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Shared Vision: Interview with Penny Williams

Interview with Penny Williams, Global Ambassador for Women and Girls, Australia

The World YWCA has been working with the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID) to develop young women's leadership in Asia and the Pacific.  This has included development of the Pacific Young Women's Leadership Strategy and a ten country programme designed to build young women's leadership on SRHR, HIV and Violence against Women. Australia's Global Ambassador for Women and Girls, Penny Williams, who recently launched the Pacific Leadership Strategy and met with the YWCA's delegation at the Commission on the Status of Women, shares her reflections on the importance of young women's leadership. 

How important is your role as Global Ambassador for Women and Girls?

My role is to promote the inclusion of women and girls in all aspects of Australia’s foreign policy as well as in our aid programme. There are only a few ambassadors for women worldwide, and I think I am the only one for both women and girls. I believe it is very important to have someone actually advocating for women and girls and highlighting their importance in our foreign policy and in our development assistance programmes. Unless you involve women and girls you are not involving the full population or acknowledging the particular challenges faced by women and girls. From an economic, a human rights and a security perspective this is essential.

Although I am Australia’s Global Ambassador for Women and Girls, I have a special focus on Asia and, more particularly, the Pacific. We have a significant development assistance programme in the region focusing on issues around women’s participation in leadership and decision-making and violence against women and girls.

How is the Australian government committed to young women’s leadership?

The government is committed to young women’s leadership in many ways and perhaps the one I should mention first is my position; I was appointed as Global Ambassador for Women and Girls in September last year. When the Prime Minister, the then Foreign Minister and the then Minister for the Status of Women decided to create the position, it was important for them that the position be ambassador for women and girls because they recognised that young women and girls are the future and that tough issues relating to development overseas needed to be confronted. We must start at the beginning, by reaching girls in schools, by empowering them, by protecting their health so that over the years the structural issues can be dealt with.

I was at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Perth last year. It was a huge success and demonstrated the government’s commitment to enfranchising young people, and young women. The aid programme has been reviewed in terms of focusing on girl’s education and health, decision making and empowerment of young women and girls. I find it quite exciting.  There is a real sense of momentum around issues that have an impact on women and girls.  The importance of young women and girls’ involvement to take us into the future is widely recognised.

What is your vision for young women’s leadership?

I would like to see a place where we empower women through education, and where they are involved in decisions. My vision would be a place where, as a matter of cause, young women would be making decisions about their own future and that of their communities and, more broadly, their nations. And I think that we can be really optimistic that organisations like the YWCA, as well as governments, understand the importance of involving young women and girls and giving them the skills to make these decisions.

What has been your experience in meeting young women leaders from the YWCAs?

I have greatly valued the opportunity to meet with young women from the YWCA on several occasions since my appointment in September 2011.  I was pleased to launch the YWCA’s Young Women’s Leadership in the Pacific Programme at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Perth in October 2011. At the Commonwealth Youth Forum at CHOGM, I met a number of amazing and committed young women involved in the YWCA for the Pacific. The YWCA is doing a fantastic job.

I then had the opportunity to go to New York for the 56th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women and during my time in New York, I met with the World YWCA General Secretary, Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda, as well as YWCA participants from around the world. It was a high point of my time at CSW 2012 to have the chance to spend time with the YWCA’s young women representatives. I felt CSW 2012 was a great opportunity to give young women exposure to the decisions made at the world’s key multilateral meeting on women and girls’ issues and to get to see how things work.

I am very supportive of the YWCA and will be delighted at any time to meet with young women from the YWCA, because I feel their work is invaluable.