Canadian Crossroads International presents at 55th Commission on the Status of Women

By Annie Kashamura Zawadi, New York

The streets of New York City surrounding the United Nations’ headquarters were transformed into an enlightening arena as likeminded women and men came together to discuss the welfare of women around the globe at the 55th Commission on the Status of Women,.

As I moved from one presentation to another—in what felt like women-centred land—it was refreshing to realize how people around the world are pushing women’s agendas forward, no matter how few their resources. It was thrilling to hear about the advances made in the domains of technology and science. It was equally infuriating to hear of the recurring violations of women’s rights, like their continued exclusion from land ownership and newly emerging kinds of gender based violence, such as the practice of ironing girls’ budding breasts in Cameroon.

Left to right: Paulette Senior, Adwa Bame, Annie Kashamura Zawadi and Ann Decter

On Thursday February 23rd 2011, Canadian Crossroads International joined with Ghanaian partner ABANTU for Development and the YWCA Canada to share our experiences collaborating in a new community of practice called Mentoring Young Women in Politics and Decision Making. There were approximately sixty women and girls in our all-female audience, spanning diverse ages and origins. The panellists included Adwa Bame, representing ABANTU, Ann Decter, Advocacy and Policy Director of YWCA Canada, and me, Annie Kashamura Zawadi, Crossroads’ Women’s Rights Program Officer for Ghana and Togo. Our moderator for the discussion was Paulette Senior, CEO of YWCA Canada. 

While Bame shared ABANTU’s journey in mentoring young women in Ghana, Decter shared the Canadian experience. I spoke to the magic of bringing these practitioners together to develop innovative ways to reach more young women in Ghana and beyond.  Hamida Harrison, ABANTU programmes manager stressed that beyond the mentoring program, working with Crossroads has also strengthened ABANTU as an organization.

The dialogue was open, interactive and deeply passionate with full audience participation. The core question that emerged was: How can we keep young and older women interested and engaged in politics and decision making when numerous barriers persist and girls are often indifferent?

Our answer is strong technique for engaging women with each other and with politics and public life. Mentoring is so highly beneficial because it is a two-way street. The older mentor ends up being mentored by her young mentee in many ways. This was a reality many of the attendees. A participant from South Korea raised concerns about the corporate sector’s reluctance in funding mentoring programs for young women.  I came away from the panel realizing just how vital Crossroads’ community of practice will be to build support for young women’s programming and  to bring together perspectives, practitioners and young women, to create and share knowledge and pilot new approaches.

Time was up before we knew it. Coincidentally, and fittingly, the final words came from the youngest audience member:

 “Girls can act crazy when in the presence of boys because of pressure. But when they are alone, girls speak about their problems and discuss things that are really important to them. Giving a private space to girls and combining the programs with activities that girls like such as sports or music and such could make a mentoring program successful.”

These closing words came from fifteen-year-old Rosie Decter, who reminded us all of how critical it is to help young women find their own voices.

 
Crossroads International gratefully acknowledges the support of: