Denise Hatton’s blog to commemorate International Women’s Day:

This year’s #BreakTheBias theme for International Women’s Day (IWD) is one that is especially close to our hearts at YMCA. In 700 communities across England and Wales, local YMCAs help more than 570,000 young people to break the bias every day, both in terms of how others view them, and often how they view themselves.


Breaking the bias means looking beyond gender, race, background and stereotypes, dismissing any predetermined judgements and instead working towards a gender-equal world where our differences are valued and celebrated. Unfortunately, women and other marginalised groups often find this prospect impossible, hitting mental, educational and aspirational barriers at every turn.


However, with the right belief, encouragement and support systems in place, it is possible to overcome these barriers. Over the years, YMCA has developed a number of specific programmes to help young women from a variety of backgrounds and abilities to realise their potential. From projects designed to reach and support girls with mental health difficulties, to physical activity groups to improve self-esteem and body confidence, to social action initiatives engaging young women in meaningful community change, YMCAs are helping young women to break the bias across England and Wales every single day.


This support, when instilled and nurtured over time, can help guide and empower women to positions of change, working alongside their male counterparts to create the world championed by this year’s IWD theme – one of equality, diversity and inclusivity.


Starting as a refuge of Bible study and prayer for young men seeking escape from the hazards of life on the streets of London in 1844, YMCA has adapted and evolved to meet the needs of its communities over the past 176 years, and is now an inclusive haven of support to all, regardless of race, gender, belief or background.


One element of our evolution I am particularly proud of is how we promote and support female leadership, which is something that YMCA has actively sought out. This year, I am proud and hugely encouraged to say that 35 of our 83 local YMCAs are headed up by female Chief Executives – the highest and most equal ratio ever to be seen at the Young Men’s Christian Association. When I started my career with YMCA, aged 23, reaching this balance would have been unthinkable.


My aspiration for the young women taking part in our programmes, engaging with our services and working within our YMCAs is that they feel empowered and supported to achieve everything that they dream of. Let’s continue to work together to break the bias, break the barriers and break the mould to build a bright and equal future for generations to come.


Denise Hatton, Chief Executive, YMCA England and Wales