Women around the world demand accountability

Thursday, July 28, 2011 - 11:36

Eight hundred women from across 100 countries came together and demanded accountability from world leaders and other stakeholders during the 4th International Women’s summit (IWS) organised by World YWCA in Zurich from July -12-13, 2011.The highlight of the conference, which was around the theme Women Creating a Safe World, was the presence of women leaders from across the World. Dr. Michelle Bachelet, Executive Director, UN Women and former President of Chile, Mary Robinson, the first female President of Ireland (1990-1997) and present Chair of the Mary Robinson Foundation for Climate Justice, Hokozani Lhupe, Deputy Prime Minister of Zimbabwe and President of UNAIDS global Power Network for Africa on HIV and Dr Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director of UNFPA were the most significant.The focus of the two day summit was on sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), HIV and AIDS, violence against women (VAW) and peace with justice, especially for women living with HIV. It was interesting as it promoted an inter-generational approach that affirms young women’s leadership and shared experiences of faith through the lens of feminist theology.The summit was inaugurated by Michelle Bachelet, who inspired women to work towards political empowerment of women. She said “ Of the 193 members of the UN, only 28% countries have women in leadership positions, We need women’s political leadership and women’s participation in the constitutional reform processes.” She added “Empower women and young women, economically and socially.Let's renew our agenda during this 100 year anniversary of International Women's Day, of empowering women and girls not only for their right to sexual and reproductive health, for lives free from violence and HIV, but also for their ability to claim these rights, and to make them a reality for women and girls.”The first ever Mary Robinson Award on Human Rights was given away during the occasion by Mary Robinson herself. Speaking on the occasion she said, "The most effective way to bring about the change we need is to empower girls themselves, but they need examples to follow, they need young women leaders to stand up and have their voices heard." She emphasised the need to address issues such as child marriage, education, and healthcare through both broad alliances and work within local communities. Jacinta Nyachae, the founder of the AIDS Law Project in Nairobi, Kenya and Nancy Kapembwa, a psycho-socal counselor from Zambia who has created a Survivor Support Group for women living with HIV which has a membership of 2500 women and  uses a preventative approach in schools and communities to empower women and girls, the YWCA of Belize with its innovative use of barbershops and beauty salons as resource centres for HIV and AIDS education and dissemination and YWCA Canada for their work on human rights for women and girls were the four recipients.Demanding accountability from all stakeholders, three major themes emerged as key  actions for the future from the conference. Women and girls should be able to realise and enjoy human rights; women’s empowerment and leadership is critical for their full participation in decision making processes and investing in women and young women’s sexual and reproductive health rights are critical for development.Participants defined equitable, safe and inclusive spaces and programmes for women as safe space is about the personal, economic and political security of women and girls, their right to live free from violence, to make choices about where to live and work, to move freely and participate in all facets of democracy. It is also to have full access to sexual and reproductive health services, including universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support, free of stigma and discrimination. The need for resources and implementation of existing policies and legislations were highlighted by speakers and participants.I facilitated a session on the Role of Primary Health Care in the convergence of SRHR and HIV and AIDS and participated and contributed to sessions around Funding for HIV, HIV and gender issues in conflicts and emergencies and Stepping Stones. I was also asked by the convenors to give a response to the Agenda for Action during the valedictory chaired by Dr. Stephen Lewis. My concluding remarks “I am impressed with the passion and commitment of the women under the leadership of Ms Susan Brennan, President of the World YWCA, and Ms Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda, General Secretary of the World YWCA."To me, world over, religion is seen as an agency which exacerbates gender based violence and HIV. YWCA has the opportunity to prove otherwise by creating a safer world for poor women, the homeless, the mentally challenged, the women in sex work and women living with HIV, protecting them from GBV and ensuring they have the resources to enjoy rights.  I particularly liked the call to faith leaders from the women – support us to realize a new theology that affirms and respects women and girls.The action agenda around addressing human rights issues of violence against women, SRHR particularly within the context of conflict and HIV are in tune with the Political Declaration of 2011 and other International commitments. Economic and political empowerment of women is the way forward for women to claim and enjoy rights.”