Be Yourself Because Everyone Else is Taken
The Young Women’s Leadership Dialogue (YWLD) was officially opened on Monday, July 11, with a welcome from the President of the World YWCA, Susan Brennan. Emphasising the qualities of great leaders, she spoke of how women and girls from all over the world had shown her by example how they learned to be leaders. She spoke of a friend from Belize who had taught her about seizing opportunities, a friend from Finland who demonstrated the importance of working in a team and having support, and a friend from Palestine who emphasised that hope, forgiveness, and persistence are the best weapons against oppression. Lessons continued from Uganda, Zimbabwe, and Bangladesh about self-belief, determination, staying positive, and speaking up.
Delegates ended the opening session by creating a Leadership Tree that exhibits the worldwide qualities of a leader. Susan empowered the delegates with the words - “Be yourself because everyone else is taken. You don’t have to be a politician or a TV star. You can be a farmer, a teacher, a student who stands up for what they believe in, or a daughter who says no to violence in her family. In the Y, leadership means that we work to bring about change for women around the world.”
After the official welcome by Susan Brennan, the young women delegates broke into three sessions where they networked, discussed sexual and reproductive health, developed skills in social networking and technology, and shared stories of leadership.
Trainers from the International Planned Parenthood Federation led a session on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights, where participants discussed sexuality and the issues that the young women face in their countries. Minds churned when the question was asked, “When was the first time in your life you received a positive message about sexuality?” Most participants felt a sense of support when they realized they were facing similar issues around the world.
Sarah Davies from the YWCA of New Zealand and Beatrice Frey of UN WOMEN led a session on women, technology, and human rights. Discussing everything from Facebook to Twitter to specific platforms such as “Say No – UniTE,” participants identified effective strategies for advocacy and ending violence against women. Through social media, YWCA advocates are able to make a link between global advocacy and local action.
Delegates also had the chance to hear leadership stories from their fellow YWCA young leaders. Alemtsehay Zergaw, World YWCA Programme Associate and 2011 intern, spoke about the high value she places on education and having dreams. On her leadership journey, Arda Aghazarian, World YWCA Board Member, learned of the importance of young women mentoring each other to be leaders. Kirsty Kelly, another World Board Member said, “You can’t just wait for leadership to come and get you; you have to stand up and grasp it yourself.”
The morning was filled with fresh ideas and enthusiasm, each participant bringing their own experience to the Conference and wanting to gain fresh perspectives from the other young women. Delegates from the YWLD will be carrying new friendships, different ideas, and refreshed leadership skills back to their home YWCAs.