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YWCA Safe Spaces for Women and Girls: A Global Model for Change

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YWCA Safe Spaces for Women and Girls: A Global Model for Change

Since its founding in 1855, the YWCA has provided safe spaces to women and girls in the heart of local communities.

For the past 150 years, YWCAs have expanded safe spaces to reach over 25 million women, young women and girls in 120 countries. Providing access to economic, social, political, and cultural opportunities to fulfill their potential and actively contribute to the development of their community, country and world, YWCAs are providing spaces where women, young women and girls become champions of their rights and their lives.

This publication seeks to outline the defining characteristics of YWCA Safe Spaces as a model for creating lasting change in the lives of women and girls.  This model builds upon the common purpose uniting YWCAs worldwide to “develop the leadership and collective power of women and girls around the world to achieve justice, peace, health, human dignity, freedom and care for the environment”. It has been informed by four years of intensive programming with young women in Sub-Saharan Africa, which has focused on building leadership to tackle complex issues related to sexual and reproductive health and rights, including structural inequalities manifested not least in harmful traditional practices and cultural taboos around sexuality. This model brings together proven strategies for creating, promoting and expanding safe spaces and aims to be a relevant and practical tool for replication and scaling up within the YWCA movement and partner organisations.

Strategies that inform the YWCA Safe Spaces Model have been piloted and tested in one of the world's most challenging regions in relation to fulfillment of sexual and reproductive rights. Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest adolescent fertility rate in the world, with girls under 16 years of age facing four times the risk of maternal mortality than women over the age of 20. There is a high unmet need for family planning and only 3% of the estimated 6.4 million abortions carried out in 2008 were considered safe. Harmful traditional practices such as female genital mutilation exist in 28 African countries with three million girls at risk every year; and in some areas, the prevalence rate is 98% of the female population.  The lack of adequate, accessible and youth friendly sexual and reproductive health services not only affects the educational and economic opportunities of present and future generations, but threatens their very survival.

While this model has emerged from programming on sexual and reproductive rights, it is adaptable to broader programming designed to target young women and girls and support them to claim their human rights.  It applies a human rights based approach to development and puts the fundamental principles of non-discrimination, empowerment and participation, and accountability, into daily practice. This model is also guided by the World YWCA Standards of Good Management and Accountability, which are an expression of the organisation's commitment to modelling practice which exhibits quality, responsibility and accountability in the communities we serve.

Safe spaces are complex and dynamic physical and emotional environments that require constant caretaking. YWCAs strive to maintain unique women-led spaces that foster strength through leadership and solidarity towards one vital end: a world where the human rights of women, young women and girls are protected, respected and fulfilled.

Click below to download Safe Spaces Manual:

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