Uniting to Create a Safe World for Women and Girls
World YWCA Statement on International Women's Day 2011
2011 is a significant year for women around the world as we celebrate the centenary year for International Women's Day - 100 years since women started to use this day to claim their rights, demand equality and human dignity. It is a day to honour courageous women leaders of the past, mobilise current activists, and inspire a new generation of young women to envision the future. The centenary of International Women's Day is a unique opportunity for us to celebrate the extraordinary women who have broken so many barriers for women and girls around the world.
As the World YWCA celebrates International Womens Day 2011, we take a moment to reflect on the YWCA and its contribution in the efforts to achieve gender equality and womens empowerment.
For over 150 years the YWCA has provided safe and empowering spaces for women and girls. Since its founding in 1855, the YWCA movement has offered protection and safety for women and girls escaping from violence and has been a place for womens shared and intergenerational leadership. From the turn of the 20th Century when YWCAs in Europe and North America provided safe spaces for young women during the First World War, to the early 21st century when young women found refuge in YWCA centres from violence and conflict in Fiji, Democratic Republic of Congo, Bangladesh, and Belize, the YWCA has always been present, responding to the needs of women and girls of the time.
The YWCA has provided leadership to the global womens movement that has advanced womens rights at the international level. YWCA members were part of demanding womens universal suffrage. The organisation was present at the founding of the United Nations in 1945, and with Eleanor Roosevelt when the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted in 1948, pushing for the inclusion of the principle of non discrimination based on sex. The YWCA participated in the creation of the Commission of the Status of Women in 1946, and contributed to the drafting of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the negotiations that led to its adoption in 1979. The YWCA chaired NGO meetings at successive World Conferences on Women and was present during the creation of UNIFEM and more recently UN Women. For more than a century, the YWCA has been at the forefront of the global struggle for gender equality and womens human rights.
Whether it be advocating for peace with justice, participating in the disarmament movement during both World Wars, or contributing to the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women, the YWCA has continuously been part of the global movement to condemn all forms of violence, abuse and exclusion against women. All around the world, the YWCA name is synonymous with providing women with solace and shelter, but also with a voice. In over 70 countries YWCAs are engaged in advocacy and services that respond to violence against women and demand a world of peace and justice.
In the last two decades, the YWCA has provided global leadership in responding to the impact of HIV on women and girls, and has expanded the discourse on the role of women in prevention and as caregivers. We have partnered with other organisations to address the rights of women and girls living with HIV. We have empowered young people with the skills and knowledge for prevention, we have addressed the social and economic needs of orphans and vulnerable children, and we have promoted faith based approaches that affirm rights and reduce stigma and discrimination.
As we celebrate the economic, political, and social achievements of women, past and present, it is also important to reflect upon the future. The future, if we dare to dream, will be one where women will lead and be empowered, and where young women will have a voice and be agents of change. The future will be a place where women will claim their rights and assume positions of leadership, not only on womens issues, but on all issues that affect humanity.
May the next 100 years be about womens leadership in creating a safe world. Women are fed up with poverty, abuse and exclusion. Women have had enough of fearing death when they give birth, enough of the violence and abuse directed at them and of unequal access to education and decision making. Women want to transform their households and their communities. They want to shape the development agenda and determine government priorities and resource allocation.
Continuing the legacy of YWCA women before us, YWCAs in 125 countries will continue to provide vital support to women and girls in communities, and to grow womens leadership to demand respect for human rights at all levels. We will not stop until we have attained a peaceful, safe and inclusive world, not just for women, but for all people.