Sunday, November 7, 2010


The YWCA has been part of my life since 1960, when I joined as a student at Stanford University. The Student YWCA was the heart of the civil rights movement and other peace and justice concerns on the campus, as well as a center for women's leadership development. Over the years, I served on the boards of the Tucson and Phoenix YWCAs, on the National Board, on the Executive Committee of the World YWCA, and worked in various volunteer capacities as a trainer. The YWCA's emphasis on racial justice and human rights helped educate and shape my advocacy and activism.

Here on the MEF campus, there is a vibrant YWCA. One of the key programs is work on gender-based violence. The approach is two-pronged. First, the YWCA offers services to women who are victims of such violence through a shelter and a counseling program. They provide practical and emotional support and advocacy for these women as they leave abusive relationships and begin new lives. They also provide education on issues of gender-based violence for health workers, police, youth, and others. They have engaged in awareness campaigns on radio, TV, and through newspaper articles and stories.

In addition, the YWCA engages in political advocacy to strengthen the legal framework in response to gender-based violence. Without a comprehensive and effective public policy, fully and meaningfully implemented, gender-based violence will continue to be tolerated. And so the YWCA trains its members in effective citizen participation. They work for legislative change and program development to prevent and address this deep-seated and pervasive social evil.

The YWCA has other programs, as well. There is a drop-in center for at-risk youth. There are educational programs on topics such as HIV/AIDS prevention, self-care and caregiving, personal financial management, and widow's rights. The other day, I attended the graduation ceremony for more than 30 women who had completed training courses which would equip them for small income-generating endeavors--designing, cutting, and tailoring clothing, batik, and tie-dye production. It was a joyfully Zambian ceremony, filled with song, dance, and thanksgiving. The speakers and the family and friends recognized the sense of empowerment, mutual support, and hope that were developed in the participants through this program.

The purpose statement of the YWCA of Zambia includes two commitments: to develop the whole person, body, mind and spirit, and to unite and empower women to create a just society. Long may they continue with strength and courage!

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