women’s Human Rights and Gender Section, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Ms. Harper, shared the work of UNAIDS in working with adolescents and girls on sexual reproductive health and rights and AIDS prevention and treatment. AIDS is now the leading cause of death among adolescents (aged 10–19) in Africa and the second most common cause of death among adolescents globally. UNAIDS has the All In! to #EndAdolescentAIDS platform for action and collaboration to inspire a social movement to drive better results with and for adolescents through critical changes in programmes and policy. Ms. Schorr, spoke of the role of Information Communication Technology (ICT) in economically empowering young women and girls. Evidence suggests that women hold fewer science, technology, engineering and mathematics jobs, which often tend to be better-paid, and more highly skilled. Ms. Schorr stated, “We don’t want to lose an opportunity to use ICT as an agent for positive change, like we don’t want to lose an opportunity of girls being full members of society. These two issues are interlinked.” Ms. Maja also spoke of the importance of science and technology and the need to engage more young women and girls in these fields. The impact of stereotypes was raised several times throughout the panel.

Ms. Neuenfeldt brought us to a place of critical reflection through the lens of faith. Speaking of gender inequality, Ms. Neuenfeldt shared the collective need for feminist theology and gender analysis. “If we are to seek salvation, young women and girls must be at the centre.” Ms. Birga highlighted human rights are women’s rights and that the human rights agenda must incorporate women’s rights. She also spoke of women human rights defenders who are being attacked because of the very stereotypes that they are fighting against. Concerning the Envisioning 2035, Ms. Birga said, “A girl who is 10 years old today, will be 25 years old in 2035. Now is the time that we need to be working with these girls as they will be young women in 2035. We must work on breaking down harmful stereotypes from a younger age!”

The panel closed with several interventions from the audience, including Alanna Armitage, Director of UNFPA Geneva Office who challenged us to also think about the role of young men and boys. Speaking from personal experience Ms. Armitage asked, “What does it mean to be raising boys in a feminist household, with the pressure and influence of mass media?”

In closing Ms. Gumbonzvanda encouraged those present to continue the celebrations and engage in the World YWCA Envisioning 2035 process.