Every four years, YWCA leaders from countries around the world come together to move the World YWCA movement forward, recommitting to our powerful mission and sharing lessons and stories with one another. This week at the 29th World Council, representatives from 70 countries came together to focus on the leadership of young women and how to cultivate a strong movement of young leaders, not only for the future, but for today.
The World YWCA defines young women as women under 30 and requires that all countries include young women in their voting delegations at the World Council. The world board also must include at least one young woman from each world region. I am honored to be a member of the United States delegation to the 2019 YWCA World Council, serving as an observer and as a young woman. Moreover, I am humbled and inspired to be part of a movement that values and supports women like me.
As I observe the democratic proceedings, meet many incredibly strong women from around the world, bear witness as we recommit to the YWCA movement, and hear stories of service from other member nations, I am struck by the notion that in every corner of the world, women and girls experience different — yet eerily similar — manifestations of gender-based violence and subjugation. But rather than feeling overwhelmed and discouraged by this, I am invigorated by the potential for solidarity and growth, wondering how we can learn from one another, strengthen one another, and make each other better.
It’s important to note that we are meeting in Johannesburg, South Africa. In this space, the issues of access to land/land inheritance, HIV/AIDS, public health, and reproductive health have come up a lot. Many of these same issues – though often called by different names – arise in the United States as well. Survivors of domestic violence face extremely high rates of homelessness and poverty. Many survivors, particularly survivors of color and trans* survivors, suffer from high rates of HIV/AIDS and other extremely detrimental health issues. We have so much to learn from leaders and nations that we often view as “other” and “different” who have joined us here in South Africa. Sitting in this room filled with leaders, friends, survivors, and caretakers from around the world, I am filled with an overwhelming sense that if we can learn from one another, we will discover that we already have the answers.
I am reminded of a message from the World Council’s keynote speaker, South African Minister Angela Thokozile Didiza, who said the women and girls served by YWCA are not weak and helpless. YWCA empowers them by offering the particular forms of support that they need, helping these women and girls fully realize the power that has always existed within them. As Minister Didiza said: YWCA leaders are “the midwives of liberation.
As we leave the World Council and turn toward the celebration of the International Day to End Violence Against Women on November 25th, I am energized by the strength of women around the world. From this World Council, I will bring strength, knowledge, and resolve back to the United States with me. I am excited about returning to Washington and working to end gender-based violence in the United States — and around the world.