Young women’s empowerment: Leading us into the future!

YWCA USA’s Director of Research and Program Evaluation Alicia Gill just arrived back from a World YWCA meeting in Taiwan, where young women and leaders from around the world got together on a mission for young women’s empowerment and leadership (go girl power!) Here, Alicia gives us some insight into her experience there, and talks about women’s empowerment, the global YWCA movement, and our shared commitment to social justice:

Welcome back Alicia! You were recently in Taiwan for a World YWCA meeting. Can you tell us a little bit about that gathering?

I was recently in Taiwan for a World YWCA Experts Group Meeting (EGM) for the YWCA International Leadership Academy (YWLA). In 2015, the World Council agreed that they want to launch a worldwide leadership academy for young women across the globe that is both culturally specific to their own communities, and scalable! A big task! YWCA is planning the first pilot of the accredited YWLA in 2018 and the launch will take place in 2019.

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The meeting pulled in young women, and not-so-young women who are leaders and experts within the YWCA movement, and partners to our work, specifically around young women’s empowerment. There were women representing communities and organizations from Haiti, New Zealand, Honduras, Palestine, India, Belarus, Papua New Guinea, Uganda, Egypt, Myanmar, Sweden, the US, Canada, South Africa, and Taiwan. We were all gathered to think creatively about the purpose and objectives of the YWLA, propose the form of the academy and develop a strategy, and develop a fundraising strategy that incorporates a business model as well as strategic partnerships so as to launch the YWLA in 2019. As you can imagine, the days were full of discussions, inspiration, and insight from young women, as we prepare to launch a global, and collective movement to strengthen young women’s transformative leadership.

Why is it important for young women and girls to be leaders?

Young women and young women’s leadership has always been at the core of YWCA’s work—the story of YWCA is a story of intergenerational, multicultural women galvanizing for change. Girls are our future, and giving them the tools they need to lead us into a more just and equitable world is foundational to our values—but it is important to see girls and young women not just as future leaders, but as people who are already leading in their varied ways, in different communities, meeting all kinds of needs right now. How we support, and give space and resources to girls and young women now, impacts all of our futures. And young women, who often experience wage disparity, gender based violence, unequal access to education at higher rates than older women, are uniquely able to speak from their own experience, create solutions that work today, and enact change.

How can we better encourage young women and girls towards leadership? What are some of the things that are important to young women’s empowerment and leadership?

Don’t take it from me (I just missed the “young women 30 years old and under” cut off)! The young women represented in our meeting last week said it best: shared power, equity, self care, mentoring, and collaboration are all important to young women’s empowerment.

How was YWCA USA fit into the larger global YWCA movement, and what did you learn about this collective movement through this experience?

We are all connected by our shared commitment to girls and young women, and our commitment to social justice! I was so inspired hearing about all of the programs and advocacy efforts all over the world, from organizations with many, many institutional and cultural barriers, to those with more resources. What never wavered is our fierce commitment to justice, empowerment, and our belief in the power, creativity and intelligence of young women and girls. I got to present to the group the YWCA USA vision of sustainability, our Mission Impact Framework and our commitment to eliminating racism and empowering women. While our lens and work is informed by a specific sociopolitical history within the context of the United States, it was encouraging to see the ways our mission resonated with women from across the world and the way women worldwide respond to gender inequity in the context of racism, occupation, apartheid, colonization, or ethnic clashes.alicia-sharing-mission-impact-framework-theory-of-change

What was your biggest highlight/favorite thing from this trip?

We could not have had better hosts. I am so grateful and humbled by our sisters at YWCA Taiwan—they made sure all of the participants had a rich cultural, and intellectual experience. One of my favorite nights was our trip to the Shilin night market, where we got to shop, eat food from delicious food stalls, and experience some local culture. The other highlight was our sightseeing trip. We visited several landmarks around the city, including Taipei 101 (one of the tallest buildings in the world), Longsan Temple, the Taiwanese Cultural Museum, and several memorial halls. Honestly, the best thing about the trip was being with such brilliant, committed, diverse women.

Anything else you’d like to share?

I just want to share another word of gratitude for the team from YWCA Taiwan, the World YWCA team from Geneva, our guest partners and all of the young women who made the meeting inspiring, informative and FUN! ywca-taiwan