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YWCA: Travelling to Bangkok for advocacy

Zoya Patel

Canberra is a city that is seen to be inextricably linked with advocacy.

With Parliament House towering above us on Capital Hill, and the location of many diplomatic embassies and peak industry bodies in the ACT, this reputation is well-deserved.

However, opportunities for young Canberran women to meaningfully participate in advocacy for their own rights and futures, and for the rights of other women, can be few and far between.

YWCA Canberra is an organisation that actively addresses this issue, by giving Canberra women the chance to participate in advocacy on a local, national and global level.

YWCA Canberra is a feminist not-for-profit organisation that has been providing services to the community since 1929 in the areas of children’s services, community services, women’s leadership and education and training (amongst many other things!). With 500 local members, the leadership development of Canberra women is incredibly important to the organisation.

The YWCA movement is a global one, spanning over 125 countries, with a collective impact on more than 25 million women and girls.

I work for YWCA Canberra in communications and advocacy, and am lucky enough to be travelling with a delegation of our members to Bangkok this month to participate in the World YWCA Council (World Council)

Every four years, the entire YWCA movement gathers for the World Council, to share knowledge and practices, and to set the strategic directions and priorities for the movement going forward.

This year, the 28th World Council will be specifically looking at the proposed strategy, ‘Envisioning 2035 – 100 million women and girls shaping a just and inclusive world’.

YWCA Canberra provided scholarships for five members to attend World Council, to ensure the views and voices of Canberra women are represented at this important global forum. Our members will join the broader YWCA Australia delegation, which includes women from most states and territories, who will be presenting workshops and sharing resources throughout World Council.

While it all sounds quite high-level and strategic, World Council is also an amazing chance for our members to experience a global advocacy forum, and to meet YWCA members from all over the world.

YWCA Canberra members Caitlin Sandercock, Heidi Zajac, Samantha Betts, Abby Thevarajah, and Gordana Morphett will be attending World Council alongside myself, our Executive Director Frances Crimmins, President of our Board, Kate Chipperfield, and Early Childhood Services Manager Louise Billman.

Heidi Zajac is a Director on YWCA Canberra’s Board, and is looking forward to the energy of World Council. “I am most excited about the buzz that will come with being in a space full of passionate, committed women from almost every part of the globe,” she says.

However, Heidi is very aware of the privilege we have as YWCA members from a first world country – despite there still being a lot of work to do before we truly achieve gender equality, Australian women have basic rights and freedoms that our sisters in other parts of the world are still fighting for.

“Until women can exercise their right to freely express their voice, in domestic and public spaces, many other rights remain elusive,” Heidi says. “I want to listen to how women may or may not express their needs when planning a family, choosing a career or study pathway, supporting a leader in their community, using contraception, leaving a partner, or entering politics.”

Similarly, YWCA Canberra member Samantha Betts wants to use World Council as a chance to hone her advocacy skills, and be exposed to other women’s experiences.

“I think sometimes in our society we become isolated from the injustices that occur to women globally – freedoms we take for granted,” she says. “I feel as though our duty as Canberran delegates doesn’t stop with attendance. Being based in the capital we have a unique opportunity to talk more readily to politicians, lobbyists and policy researchers to more effectively make our voices heard. It’s important that we accept our geographical opportunity and presence at World Council, and make something of it.”

World Council also gives Australian delegates a chance to support developing YWCAs from our region.

YWCA Canberra member, Gordana Morphett will be supporting two women from Timor-Leste throughout the event, who are attending on behalf of the newly established YWCA in their country.

“Zulmira (Mira) Fonseca, the President and Prudencia (Densi) Tilman, the first employee-coordinator from YWCA Timor-Leste, will have a unique opportunity to connect, exchange stories and grow, but also rally support for their journey to becoming a fully fledged member of the World YWCA community.”

As the manager of YWCA Canberra’s Early Childhood Services, Louise Billman is passionate about early childhood education, and is leading the development of a skills and knowledge-sharing workshop on best-practice strategies at World Council.

“Envisioning 2035 for me is really about turning advocacy into a catalyst for change. We have a great opportunity to have an impact on the future through early childhood, so I’ll be advocating for that at World Council,” she says.

Laura Pound is the Canberra representative on YWCA Australia’s voting delegation, and will be able to vote on the Envisioning 2035 strategy amongst other resolutions.

On the importance of participation at global forums like World Council, she says, “It’s important that we can link the local, national and global. It’s an opportunity for us to recognise similarities in women’s experiences so that we can join together to advocate for change, and at the same time learn about different issues affecting our sisters in other country and cultural contexts.”

The YWCA movement has a big impact globally through forums such as the Commission on the Status of Women, and the UN Human Rights Council, amongst others. For YWCA Canberra members attending World Council this month, the opportunity to contribute to the long-term goals and objectives of such an important and impactful organisation will be truly life-changing.

Join the conversation and stay up to date on the experiences of YWCA Canberra’s delegation to World Council by following us on Twitter @ywcacanberra.

Zoya Patel is Corporate Relations and Advocacy Manager at YWCA Canberra, editor and founder of online feminist journal Feminartsy, and 2015 ACT Young Woman of the Year. @zoyajpatel


Zoya Patel

Zoya founded Feminartsy in 2014, following four years as Editor-In-Chief of Lip Magazine. She has been writing about feminist issues for over a decade, and has had work published in a number of publications including Right Now,, Junkee and more. Zoya was Highly Commended in the Scribe Publishing Non-Fiction Prize 2015, was the 2014 recipient of the Anne Edgeworth Young Writers’ Fellowship, and was named the 2015 ACT Young Woman of the Year. She is represented by Curtis Brown Australia. @zoyajpatel More about the Author