Today, the 8th of March is the International Women’s day. The day is marked through different events all over the world to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The seeds of it were planted in 1909, when 15,000 women marched through New York City demanding equal pay and the right to vote. Things were made official in 1975 when the UN started celebrating the day and later set an annual theme. Having women and men come together to activate change is a very powerful message, and it’s one of the main reasons why The International Women’s Day movement has been so successful in many countries. We should continue to come together, both women and men, in the fight for equality and equal rights.
Equality is not a female issue, but a social and economic one. According to the World Health Organisation, over one third of women globally have suffered violence from a partner or sexual violence from another man. Further, it is estimated that about 133 million girls and women have undergone female genital mutilation. There is also the economic side to it. Keeping girls out of school equal leaving half of the population uneducated, unsustainable and has a negative effect on the economy. Additionally, women are often concentrated in the lowest paying, most insecure and demeaning forms of work, in addition to having to do the majority of housework and childcare. Protecting womens rights is key to protect human rights.
The Africa YMCA believes that equal rights play an important role in promoting equality and inclusion. The Africa YMCA has several programmes targeting women empowerment and women’s rights, for instance they have a programme called ‘Transformative Masculinity’, which seeks to create respect, peace, and harmony between young women and men. By promoting peer initiatives and intergenerational dialogue, the YMCA aims to reorient and reorder masculinity, fighting emerging challenges of manhood and eliminate the masculinity aspect that is focused on dominance of women. Through this programme YMCA engage men to be in the driver seat of changing the narrative, and working towards equal rights between men and women. A reality for many women in Africa today is that they are paid far less than men. Further, they are often regarded as the weaker sex, objectified, and victims of sexual abuse and gender based violence. This programme seeks to address the root causes the above mentioned issues by reordering youth masculinity to a situation where women are treated with dignity, respect and on the same terms as men.
Furthermore, the Transformative Masculinity programme also has a project called #ARealManIs. This project targets young men to work with personal identity and bring about community change on gender norms and masculinity. It focuses on what people believe a real man is, and what a real man does. For instance, #ARealManIs someone who is supportive and listens, someone who loves and cares for his family, someone who is honest and have good values. After finishing this programme, many participants have said that it has changed their values and behaviour towards their wife and other women in their lives. Thus, one can see that the programme is creating positive change in the community.
YMCA Africa also focuses on Sexual Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) awareness for youth. One of the issues YMCA aims to eliminate, is the harmful Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) practice. Awareness campaigns, and different safe space activities are tools YMCA use to educate and inform about what FGM should be stopped, as the practice intentionally alter or cause injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons, and have no health benefits for girls and women. Additionally, the Africa YMCA have SRHR programmes which provide services such as sexual transmitted infections testing, counselling for young people, sexual health sessions and a hotline for young people. These clinics are designed to make young people feel safe and comfortable. During the sexual health sessions, they include topics such as sexual harassment, birth control, family planning, STIs and having a healthy relationship to your own body. The YMCA believes that it is important for the youths to have a safe place to discuss these topics, where they can be free to ask any questions without being judged. Overall, the above mentioned programmes seeks to promote gender equality and empowering young men and women with Voice, Space and Ability to influence for positive change, enabling them to transform themselves, others and the community. Happy International Women´s Day!
-Ane Futtere-Sekse, YAC Participant, 2018