The World YWCA has partnered with Monash GPs and Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Australia (DFAT) on a new research project titled “Mobilising Young women’s Leadership and Advocacy in the Asia pacific (MYWLAP)”. Dr. Katrina Lee-Koo, Deputy Director of Monash GPS, and Senior Lecturer Dr Lesley Pruitt  visited the World Office in June and conducted interviews with a number of young women. They also interviewed some of the young delegates to the second Youth Forum organized by the World YWCA in preparation for  the 35th Session of the Human Rights Council. We asked them to give us some  insights on what the research is about and why young women’s leadership is important.

What is your research about?

Our research examines young women’s leadership.  We’re interested to know about the different ways in which young women lead, what impact their leadership has on their lives and the lives of those around them, and what the barriers are to young women becoming leaders.  We also want to know how young women feel that their leadership journeys can be better supported.

Why is so important to talk about young women’s leadership?

It is important to talk about young women’s leadership for a number of reasons.  First, young women are often overlooked in programs and research that either focuses upon women’s leadership, or young people’s leadership.  Second, young women – for a number of different reasons – have developed different leadership styles which are important to understand and explore.  Third, young women have unique barriers that impede their ability to lead and in order to address these, we need to better understand what they are and what support they need.  Finally, talking about young women’s leadership goes hand in hand with talking about young women’s human rights and supporting their capacity to understand, access, and demand their rights.

What are the first findings of your study?

We are finding that particularly in the YWCA, young women lead in unique ways.  First, we’re finding that many young women believe leadership is a set of values that applies equally to formal and informal settings.   The leadership values that have been identified by the young women we’re working with are values that can be applied both to their own lives and in supporting others – particularly other young women.  These values may be exercised in the family, in personal relationships, in school/workplace, or in public forums.  Specifically, many young women see values such as empathy, honesty, courage and accountability as being important to leadership.  Moreover, young women’s leadership shows strong signs of prioritising collective and collaborative approaches rather than replicating existing hierarchies, which might actually hinder their claiming of their rights.  We refer to this as a peer leadership approach where young women support one another to be leaders and believe that the successes of one young woman benefits many beyond herself.  In this sense, as envisioned and practiced through the YWCA, leadership is a shared journey and it can often be most effective when spaces are created where young women can support one another, share knowledge and experiences, and discuss approaches to addressing the issues facing young women.

When we ask young women why their leadership matters, some young women have reported that it has helped to challenge gender-based discrimination and stereotypes in their communities, that it has helped them and members of their communities to lead healthy lives, that they have been able to learn from one another’s experiences – both good and bad, and that they have been able to take lessons and knowledge from their own leadership journeys and share with and support other young women in their communities.