August 19, 2011 by Paulette Senior, CEO, YWCA Canada
I’m very happy to be back from a whirlwind of both work and vacation excursions which took me to new and interesting places across Europe and Africa. It began with World YWCA Council, an unforgettable experience, followed by travels to Prague, Vienna and Budapest where I ate amazing dishes, enjoyed incredible sights and lost and found my BlackBerry twice!
I then returned home for 3 days and next went to Accra, Ghana, where I was a speaker at the opening ceremonies for the ABANTU for Development 5th Biennial Conference for District Assembly Women (local councillors) from across Ghana, a gathering of over 230 elected women. There as part of our partnership with Canadian Crossroads International, who work in partnership with some of West Africa’s most dynamic and respected women’s rights groups and community economic development organizations, it was a moving experience indeed. To be among these gracious yet strong and experienced women politicians who taught me so much about the power and potential of women to change local communities is something I shall not soon forget. They shared their successes and challenges of working in a “man’s world” (to be taken quite literally in Ghana), how they learned to hone their skills and the changes they made in their villages and communities. I felt small in their presence yet accepted and embraced as I absorbed their collective essence and strength to stand even in the face of immense opposition to their leadership, simply because they are women.
Ghana has a very male dominated culture, yet these women occupy such important political leadership roles and my admiration for their achievements expanded over the course of the conference. The theme for this year’s gathering was, “More Women in Election 2012” (the Ghanaian national election is set for December 2012). I was happy to share our experiences in Canada, including our work to get more women elected, and the political realities we currently face as we work to achieve our vision and mission for women’s and girls’ equality.
Despite over 25% of female representation at the District Assembly level, there is only 9% representation nationally. Yet I met several women who have already been nominated to run at the national level, others preparing for nominations, and a 25 year old determined to run in 2016. They remain undeterred despite the odds and I found myself wondering how I would feel in the face of a similar reality in Canada. But I grew to realize we occupy the same spirit and zest for the human rights of women and girls, a global quest that dwells within us no matter our location in the world.
There’s so much more I could share with you – including my trip to Elmina Castle, located in the main ports Ghanaian where slaves were held prior to being shipped to the Americas and various other destinations. I visited rain a forest, walked across seven swing bridges and met local politicians, chiefs and community and business leaders.
I also took the opportunity to meet with the YWCA and the YMCA General Secretaries of Ghana. I learned about their current priorities and the type of support they require moving forward. One exciting connection between both movements is ABANTU for Development, who will support the new project on gender mainstreaming within the African YMCAs. This connection will provide the ongoing support, expertise and impetus on the ground from a culturally relevant perspective. They YWCA of Ghana was most excited to make this connection with the hope of working more closely with ABANTU and YWCA Canada on some of their girls’ initiatives.
Overall, it was an experience that will last me a lifetime and has imprinted my memory for years to come. I have made lifelong friends whose commitment and passion for women and human rights drive them in their daily work towards achieving equality and justice.
While away from the office, Corinne and Ann fulfilled the role of Acting CEO respectively. I thank them deeply for their able support and oversight of the National Office to keep us on track over the summer months. At the same time, I learned that Amélie Roy, our Manager of Programs & Projects will be moving to Ottawa to for family reasons. Amélie has been with YWCA Canada for over two years and has worked tirelessly and with deep passion on the various programs and initiatives she managed during this time. Since joining the National Office from Canadian Crossroads International, Amélie’s contribution has been considerable, including liaising with our various funders, translating key documents and publications, and providing key support to both Ann and Corinne in their respective portfolios. In the words of ABANTU when they heard she was moving on to new ventures, “Amélie, you will be missed”. On behalf of our national movement I wish Amélie well in our new role in the Domestic Violence Unit for Ottawa Children’s Aid.