Ingrid Gálvez, who participated in IWHC’s Advocacy in Practice workshop and now works with GOJoven Guatemala, a group that trains young leaders to advance adolescent sexual and reproductive health. Scroll down to view highlights from our 2015 Annual Report, or click here to download the full report.
The world is grappling with unprecedented crises, but I have faith in the women’s movement. Every day, I meet or hear about fearless women who are speaking out and advocating for women’s health and rights in some of the most difficult and dangerous settings. We are lucky to have many of these fierce and persistent champions as our partners.
Last year, young activists from Egypt, Pakistan, and Zimbabwe, in New York for the UN’s Commission on the Status of Women, spoke to our supporters at an off-the-record meeting. They described the intense political and social difficulties of advocating for the rights of women, youth, and LGBTI individuals in their countries, and how they build support from the ground up. “We are challenging the system, the state, and our communities—everything that keeps us from being citizens,” said Patience Mandishona of Zimbabwe. “It is not easy, but without a collective voice, we can do nothing.”
These young women courageously lead the charge for change in their communities. Mobilizing others to join the cause, they confront traditional power structures and boldly speak out on a woman’s right to control her body, have a safe abortion, and access accurate and comprehensive sexuality education.
IWHC has never shied away from such topics. We support and amplify the voices of feminist activists, including the most vulnerable and marginalized, so that decision-makers at the highest levels hear from them directly and know their demands firsthand.
Many roadblocks stand in the way. From Turkey to India, women’s rights advocates face growing political repression. In Brazil and Uruguay, their work is stifled by dwindling Resources. This past year, European donors shifted their funding away from women’s groups based in the Global South to bigger international development organizations in the North.
In this evolving landscape, the International Women’s Health Coalition is now a significant funder of many vital feminist groups and activists around the world. That’s why your commitment to IWHC is so crucial. We know from experience that change only happens with pressure from the ground up, and we direct our resources where they can have the most impact.
Thank you for your steadfast support: you are saving and transforming lives all over the world.
MESSAGE FROM OUR BOARD CHAIR
I recently heard the story of Hema, a young girl from Sindh province in Pakistan, who after seeing a powerful theater performance remarked: “We should ask both girls and boys if they are willing to get married or not. They have a right to decide their partner.”
Hema had participated in a program run by the International Women’s Health Coalition’s partner Aahung that is using drama to communicate with more than 11,000 young people, caregivers, and teachers in the province about the dangers of child marriage.
As Board Chair, I am heartened by stories of girls who are determined to chart a different course. IWHC knows the damage that child marriage causes girls, families, and Communities. We invest in local groups like Aahung that are using effective strategies to tackle this deeply rooted cultural practice.
Opinion leaders everywhere are increasingly recognizing the need to invest in such initiatives, and 2015 may have in fact marked a turning point for girls worldwide. Policymakers have begun to address their concerns, and the world has come to recognize girls’ huge potential and prospects.
Last year in Geneva, IWHC worked closely with its partners to ensure that the UN Human Rights Council adopted a groundbreaking resolution to end child and forced marriage. For the first time, governments in all regions of the world agreed that child marriage is a pressing human rights issue. With the resolution, they now have concrete guidance on how to end this devastating practice and support girls who are already married.
As a result of pressure by IWHC and its partners, the United States has stepped up its commitment to improving the outlook for girls globally. President Obama has launched the Let Girls Learn initiative, which will involve many agencies of the U.S. government and address the varied barriers that keep girls from going to school—including high costs, safety concerns, and the pressure to get married early.
Improving the lives of girls will take collective effort, but from Pakistan to Peru, girls are already changing their lives and their communities for the better. Your continued support and partnership makes this essential work possible.
“Creating a world with greater equality for generations to come is the
defining and most urgent challenge of this century.”
Executive Director, UN Women
THE PROMISE OF A NEW WORLD FOR WOMEN AND GIRLS
The year 2015 may go down as a defining moment for women and girls everywhere. After three years of intense debate and negotiations, 193 governments adopted the most comprehensive agenda ever for global sustainable development at the UN General Assembly in September 2015. To be carried out over the next 15 years, the “2030 Agenda” sets out 17 goals, which encompass everything from ending hunger to improving health, promoting peace, and advancing clean energy. If carried out successfully, this blueprint for sustainable development could transform the lives of women and girls all over the world.
The International Women’s Health Coalition, a lead partner of a coalition of organizations called the Women’s Major Group, was deeply involved every step of the way. We wanted to ensure gender equality and women’s rights were at the core of the new agenda. We were met by opposition by those who didn’t believe our concerns were priorities, but we held firm throughout. We would not be sidelined; our voices would be heard.
In the end, our work paid off. Thanks to the perseverance and dedication of IWHC and other women’s advocates, we won impressive and detailed commitments to advance gender equality and empower all women and girls. Governments committed to:
- end discrimination and gender-based violence;
- eliminate child marriage and female genital mutilation;
- ensure access to sexual and reproductive health care services and education for all;
- protect women’s and girls’ reproductive rights;
- eliminate gender disparities in schools and ensure equal access to education;
- provide education that promotes gender equality and human rights;
- expand women’s economic opportunities and recognize their rights to resources; and
- reduce the burdens of unpaid care work on women and girls.
Other key actions that governments agreed to, like improving access to clean water and sanitation, will be hugely beneficial. Such measures are critical for women and girls to be able to lead fully empowered, healthy, and fulfilling lives.
For too long, women and girls have borne the brunt of economic, social, and environmental crises. This new global agenda has the potential to finally realize their rights and achieve the conditions necessary for full equality. The framework is even more historic because it is universal, applying to developed countries as well as developing ones—meaning that even countries like the United States will be held accountable for achieving these goals. Now, it is up to governments to fulfill their commitments and put this new plan into action. IWHC will be there to make sure they follow through—for women and girls everywhere.
“As we look ahead to 2030, let us be able to say that today we marked a milestone in the quest to realize full and lasting gender equality.”
BUILDING THE NEXT GENERATION OF YOUNG LEADERS
How can we ensure the feminist movement continues forward with bold leaders at its helm? IWHC recognizes that change only happens with strong champions guiding the way. We identify and mentor young people from around the world to advocate for global and national policies on women’s rights. These advocates will be the ones to convince their governments that investing in women’s and girls’ health and human rights is necessary. At the end of the day, they will be the ones holding their governments accountable.
Because engaging in international advocacy can be intimidating, IWHC holds workshops to prepare young people for negotiations with UN diplomats and government officials. Called “Advocacy in Practice” (AiP), these 2-3 day trainings involve role-play and other interactive exercises. Held before major UN meetings and regional conferences, the workshops enable participants to take what they have learned and apply it directly.
So far, our AiP trainings have brought 225 young activists from 60 countries to the UN and regional conferences to make their voices heard and to lobby for change. Many of these young leaders have gone on to work within their governments or in civil society organizations.
Here are a few of the young advocates who participated in our workshops and are inspiring transformation at home, and on the global stage.
As a high school student in Mombasa, Kenya, Esther Wambui was surprised that many of her classmates were getting pregnant and were being ostracized—but no one was even talking about family planning. She decided to do something about this and became a peer educator, counseling youth at local schools about contraceptives. She later joined the Young Women’s Leadership Institute, where she helped empower girls to not only realize their sexual and reproductive health, but to gain independence and self-esteem.
Esther soon realized that to effect real change, she and others had to push for new policies at the national and global levels. Participating in two AiP workshops, she gained expertise that enabled her to effectively advocate with government officials. She spoke with UN delegates about including language supporting gender equality and women’s health in declarations and resolutions.
She is now working with other organizations to push the Kenyan government to release guidelines for comprehensive abortion care, and helping to raise awareness of the country’s first national policy on adolescent sexual and reproductive health. She is making sure young women and girls are aware of the policy and know their rights under it.
When Smriti Thapa participated in her first AiP workshop, it was the first time she had met so many feminists from all over the world. Energized by what she had learned, she formed a group called Young Women For Change after returning to Nepal. To further sharpen her advocacy skills, she participated in another AiP training last year before the UN’s annual meeting of the Commission on the Status of Women. “If it wasnot for these workshops, I would have felt lost in those regional and international negotiations,” she said. “The mentoring helped me navigate those vast spaces.”
She and a few others have started a blog and write regularly about gender equality and women’s empowerment. She advocated with Nepali officials for language supportive of sexual and reproductive health in the country’s new constitution and is determined to keep fighting for the rights of women and girls. This year she is co-leading several sessions of the AiP for other young advocates.
Youth champions from Asia-Pacific region trained to advocate for safe abortion
Girls educated about gender, rights, and child marriage in Cameroon
Participants enrolled in Free Feminist University's online courses to expand women's activism in Brazil
Young Kenyans educated about their sexual and reproductive health and rights
Signatures attained in support of a bill to decriminalize abortion in cases of rape in Peru
PARTNER SPOTLIGHT: CREA
"The most important change for me is that I have begun to raise my voice."
Girl in Banda,
An initiative in India proves that sports are important to girls too, not just boys. CREA, a feminist human rights organization based in New Delhi, implements the It’s My Body program in three states—Bihar, Jharkhand, and Uttar Pradesh. In these areas, girls are often taken out of school and married before they turn 18, and they have scarce access to contraception and reproductive health information and services.
It’s My Body empowers girls ages 12-16, using sports to improve their ability to make decisions about their bodies, health, and lives. Not only do girls learn about sexual and reproductive health, but they develop their leadership and decision-making skills. The program provides them with opportunities to grow and instills in them a sense of bodily autonomy.
Girls who have participated in the program have begun to question and challenge social norms and have started to assert their rights. “My parents wanted me to get married this year, but I have told them in strict terms that I want to pursue my studies and want to take up some employment before I get married,” said Jyoti, a girl from Madhupur, Jharkhand.
Boys have also started to change their attitudes towards them. “Earlier, boys would always tease us when we would play, but seeing our persistence, they stopped,” said Megha, a young girl. “Now they see us practicing every day and support us.” It’s My Body is one of several initiatives CREA leads that build the self-confidence of women and girls and expand knowledge of their sexuality and rights, using creative learning methodologies. The organization has multiple programs, from popular trainings for feminists to awareness-raising campaigns and performance events in communities.
CREA is unique. An international women’s organization that is based in the Global South and led by local feminists, it works at the grassroots, national, regional, and international levels. CREA challenges traditional attitudes and power structures, enabling women and girls to make their own decisions, exert control over their bodies, and demand their rights. IWHC is proud to support and partner with CREA to advance women’s and girls’ rights in India and beyond.
EXPERTS ADDRESS SEXUALITY EDUCATION PROGRAMS
“The clearer we are about the change we want, the greater our impact.”
Maps, drawings, games, debates—these are just some of the techniques that educators have found effective in engaging young people when it comes to sexuality, gender, and reproductive health. These interactive exercises also reveal how adolescents’ knowledge grows and their attitudes change.
Recent research shows that comprehensive sexuality education, which includes discussions of gender roles and power dynamics in relationships, improves young people’s health by reducing unwanted pregnancy and HIV infection. Evidence is emerging that these programs can also build self-confidence and critical thinking skills in adolescents. Yet, measuring these other outcomes can sometimes be difficult.
In April 2015, IWHC and its partner CREA hosted the first convening of its kind for sexuality educators to share their experiences in evaluating their programs. We asked: how can we demonstrate the value of comprehensive sexuality education so that governments and other donors are more likely to invest in these essential programs on a larger scale?
Participants represented 26 organizations from 15 countries, mainly from Africa, South Asia, and Latin America. They were joined by representatives of United Nations agencies and the World Health Organization. The experts examined how to best illustrate the impact that sexuality education can have on challenging harmful gender norms and achieving other positive outcomes, such as reducing sexual harassment and improving school retention. They shared best practices for capturing data and information, including through innovative methods such as mobile phone apps and online tools. Many participants noted that traditional evaluation methods such as surveys are not the only, or best, way to go.
The value of sexuality education that is well designed and comprehensive is undisputed. The next step is getting the message out so that effective programs are adequately funded and expanded. As participants noted, the stakes are high. “It’s about more than sexuality education,” said Babatunde Ahonsi of the United Nations Population Fund. “It’s about building young people’s life skills.”
GRANTS TO PARTNERS BY REGION
FINANCIAL STATEMENTS FISCAL YEAR 2015
Photos: Rocio Franco/UN Radio (Ingrid Galvez); Loey Felipe/UN photo (Sustainable Development Goals); Pranab Aich/CREA