Through over a decade of work with Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and with specific contributions from nine YWCAs in the Asia and Pacific region, the World YWCA Rise Up! programme has grown to be a unique combination of formal and informal trainings, tools and participatory approaches. Rise Up! has enabled young women to build confidence, gain knowledge, connect with one another and mobilise peers and stakeholders to address issues that affect their rights and future, while working for justice and sustainability in their communities and beyond.
Today, the World YWCA and its member associations are navigating through the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on women, young women and girls at community level. YWCAs and young women who have gone through the Rise Up! programme have been adapting to best contribute in response to the arising issues that have come with the global crisis.
Over the past weeks, restrictions and COVID-19 impact have varied between countries in Asia – Pacific where Rise Up! has been implemented. India for example has been experiencing a total lockdown with people not being able to get out without the government’s approval. Samoa is responding to its second health crisis after dealing with a measles outbreak less than six months ago. The Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea faced further disruptions by tropical cyclone Harold.
Nevertheless, and based on interactions with YWCA leaders from countries where the Rise Up! programme has been present, women and particularly young women, are demonstrating their resilience and creativity by working remotely and being active online and in communities.
According to World YWCA Regional Coordinator for Rise Up! Naomi Woyengu,
“Most young women are working from home and in spite of the inherent constraints, they are demonstrating leadership by advocating and creating awareness not only on coronavirus and COVID-19, but also on ongoing issues such as sexual and reproductive rights, violence against women and climate change. Some have also volunteered in communities to distribute food and essentials needed during this time”.
In Thailand, the YWCA has produced large amounts of gel hand sanitizers and distributed in the country. They have also shared the recipe for this gel hand sanitizer with Rise Up! peers as a good practice that can be replicated in other communities. This along with assisting local partners and authorities in redistributing essentials such as masks and hand sanitizers in communities has helped the YWCAs first response to the pandemic.
The YWCA of Samoa has not only raised awareness regarding precautions to consider during the COVID-19 pandemic, but has also linked them directly to the risks related to climate change.
The YWCA of Papua New Guinea has worked closely with partner organisations on domestic violence issues and violence related to sorcery accusations. Advocacy work is being mostly done online and has also been focused on the lockdown restrictions and how these affect access to services in terms of women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights. The YWCA of Papua New Guinea has also been distributing COVID -19 information provided to them by World YWCA, WHO, PNG National Health Department and Child Fund. For their school programmes, they have been working on creating online resources to share with teachers to be used with children.
Through local associations, the YWCA of India has implemented numerous initiatives focused on mental health and have reached out and supported those at the forefront of the COVID-19 response. Local YWCAs in India are distributing masks in marginalized communities with poor access to resources.
The YWCA of Solomon Islands has been involved in community awareness in Honiara through the Ministry of Health.
These are just a few examples of the efforts YWCAs that have benefitted from Rise Up! are leading to take action and tackle the challenges that are arising with the pandemic. Women and young women are leading these efforts from the forefront. Through intergenerational leadership, strategic steps are being undertaken to ensure innovative mechanisms along with response work is undertaken to reach the most marginalized women, young women and girls in communities.
As the World YWCA continues to monitor the impact in communities where YWCAs are present, there is no doubt that the approach of Rise Up! has served to better equip women and young women to adapt and lead positive change towards justice, human rights and gender equality.
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