Editorial: Reigniting the Spirit of Beijing
By Susan Brennan, World YWCA President
Beijing, China 1995. I still remember the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women. More than a conference, Beijing was celebration, protest, discovery, dialogue, commitment and action. In Beijing, I encountered the YWCA as a worldwide women’s movement, experienced the diversity of international feminism, confronted the controversy surrounding women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights, chanted “Women’s rights are human rights” with women from around the world, lobbied governments to recognise that violence against women is a human rights issue and witnessed women’s leadership on the global stage. For me, as a young woman representing the YWCA of Australia, Beijing was life-changing.
Fifteen years later, the Beijing Platform for Action still charts the main route to women’s empowerment worldwide. It is a road map that has guided the work of YWCAs around the globe. As we participate in the 54th Commission on the Status of Women where the international community will assess its progress implementing the Platform, the YWCA delegation will advocate for new pathways on women and health, specifically sexual and reproductive health and HIV and AIDS; violence against women and women in power and decision making. The World YWCA will call on the international community to accelerate towards our destination of women’s empowerment.
In this edition of Common Concern, three former World YWCA leaders reflect on how the World YWCA both influenced and was impacted by the Fourth World Conference on Women. World YWCA General Secretary Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda offers directions to achieve equality, development and peace before the next 15-year milestone.
We are honoured to have Special Adviser to the UN Secretary-General and Special Envoy for HIV and AIDS in Asia, Dr. Nafis Sadik outline future interventions needed by governments and civil society to ensure universal access, especially for women and young women, in our HIV and AIDS section.
This issue highlights the work of YWCAs following the Beijing Platform for Action to achieve women’s empowerment, including the YWCA of Guyana’s work in education, the YWCA of Liberia’s dynamic programme for former women soldiers and the initiative of the YWCA of Korea to economically and socially empower married migrant women.
In Take Action, World YWCA Board member and Deputy Mayor of Tampere, Finland Ana Kaisa Ikonen writes frankly about overcoming obstacles to women’s participation in politics and YWCA Canada shares its ”Beyond Shelter” programme and the essential changes in public policy required to ensure women are free from violence.
Honouring our distinctive intergenerational approach, in the Leading Change section, YWCA women leaders of all ages speak out about what they see as the most urgent issues in the Beijing Platform for Action, what has been achieved, and what still needs to be done. In Young Women on the Move, younger YWCA leaders share their critical concern for young women in the coming 15 years.
It is vital that the international community recapture the spirit of optimism, which energised the mass gathering at Beijing in 1995. Together we must grasp the life-changing possibility that the empowerment of women around the world is within our reach, just around the next corner.