|Leading Change: The Power to Act|
Can women’s leadership make a difference in the current global environment? A resounding ‘YES!’ was the response of the one thousand women from around the world who met in Brisbane, Australia for the World Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) World Council from 5th – 10th July 2003. Women from more than 100 countries and 50 partner organizations, including WACC, attended the meeting “Leading Change: The Power to Act”. As part of this event the World YWCA convened a two-day International Women’s Summit to review the status of women within the framework of the women’s global agenda adopted at the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing 1995. To do this the World YWCA brought women leaders, women activists and women from grassroots areas to tell their stories from their perspective. Testimonies from women experiencing economic injustices, violence, the effects of HIV/AIDS, and women living in conflict situations formed the central part of the Summit. To give these issues a global perspective there were plenary keynote speeches from prominent women leaders.
Princess Basma Bint Talal (Jordan) identified the impact of armed conflict on women and the need for women to be involved in peace negotiation. “The roles of women and religious leaders in peace building seem to me to be significantly under exploited forces for peace making. In conflict ridden areas women are often disproportionately affected by hostilities and thus largely seen to be primary victims of war.”
The incorporation of women’s perspectives and lives into human rights standards and practice forces recognitions of the dismal failure of countries to accord women the human dignity and respect they deserve – simply as human beings. Afia Nathaniel (Pakistan), independent filmmaker, cautioned the role of the media in their use of information as a weapon in influencing the world agenda. “The biggest weapon of mass destruction is still undeclared and unrecognised. It is not a weapon forged out of nuclear matter but it is one forged in the mass media, namely information.”
Phumzile Mlambo Ngcuka, Minister for Energy and Minerals in South Africa stretched the thinking of the YWCA by insisting that partnerships with industry, corporations and governments are needed if YWCA women want to achieve the change they wish to see in their communities. Christine Grumm (USA), executive director of the Women’s Funding Network, furthered this agenda as she shared her experience of funding with the YWCA movement. “Women as social change agents must be fundraisers with big and bold visions”
As part of the summit, there was a series of workshops organized around the twelve issues of the Beijing Platform for Action (BFA). The workshop on women and the media, which aimed to assess how far we have come in implementing Section J of the BFA, addressed the rapid progress in information and communication technology in recent years and the opportunities and challenges this advance presents to the worldwide women’s movement. As part of a panel, including Susana George of Isis International- Manila who spoke on gender and the upcoming World Summit on the Information Society and Professor Dale Spender of the University of Queensland who presented her work on the internet as a channel for women’s voices, the Women and Media Programme Officer of the WACC Women’s Programme gave a talk on monitoring gender in the media with particular reference to the Global Media Monitoring Project. Facilitated by Anne Walker of the International Women’s Tribune Centre, the workshop ended with a list of recommendations on women and media being recorded to be presented to the YWCA for integration into their future work.
As Dr Musimbi Kanyoro, General Secretary of the World YWCA, stated in her concluding comments of the Summit, “The International Women’s Summit was an opportunity for women from different situations to hear each other, evaluate the progress women are making and adapt strategies to move forward and address barriers that affect progress. It was a time of celebration and joy as more than 1000 women met together and expressed the hope within us and motivates us to be leaders of change.”