NAIROBI, Kenya, April 7, 2022 – The Young Women for Awareness, Agency, Advocacy and Accountability (YW4A) programme is an innovative new partnership being implemented in Egypt, Kenya, Palestine, and South Sudan. The programme aims to strengthen the capacity of young women and local women’s rights organisations (WROs) to claim their rights by taking up leadership roles. Applying an interdisciplinary approach, YW4A uses a combination of faith, feminism, and the law to address widespread sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), and the limitations that young women face participating in decision-making spaces.
YW4A’s strategic objective is to defend and expand the fulfilment of young women’s rights to dignity, bodily integrity, and equal participation in decision-making, through the implementation of gender-just policies and laws.
A five-year initiative, YW4A has been designed and funded in partnership with the Netherlands Government’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in consultation with the Netherlands Government Embassies in the four focus countries.
Built on collaboration between partners and stakeholders at local to international levels, YW4A was co-created by four consortium partners, World Young Women’s Christian Association (World YWCA), Equality Now, YWCA Palestine, and YWCA Kenya; two implementing partners, YWCA South Sudan, and Ibrahimia Media Center; and two technical partners, KIT Royal Tropical Institute, and Faith to Action Network (F2A).
Urgent need for gender-just laws and policies
Gender justice entails full equality and equity between women and men in all realms of life and an end to gender discrimination wherever it manifests – be it within the family, community, or state. This requires equal standing for women in defining and shaping policies, structures, and decisions that impact their own lives and the wider society.
While each country has its own unique context, young women across Egypt, Kenya, Palestine, and South Sudan commonly face a range of human rights violations rooted in multiple layers of violence and discrimination. Their shared experiences include sexual abuse, harassment, intimidation, exclusion, and restrictions on movement, compounded by a lack of access to justice.
SGBV is widespread and takes many forms, such as child, early and forced marriage, domestic violence, sexual violence, female genital mutilation (FGM), human trafficking, sexual coercion, and exploitation. The intrinsic nature of SGBV hinders the ability of young women to speak out, fully participate in society and realise their full potential.
Negative cultural norms and traditions are often used to justify and reinforce the oppression of women and girls, with discriminatory and patriarchal attitudes held by community members including religious leaders. This obstructs efforts to close gaps in legal protections and lack of access to justice, such as with laws relating to sexual violence, and family laws that discriminate against women in marriage, divorce, guardianship of children, property rights, and rights to inheritance.
Social norms are biased against young women’s leadership and their voices are frequently silenced within the home, community, and public arena. Their agency is restricted, with key decisions about their lives – both public and private – being made for them by men.
Women in Egypt experience high levels of gender-based discrimination and violence despite legislative reforms aimed at guaranteeing rights for women including political rights. According to UN Women, 99.3% of women have been subjected to some form of harassment. Further, there is low female participation in the workforce and in decision-making spaces.
Kenya is bound by several international and regional human rights frameworks and has robust laws at the national level, but this has yet to be translated into reality for women and girls. Despite significant advances in laws relating to gender equality and sexual violence, weak implementation and limited coordination has resulted in impunity for SGBV and the under-representation of women in political leadership. An estimated 40% of women are likely to face SGBV in their lifetime.
Analysis by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Women found that high rates of SGBV in Palestine are due to traditional patriarchal norms, with cases often going unreported due to stigma, concerns about family “honour”, and fear of reprisals.
Domestic abuse is widespread, with the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) reporting 29% of women who have been married have experienced psychological, physical, or sexual violence by their husbands.
Customary law holds a central place in South Sudan’s traditionally patriarchal society, with men acting as heads of households and society, and excluding women and girls from decision-making. Around 65% of women and girls experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime according to UNICEF, with the most common form being abuse by husbands or partners. Domestic violence is considered primarily a private matter and rarely results in police intervention or justice for survivors.
A unique partnership delivering transformational change
YW4A places young women at the centre of achieving transformational change. Young women have huge potential to overcome the obstacles they face and YW4A focuses on enhancing their capacity around legal and advocacy literacy, skills development, and cultivating an atmosphere that is conducive to the realisation of their rights. This includes fostering a supportive legal environment and forging allies with faith actors.
Thabani Sibanda, who leads on the YW4A Global Partnership, explains, “A young woman’s position in society is not one dimensional. This is especially true when it comes to tackling sexual and gender-based violence. Consequently, the solutions to barriers in realising her human rights are multidimensional, and often require multiple solutions.
“YW4A is the realisation that we can only bring transformational change when we work together in partnerships that transcend traditional programming boundaries. Our founding vision for the initiative was to bring together advocates from different sectors, all fighting the same fight, for young women’s transformational change. This includes feminists, religious actors, lawyers, and researchers. The partnership today is a unique amalgamation of experts, tackling the different dimensions that a young woman faces regarding inclusion decision-making and her bodily integrity.”
Night Agnes Wani, a young women’s rights defender in South Sudan, reflects, “The YW4A programme has totally changed my mindset from being a weak and fearful woman to a strong one! I can now stand up boldly and fight for my rights and the rights of other women in my country. I have gained confidence in participating in political leadership opportunities and I now want to be a member of parliament someday. I am ready to take on the race.”