Address by Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka at the 150th Anniversary of the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA), Geneva, Switzerland, 28 October 2005

Salutations

The World YWCA President, Ms Monica Zetzsche;
World YWCA General Secretary Dr Musimbi Kanyoro;
World YWCA Executive Members;
The Swiss YWCA;
The National Association of the YWCA;
Sister organisations;
Friends of the YWCA;
Distinguished guests;
Ladies and gentleman

Thank you for inviting me to be part of this birthday celebration. One hundred and fifty years of service by the YWCA members from generations to generations calls for us to pause, reflect, review, rededicate and indeed celebrate. So happy birthday YWCA and may you have many more.

Friends I also bring you greetings from my country South Africa from my President and colleagues all of whom who will know something about the YWCA. I also bring good wishes from the YWCA in South Africa.

We celebrate today a movement, which has been in the forefront of the struggles of the empowerment of women and girls. Today it reaches more than 25 million girls in 122 countries and that is an achievement to be proud. The YWCA has been responding to the plight of ordinary people serving their needs and advocating for the right of girls and women.

The recent United Nations (UN) gathering in New York, which reviewed the circumstance of women and girls 10 years after the Beijing conference, shows that we still have a lot of work to do, notwithstanding great strides that have been made. Progress includes greater awareness on women's issues by policy makers and society, more resolve by government to address the emancipation of women and more resources to address the plight of women. Yet with all this progress some of the challenges remain old. Some of the challenges we are faced with, such as the trafficking of women and children, are however new.

I speak coming from a government that has decided that all needs to be done to put the abolition of all form of discrimination against women in the forefront of our work. From the Presidency of former President Nelson Mandela to the current Presidency of President Thabo Mbeki.

I have had the privilege of working with both Presidents and a team of people who are very committed to women. With all our work much more still has to be done, there is no country in this world that does not need a touch of the YWCA, some more than others.

Where there is poverty women still carry a heavier burden. When there is domestic violence for example, women and children bear the brunt. It has been confirmed that women are not always safe in their homes. We have also seen cases where women have triumphed and risen up to shine, although the prize for success is sometimes painful.

Despite all the challenges, it would be wrong though not to pay tribute to the many men and women, institutions, governments, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), women's organisations and churches who alongside with the YWCA have worked to improve the lives of women and children. Their work has had a tremendous impact.

This shift is due to the combined work of the YWCA and other like minded stakeholders at local levels and globally. But because we have not yet turned the tide completely even with all the progress, there is a need to work even harder and smarter. We are no more fighting blatant oppression in many cases, but deep prejudice and subtle oppression, poor implementation of policies, neglect of duty and scarcity of resources. The private sector in particular can do much more to advance this course of the emancipation of more than half of humanity especially to:

  1. To alleviate the poverty of women;
  2. Ensure that the education of women and girls is not compromised;
  3. Ensure that women can access justice and services such as health facilities and that those facilities are improved in many counties facing the challenge of HIV and AIDS.

Both men and women hold the key to women's empowerment. The YWCA has played a crucial role in the empowering and development of women as leaders. The investments of the YWCA have meant women who have had exposure to the YWCA lead with gender sensitivity.

I speak as someone who has benefited from the YWCA leadership development endeavours. From the YWCA I learnt about the importance of empowering women, about the difference that women can make when they have been empowered and I have witnessed it in Africa, South America, Middle East, Asia and the Caribbean.

I have also seen how the change of economic circumstance of women impacts on the quality of life of their families and children.

Learning to focus and pursue empowerment of women and gender based justice is the best lessons the YWCA taught me. I joined the YWCA as a teenager and through my youth I was an active Y-teen. I became part of the YWCA's young women's in core in the 80s and got even greater exposure.

A YWCA young women's African Regional conference in Tanzania in 1982 prepared me for the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) task, which I was to encounter almost two decades later. Tanzania was my first trip outside Southern Africa and I knew coming from that experience that women must play a central role in the development of the continent. It became clear to me that the struggle for liberating South Africa has to be part of the bigger struggle for a better Africa, an Africa in which women and girls were to be given special attention. I am eternally thankful for that that solid foundation.

Later working for the World YWCA as a director of Young Women's Programme globally from this lovely city Geneva, I was to learn even more through my travels. I also met remarkable young women and YWCA leaders from all over the world who contributed towards my development. Geneva is very special to me because my only child was born here.

I can say without fear of contradictions that because of what I gained from joining the YWCA at an early age, I knew I wanted to serve my community in my work. The YWCA experience has produced building blocks for understanding the demands of leadership that responds to the needs of the poor for many women and men around the world. An experience of working with the poor is one of the best schools on leadership. Now that we find ourselves in positions of authority one can only say God bless YWCA that prepared me and gave me a foundation on living one's faith.

I believe the YWCA all over the world should be doing even more to develop women's leadership for young girls in particular. The world needs it, it is fundamental to the making of a world that is safer and better. Giving generously to the work of the YWCA is one way to heal the world.

In many countries today the women's movements have weakened as some of the battles women traditionally fought for became accepted Policy. That is the challenge in my country as well. Yet there is much work still to be done.

In my country the women's movements have been very strong and that gave us a good pool of women who took powerful positions with a clear idea on the need to mainstream gender equity. Thank you to these women my country has benefited immensely as these women have ensured a pro-women agenda in government assisted by the two Presidents.

South Africa has 43% of women in Cabinet, which includes the Deputy President, Ministers of Constitutional offices and Justice, Health, Minerals and Energy, Public Service and Administration, Foreign Affairs, Public Works, Agriculture, Water Affairs and Forestry and Housing and Deputy Ministers of Arts and Culture, Local Government, Minerals and Energy, Police, Correctional Services, Social Welfare and Trade and Industry. Our parliament has more 30% women and soon local government will have 50% women.

The work of making the world a better place needs all of us in our different roles. One hundred and 50 years later the YWCA remain one of the trusted names in the business of developing people and women and girls in particular. This is a course that deserves support from all of us.

I thank the many YWCA members and leaders who are our unsung heroes for holding the sky up, for lighting the stars and for making sure the sun does not set.

Issued by: Department of Foreign Affairs
28 October 2005

 

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