International Women's Summit explores ways to make the world safer for women

Bookmark and Share

Feature story

International Women's Summit explores ways to make the world safer for women

13 July 2011

L to R: Hendrica Okondo, World YWCA Regional Programme Director for Africa and the Middle East; Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director, UNFPA; Mathilda Parau, YWCA of Papua New Guinea; Lissette Herrera, President, YWCA of Peru; Joanna Kerr, Action Aid International; Jan Beagle UNAIDS Deputy Executive Director, Management and External Relations; Gill Greer, Director General, IPPF.
Credit: YWCA

The World YWCA (Young Women’s Christian Association) hosted its fourth International Women's Summit (IWS) in Zurich, Switzerland from 12-13 July 2011. The event brought together more than 1 000 participants from over 100 countries to discuss issues facing women and girls today ranging from gender inequality, young women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights and HIV to the social and economic dimensions of violence against women.

"The Summit is an opportunity to lift our voices and demand women’s protection from violence. It is also an opportunity for possible remedies for survivors of violence and to affirm the leadership of women living with HIV. Our goal is to trigger action, achieve life changing results and make a real difference," said Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda, General Secretary of the World YWCA.

Under the theme Women creating a safe world, participants defined equitable, safe and inclusive spaces and programmes for women. According to them, safe space is about the personal, economic and political security of women and girls, their right to live free from violence, to make choices about where to live and work, to move freely and participate in all facets of democracy. It is also to have full access to sexual and reproductive health services, including universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support, free of stigma and discrimination.

Organized around plenary sessions, a wide range of speakers from around the world particpated, including H.E. Thokozani Khupe, Vice-Prime Minister of Zimbabwe, Dr Michelle Bachelet, Executive Director of UN Women, Dr Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director of UNFPA, and Ms Mary Robinson, President of the Mary Robinson Foundation on Climate Justice. They challenged participants and enriched the debate with powerful ideas around the critical issues of sexual and reproductive health and rights, HIV, violence against women, peace and justice and human rights.

Speaking at the plenary on securing sexual and reproductive rights for all women, UNAIDS Deputy Executive Director, Management and External Relations, Ms Jan Beagle, highlighted that “for most women health is as much about social justice, dignity and equality of access to income, education and food, as it is about hospitals and medicines.”

For UNAIDS, it is clear that gender equality and human rights, including sexual and reproductive rights, are non-negotiable elements to ensure effective HIV and health responses

UNAIDS Deputy Executive Director, Management and External Relations, Ms Jan Beagle

“For UNAIDS, it is clear that gender equality and human rights, including sexual and reproductive rights, are non-negotiable elements to ensure effective HIV and health responses,” added Ms Beagle.

During the session, participants noted that a lack of contraception and unsafe sex are crucial risk factors for death and disability in women of reproductive age. The sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) of women living with HIV are often ignored and one fifth to a half of girls and young women report that their first sexual encounter was forced.

The key elements to overcoming this situation, according to the participants, are providing comprehensive HIV prevention; building the leadership of women, especially young women, in advocacy and provision of services; creating and sustaining safe and inclusive spaces and access to full and comprehensive information.

The need to link community services and programmes with policy-making and accountability was also highlighted during the summit. Women and girls must be empowered to meaningfully engage in building safer environments, whilst the primary responsibility for provision of services, safety and security lies with States and their public government institutions. Civil society need to engage and monitor states to ensure they fulfil their promises and commitments under international law as suggested by participants.

“National HIV strategies need to be tailored to the needs and rights of women and girls and include specific programmes and budgets that address gender inequalities, in order to translate the commitment and political will into adequate resource investment,” said Ms Beagle. “It is unacceptable that less than half (46%) of all countries allocate resources for the specific needs of women and girls in their national response to HIV,” she added. Ms Beagle also emphasized the need to harness the leadership capacity of young women in developing and implementing policies and programmes to advance the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women and girls.