YW4A partnership focuses on strengthening human rights for young women in Egypt, Kenya, Palestine, and South Sudan
The Young Women for Awareness, Agency, Advocacy and Accountability (YW4A) (https://YW4A.org) 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) (https://bit.ly/3E2uJ8t), Equality Now (www.EqualityNow.org), YWCA Palestine (https://YWCA.ps), and YWCA Kenya (www.YWCAKenya.org); YWCA Kenya; two implementing partners, YWCA South Sudan (https://YWCASouthSudan.org), and Ibrahimia Media Center (www.IMCegypt.net); and two technical partners, KIT Royal Tropical Institute (www.KIT.nl/), and Faith to Action Network (F2A) (www.FaithtoActioNetwork.org).
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.”
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of Young Women for Awareness, Agency, Advocacy and Accountability (YW4A).
For media inquiries:
Please contact any of the following:
Tara Carey, Head of Media, Equality Now
Millicent Kwambai, Communications Assistant, Equality Now
Sahar Al Bashir, MENA Media & Communications Consultant, Equality Now
The Young Women for Awareness, Agency, Advocacy and Accountability (YW4A) (https://bit.ly/3LLhdIW) partnership is a unique collaboration between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands Government, young women, feminists and gender equality champions, faith-based advocates, gender researchers, and legal and policy experts, coming together to influence political decision-making at all levels.
Funded and designed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands in consultation with the embassies of the Netherlands Government in Egypt, Kenya, Palestine, and South Sudan, YW4A aims to defend and expand the fulfillment of young women’s rights to dignity, bodily integrity and equal participation in decision-making, through the implementation of gender-just policies and laws in Egypt, Kenya, Palestine, and South Sudan.
YW4A is a five-year program led by consortium partner World Young Women’s Christian Association (World YWCA), working in collaboration with YWCA Kenya, YWCA Palestine, YWCA South Sudan, and Ibrahimia Media Center (IMC), Equality Now, KIT Royal Tropical Institute, and Faith to Action Network (F2A).
About the YW4A consortium partners:
World YWCA (Young Women's Christian Association) (www.WorldYWCA.org) is a non-governmental organization with a presence in over a hundred countries. Its work is grassroots-driven, grounded in local communities, and rooted in the transformational power of women. World YWCA provides support and opportunities for women, young women, and girls to become leaders and change-makers who not only protect their rights and impact their communities but inspire their peers to do the same. The organization is focused on building a strong, intergenerational network of women leaders, with programs led by and for women in response to the unique needs that they see in their communities.
In addition to the overall YW4A partnership and program management and oversight, World YWCA is the technical lead in strengthening the leadership of young women to effectively engage in collective action and decision-making in public, private, and civic spaces. To achieve this, World YWCA uses its RiseUp! Young Women’s Leadership model, a peer-to-peer agency, leadership and advocacy training, and mobilization approach to build knowledge, skills, and networks to take action on their priority issues.
YW4A partners are posting about the initiative on social media using the hashtag #YW4A.
YWCA (Young Women's Christian Association) Kenya (www.YWCAKenya.org) is a woman and youth membership-based, non-governmental development organization in Kenya. Affiliated with World YWCA, its main purpose is to develop the collective power of girls and women in Kenya to achieve social, economic, political, and cultural emancipation.
YWCA Kenya brings to YW4A its expertise in working with young women, and its networks and allies at different levels of decision making in communities, and within the faith sector across Kenya and the East Africa region. As the YW4A implementation lead in Kenya, YWCA Kenya is facilitating the capacity building, inclusion, meaningful participation, and leadership of young women in key decision-making spaces in private, public, and civic structures, including addressing challenges such as SGBV and intimate partner violence.
YWCA (Young Women's Christian Association) of Palestine (https://bit.ly/3JjwNK5) is a non-governmental organization in Palestine affiliated with World YWCA. Its mission is to contribute to a free and democratic civil society where women and youth are empowered to exercise and protect their political, economic, and social rights. It has three thematic areas of work: Leadership Development and Civic Engagement, Economic Justice, and Just Peace.
Within YW4A, YWCA Palestine is leading the in-country implementation by engaging and mobilizing young women, women’s rights organizations, and faith partners to strengthen civil society in Palestine. This includes galvanizing action to influence policies and legislation that promotes women’s rights. YW4A Palestine is contributing to influencing societal discourse by enhancing awareness of the scale, impact, and risks of violence against women, and building the inclusion of young women in decision-making spaces.
YWCA (Young Women's Christian Association) South Sudan (https://bit.ly/3DQ8fXO)’s mission is to empower women, girls, and youth to achieve justice, peace, health, human dignity, and a sustainable environment in South Sudan, and to develop their leadership skills and values to effectively participate in nation-building. Affiliated with World YWCA, its vision is to ensure a society where the human rights of women and girls and a sustainable environment are promoted, achieved, and protected through women’s leadership.
Leading the in-country implementation of YW4A, YWCA South Sudan is supporting young women to gain knowledge of their human rights and develop leadership and advocacy skills that will enable them to hold decision-makers accountable for the protection of women and girls from harmful practices and social norms. YWCA South Sudan actively addresses the consequences of civil and tribal conflict, discriminatory cultural practices, and conservative faith interpretations that have undermined the promotion of equal rights and the participation of women in private, public, and civic spaces in the country.
Ibrahimia Media Center (IMC) (www.IMCEgypt.net) is a faith-based organization, affiliated with the Evangelical Fellowship of Egypt. Its mission is to promote peaceful co-existence and human rights through capacity building, creating common spaces, raising awareness, and enhancing community knowledge about their rights and skills to call for the realization of rights. IMC works with marginalized groups to advocate for gender equality, peace, and reconciliation, and also builds the capacity of civil society organizations (CSOs) in this endeavor. Working towards advancing society through the adoption, design, and implementation of a set of development initiatives that contribute to gender equality and combating poverty in all its forms.
IMC is leading the implementation of YW4A in Egypt. Through its convening power bringing together faith actors and CSOs, IMC is supporting young women to access crucial decision-making spaces and amplify their voices in advocacy for gender-just laws, policies, and norms. IMC is building the leadership and management capacities of partner women’s rights organizations, and also provides valuable experience in media production for social change and a mission to engage faith authorities in a faith-led strategy for the reform of discriminatory family laws in Egypt.
Equality Now (www.EqualityNow.org) is an international non-governmental human rights organization that works to protect and promote the rights of women and girls around the world by combining grassroots activism with international, regional, and national legal advocacy. Our international network of lawyers, activists and supporters achieve legal and systemic change by holding governments responsible for enacting and enforcing laws and policies that end legal inequality, sex trafficking, online sexual exploitation, sexual violence, and harmful practices such as female genital mutilation and child marriage.
Equality Now brings to the YW4A consortium its expertise and experience in legal equality and systemic change. It is the technical lead for the program’s strategy of using legal advocacy to address legal and policy gaps that undermine the protection of women and girls from sexual violence, discrimination, and exclusion. Through its regional offices in Kenya and Lebanon, Equality Now is doing this using a combination of legal advocacy, regional partnership-building, and activist mobilization.
Faith to Action Network (F2A) (www.FaithtoActioNetwork.org) supports faith actors to empower people to live healthy, peaceful, and quality lives. As a global interfaith network of 110 Bahai, Buddhist, Christian, Confucian, Hindu, and Muslim faith organizations, F2A focuses on issues that faith actors are grappling with, including sexual and reproductive health and family planning; gender equality and women’s rights; pluralism and understanding. F2A Network believes that faith is central in women’s and men’s lives across the world. It influences their life, identity, and behavior.
F2A brings to YW4A its experience and understanding of religion as a salient aspect of culture, and faith actors’ influence and potential to contribute to YW4A’s goals. F2A is building the capacity of faith actors who will challenge gender-discriminatory social norms and promote women’s rights. This will be done through local social and behavioral change communication by faith champions, opinion leaders, and groups.
Royal Tropical Institute’s (KIT) (www.KIT.nl) gender team draws on more than 25 years of experience in international development. The institute's work focuses on stand-alone gender equality, women’s empowerment, and rights initiatives, as well as on the integration of gender equality and empowerment into agriculture, private sector, finance, and health programs. In addition to their gender and thematic expertise, KIT brings rich experience in organizational change, capacity development and learning, knowledge management and applied research. In the projects and knowledge work, KIT collaborates with partners and research associates worldwide.
Within YW4A, KIT is responsible for designing the gender-transformative outcome monitoring, evaluation, and learning (MEL). They are also delivering the design and implementation of the advocacy and organizational capacity assessment for the women’s rights organization partners, the design of the individual capacity development plans, and a collective learning agenda. In addition, KIT supports the design of YW4A baseline studies and the outcome monitoring and learning.