The World Service Council’s reception for the World YWCA delegates to the 58th Session of the UN’s Commission for the Status of Women was an inspiring and well-attended event with some 80 women from 30 countries represented. World Service Council Chair Connie Tate opened the reception by giving a brief history of the Council, and then introduced a special guest, Laura Chasin, grand-daughter of Mrs. John D. Rockefeller Jr., one of the founders of the World Service Council. Laura, whose mother Mary Rockefeller was also a prominent YWCA leader and supporter of the YWCA on all levels, is continuing to make a difference as the founder of Public Conversations, a program that helps bridge differences in order to achieve consensus and peaceful resolution around difficult issues.
Dara Richardson-Heron addressed the attendees by speaking about the challenges and initiatives in her first year as YWCA USA CEO and her vision for a stronger, united national organization. World YWCA Treasurer Carolyn Flowers had the pleasure of introducing four inspiring young delegates; Sumie Ogasawara from Okinawa, Francesca I-ku-Chen from Taiwan, Dr, Mtisunge Kachingwe from Malawi and Cherelle Fruean from Samoa.
Sumie spoke about the problems Okinawans face including discrimination by their own government of Japan due to the influx of non-Japanese military personnel. Because of the military bases, sexual violence against young women is rampant, children are often left fatherless when men leave to return to their countries and mothers are left to fend for themselves. The YWCA Okinawa has been trying to raise awareness of the situation by inviting YWCA women from the US, Canada and others to visit Okinawa to learn firsthand what the YWCA faces in trying to deliver services there. Sumie also mentioned the horrific effects of the earthquake and typhoon that caused the Fukushima nuclear plant disaster. She claims that the government is trying to downplay the devastation and pollution that has made life a hazard for residents, especially affecting women and children.
Francesca spoke about the challenges the YWCA Taiwan faces in taking care of foreign spouses who have left their homes in Indonesia and Southeast Asia. She told how men buy brides from Southeast Asia and then sell them as prostitutes. She sees the YWCA as a good bridge between civil society and the government for service delivery.
Cherille from Samoa spoke about her life and how, when her father died, she took over the business of running his nightclub. While becoming an entrepreneur, she is not lost to the needs of women in her community and is helping her YWCA to revitalize through a House of Hope earmarked for young women victims of abuse and young mothers who are victims of incest. Through her nightclub, she is planning to hold a concert in memory of her father with all proceeds going to the YWCA.
Mtisunge, as a young OB-GYN doctor, has become a YWCA advocate for young women in her country of Malawi. She has witnessed too many young pregnant women, victims of child marriage or incest, being discarded by their families and not getting medical assistance. One case stood out for her; a 16-year-old girl who delivered a child out of the hospital at a center and was bleeding. It took 30 minutes to get her to the hospital and by that time she was in shock. She had been raped by a family member and had no support or guardian. Despite the blood transfusions, she died alone, and a week later the child she bore died of an infection. No one claimed the body or the baby. This woman, like so many women in Africa, did not have a safe space or an advocate. She was literally thrown away. Mtisunge is working with the YWCA to strengthen youth leadership and is also instituting reproductive health programs.
One of the highlights of the evening was hearing from Mildred Persinger who, in her remarkable leadership, literally pioneered the UN Commission on the Status of Women conferences. She stated that her first decision that women absolutely had to be at the table came when UN men were grappling with the issue of fertility with no female input. All the delegates were eager to bend her ear after the formal presentation.
In addition to the delegates, many members of the World Service Council were on hand as well as the CEOs of the New York City YWCA and Brooklyn YWCA, Danielle Moss-Lee and Martha Kamber. Other notables present were YWCA USA World Board member Luna Lee, World YWCA staff members Juli Dugdale and Marcia Banasko, YWCA Canada CEO Paulette Senior and YWCA Canada President Lynne Kent. Also, as a fitting close to the occasion, Joyce Mims, former Chair of the Council, sent the group off with reminders to seize the 2014 UN occasion for action, along with her memorable Quaker blessing to “walk cheerfully over the face of the earth, responding to that of God in everyone.”
By Joelle Logue