International Women’s Day
Denise Hatton, Chief Executive of YMCA England & Wales:
“Each year on International Women’s Day (IWD) we not only celebrate women’s achievements but also their determination to challenge norms and drive forward the narrative for gender equality. This feels particularly pertinent this year as we witness the disproportionate effect the pandemic has had on women worldwide.
The theme of IWD 2021 focuses on challenge, and challenge – in every sense of the word – is something that women can very much relate to. The past 12 months have been devastating for everyone, but alongside the more visible destruction of the pandemic come a multitude of invisible ripple effects for women.
In the NHS, 77% of our healthcare workers and 89% of nursing staff are female. These women, often referred to as the ‘female front line’, put their physical and mental health in jeopardy every day despite being at greater risk of sustained exposure to the virus.
While whole industries have seen financial devastation over the past year, on a global level woman have suffered 1.8 times the number of job losses as men, as well as higher levels of furlough due to challenges arising from the pandemic.
Continued lockdowns have brutally exposed the severity of domestic abuse, a crime that predominantly affects women, as well as highlighting significant spikes in mental health issues with women in England consistently reporting higher levels of depression, loneliness and major stress than men (March-September 2020, UCL).
Add to this the disparate pressures of homeschooling, childcare responsibilities and disruption to family planning services, and the importance of the conversations designed to challenge society prompted by platforms like IWD is abundantly clear.
However, what is also clear is the determination of women to do just that – challenge. Every single day women challenge themselves, those around them and the limitations society sets on them in order to be better, achieve more and make their voices heard. Alongside every additional challenge faced by women throughout this pandemic there is a chance for change.
That’s why projects focused on building women’s confidence, determination and self-belief from a young age are so important, because in order for your voice to be truly heard, you have to believe it’s worth hearing. As girls grow up societal expectations can chip away at their aspirations by questioning their abilities and pushing them to abide by gendered roles and rules.
By becoming involved in inspiring projects and surrounding themselves with positive mentors and peers, girls can be taught instead to push back on society and utilise a strong and informed sense of self to not only keep hold of their aspirations, but turn them into reality.
Overcoming and embracing challenge to deliver change is part of YMCA’s DNA; we’ve been doing just that for more than 175 years. While we might have started with a focus on men, our everyday is now so much more than that.
We believe that women should be present at every table, their voices included in every conversation in order not only to continue to challenge societal boundaries, but to drive real positive change.
Together we can and must use the losses, learnings and challenges of the past 12 months to create a positive and empowered future for women.”
Some of the YMCA projects supporting the next generation of women to do just that include:
EmpowHER is a social action initiative led by UK Youth, in partnership with the British Red Cross and the Young Women’s Trust, and delivered by partners such as YMCA Coventry and Warwickshire. The programme works with young women and girls from disadvantaged backgrounds who face significant barriers in their lives, and aims to build their self-esteem and wellbeing by using their voices for positive change. By engaging young women in meaningful social action, the programme aims to encourage and enable a new generation of young women to use their voices and make the changes they want to see in society through engagement in their communities.
Champions of Wales
Champions of Wales is a girls’ rights movement run by YMCA Cardiff which works to change perceptions and attitudes towards girls so they can live free from gender inequality. Through delivering a twelve-week series of workshops developed by Plan International UK, this project aims to support young people to build the skills and confidence to become a champion of equality in their own communities, and empower them to change perceptions and attitudes towards young women and girls.
Y’s Girls Mentoring
YMCA England & Wales, along with YMCA Scotland and YMCA Ireland, has been chosen as one of 12 recipients of the Tampon Tax Fund, which will help facilitate the Y’s Girls programme. Working alongside social workers, schools and local police, Y’s Girls will connect vulnerable young women aged 8 to 14 with female mentors from a range of different backgrounds to offer support and positively influence their lives.
The Girls Move programme, run by YMCA Sutton Coldfield and aimed at BAME girls aged 11-14, uses a youth work approach to engage young women in non-formal physical activity in order to improve self-esteem and increase body confidence, as well as encouragement to volunteer in social action projects.