From left to right: Former World Service Council Chair Joyce Mims, YWCA USA CEO Dr. Dara Richardson-Heron, YWCA USA Board Chair Paula Penebaker, World YWCA President Deb Thomas, World YWCA General Secretary Nyaradzyai Gumbonzvanda, World Service Council Chair Connie TateOne hundred World YWCA delegates representing 43 countries to the UN’s Commission on the Status of Women were hosted at a welcome reception by YWCA USA and YWCA World Service Council during the evening of International Women’s Day, March 8. The event, which took place at the Affinia Shelburne Hotel where the World YWCA was headquartered, provided plenty of time for delegates to network and socialize.
Elisha Rhodes, special projects coordinator for YWCA USA and a World Service Council member, served as moderator during a brief program. She introduced YWCA USA CEO Dr. Dara Richardson-Heron and World Service Council Chair Connie Tate who welcomed the delegates and applauded their work on gender equality they would be undertaking over the next two weeks. World YWCA General Secretary Nyaradzyai Gumbonzvanda gave an enthusiastic shout out to all the countries from which the delegates came and commented on the strength of the women in the room ranging in age from 10 to 80.
Elisha then told about her experience as part of the first ever World YWCA Young Women’s Forum that was held on Saturday and the inspiration that came from that Forum. She introduced two speakers, young women from Honduras and South Sudan. Isabella Diaz, who started a career in finance and switched to teaching, told of the high pregnancy rates among young women in Honduras some at the early age of 13. She sees education as a way to change these women’s lives and to build self-esteem. Mary Joseph, a strong advocate for the girl child, talked about choices for young women and the need to abolish child marriage. A journalist in South Sudan, she said this was her first time in the United States. The Young Women’s Forum used art forms (drawing and poetry) to express what kind of a future they want beyond basic human needs – one of equality and equal access to opportunities, education, and reproductive rights.
The reception capped off a busy day beginning with a 7 a.m. briefing, a UN Women sponsored Consultation Session at the Apollo Theater and a march for gender equality and women’s rights that convened at Dag Hammerskjold Plaza and ended with festivities at Times Square.
The World YWCA is participating in many of the sessions focused on the 12 critical areas of concern: women and the environment, women in power and decision-making, the girl child, women and the economy, women and poverty, violence against women, human rights of women, education and training of women, institutional mechanisms for the advancement of women, women and health, women and the media, women and armed conflict. Each morning the delegation begins with an early morning briefing on the panels and sessions scheduled for the day. In addition, the advocacy team is formulating language they feel is crucial to the sustainable development goals going forward.
There has been disappointment and anger at the political document being written and virtually approved prior to civil society input at CSW. For that reason, the advocacy team wants every speaker to incorporate the following points in their presentations:
“We, women of the world, are here because our voices and experiences must be reflected in what our governments promise to do about the issues that affect our lives and futures. Hear us now. We are deeply disappointed by the exclusion of civil society from formal resolutions and statements of the CSW. Moving forward, the Working Methods of CSW must return to including effective participation of civil society, women’s organizations and feminist organizations. The gender equality goal, targets and indicators of the Sustainable Development Goals must reflect women’s voices, be robustly resourced and fully implemented. The CSW must play a role in clear accountability mechanisms for the Sustainable Development Goals. And the CSW must have a permanent and safe space for young women’s engagement.”