Not to be confused with YMCA.
For other uses, including specific buildings and chapters, see Young Women's Christian Association (disambiguation).
World YWCA
Founded 1855
Founder Mary Jane Kinnaird and Emma Robarts
Founded at London, United Kingdom
Headquarters Geneva, Switzerland


www.ywca.org (USA)

The World Young Women’s Christian Association (World YWCA) is a global movement working for the empowerment, leadership and rights of women, young women and girls in more than 120 countries. The members and supporters include women from many different faiths, ages, backgrounds, beliefs and cultures. Their common goal is that “by 2035, 100 million young women and girls will transform power structures to create justice, gender equality and a world without violence and war; leading a sustainable YWCA movement, inclusive of all women”.[1] The World office is currently based in Geneva, Switzerland.

The YWCA is independent of the YMCA, but many local YMCA and YWCA associations have merged into YM/YWCAs or YMCA-YWCAs, and belong to both organizations while providing the programs of each.


Although 'YWCA' is often associated with hostels and fitness centres, the World YWCA is a human rights-based organization with activities across the world such as advocacy of gender equality and women's empowerment, trainings on SRHR and HIV, dialogues between young girls and religious leaders and across generations. The World YWCA states its purpose as: "Develop the leadership and collective power of women and girls around the world to achieve human rights, health, security, dignity, freedom, justice and peace for all people".[2]

Since the 1940s the World YWCA has focused on specific global issues including:


During the World YWCA Council in Phoenix, Arizona in 1987, the World YWCA passed a resolution urging the national organizations to implement programs for education for the prevention of the spread of HIV. Today, YWCAs in 70 countries have programs related to HIV, including prevention, advocacy, treatment, care and support, and addressing stigma. The YWCA works closely with HIV-positive women on a grassroots level. Initiatives within the YWCA by HIV-positive women have allowed for the tailoring of programs to meet the specific needs of their communities.

Along with HIV prevention, the World YWCA has strongly promoted access to the female condom. According to a statement made by Dr. Musimbi Kanyoro, former General Secretary of the World YWCA (1998 - 2007) “Accelerated female condom distribution and education is essential. HIV infection rates among women are rising disproportionately to men in every region of the world, and young women and girls account for 76% of infections among African youth. And when AIDS affects women, it affects entire families and communities, tearing apart social safety nets and fueling instability and conflict.”[3]

In 2005 the World AIDS Day statement issued by the World YWCA strongly urged national health ministries, other aid agencies, and international NGOs to purchase a minimum of 180 million second-generation female condoms for annual global distribution. The movement also called on governments to ensure that the female condom is marketed to women in local communities and promoted as an effective method to prevent HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.[4]

The World YWCA recently held the first international conference on Women and HIV and AIDS.[5] The International Women's Summit on HIV and AIDS featured speakers from UNAIDS, YWCAs and other global leaders. The Positive Women's Forum, held on the first day, was organised by and for HIV-positive women; over 300 women attended.


While the YWCAs had, on various levels, been active with refugees for some time, the issue took a central focus during Israel's War of Independence. The movement officially stated in 1949 that it would ‘maintain its impartial character, meeting human needs without respect to nationality, race, creed or political conviction’ in regard to the need to work with all peoples. Since then there have been programs to provide income and to meet the basic needs of those living in refugee camps, such as adequate healthcare, education and literacy programs, and childcare.

Underpinning refugee work has been the movement for peace and justice. With its policy rooted in the 1920s, the World YWCA has emphasized peace education and justice as an integral part of the movement’s promotion of human rights. The movement officially recognized these concepts as enmeshed during the conference in Singapore in 1983, wherein the statement was made, “No solution can be found for one people at the expense of another,”[6] in regard to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Sustainable Development

Sustainable development has also been a characterizing priority for the YWCA. In 1987, the World YWCA stated its “extensive commitment to development that empowers women to become decision-makers and community leaders.”[7] The movement has emphasized a gender and human rights approach, acknowledging the exploitative and exclusionary factors that perpetuate the feminisation of poverty.

The World YWCA has been involved in recent global forums on sustainable development and related issues, and is an active member of the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance, a network of churches and ecumenical organisations working for recognition of international human rights, social, and environmental agreements as a priority over trade agreements and policies.[8] There are YWCA programs for sustainable development in 40 countries, ranging from literacy and awareness building of environmental issues in Papua New Guinea to skills building and job training in Peru.

Partner organizations

As a principle of young women’s leadership, the World YWCA is involved with other youth organizations, such as Youth Employment Net, European Youth Forum, and the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts. It is also a member of CONGO, Conference of Non-Governmental Organizations in a Consultative Relationship with the United Nations.


YWCA Week Without Violence

Each year during the third week in October, YWCAs worldwide focus on raising awareness on violence against women. The YWCA Week Without Violence was launched in 1995 and has grown from a grassroots initiative into a global movement with women, men and children participating in events in over 20 countries. The Canadian YWCA in particular has a strong program for working with domestic violence. The YWCA is Canada’s largest national network of shelter (45 facilities at 24 sites) and subsidized housing for homeless women and women escaping violence.[9]

The Violence Against Women unit in Shreveport, Louisiana, was formerly directed by the socialite and civic figure Susybelle Lyons. In 1996, she and Marilyn Joiner were co-chairwomen of a $1.1 million capital campaign drive for the Shreveport branch of the YWCA.[10]

YWCA Week of Prayer

Starting in 1904, the World YWCA and the World Alliance of YMCAs have issued a joint call to prayer during the Week of Prayer and World Fellowship. During this week, the two movements pray and act together on a particular theme in solidarity with members and partners around the world. The week-long event is a Bible study based on that year’s theme.

World YWCA Day

At the 1947 World Council meeting in Hangzhou, China, the decision was made to establish an Annual YWCA Membership Celebration. The 1947 Council asked the Executive Committee to assume responsibility for the design of the celebration, and in 1948 an Advisory Group of the Executive Committee conducted a survey among nation associations and defined the name, aim and timing of the soon-to-be annual event. World YWCA's Observance Day was born, to help each member see how she could act locally in relation to the theme for the year. The Wednesday or Thursday of the last week of April was chosen as the date for the Observance Day each year.

In 1949 a Planning Group was formed, representing national associations, members of the Executive Committee and the World YWCA staff. Some chosen themes for the Observance Day have been: My Faith and My Work, My Place in the World, My Contribution to World Peace, I Confront a Changing World, Toward One World and My Task in Family Life Today.

In 1972 an Executive Committee decided that the event name would be changed to World YWCA Day and that the theme would be chosen by the Executive Committee from among various programmes decided by the World Council. A 1989 Executive Committee Task Force decided that the date of celebration for World YWCA Day would be April 24.

World YWCA Councils

The World Council is the legislative authority and governing body of the World YWCA. During the event, representatives the member associations get together and elect the World YWCA Board, determine policies and set priorities for the coming years.

The most recent World YWCA Council occurred in Bangkok, Thailand on the theme Bold and Transformative Leadership – Towards 2035. It was hosted by the YWCA of Thailand on 11–16 October 2015. In total, 477 Member Associations from 73 countries attended the event, and before Council opened, there was also a two-day Young Women’s Forum.

The next World Council will be hosted by YWCA of South Africa in 2019 in Johannesburg.

YWCAs around the world

The YWCA is present in over 120 countries.[11]

Great Britain

The organization (previously YWCA England & Wales), YWCA Scotland, and the independent YWCAs in England form an ‘umbrella’ organisation, YWCA of Great Britain.

England & Wales

YWCA was founded in 1855 in London by two Englishwomen to provide a safe place for young women en route to the Crimean War.[12]

The organisation changed its name to Platform 51 in December 2010 to reflect changing attitudes and to distinguish itself from the YMCA, and because the women and girls who use the charity wanted it.[13] The name reflected the proportion of the world population that are female. The re-branded charity retains affiliations with the national and international YWCA umbrella organisations.

In August 2013 the organization opted to change its name again, from Platform 51 to Young Women’s Trust,[14] and transfer most of its operations to The Cyrenians[15] (now known as Changing Lives).

Activities and services

The organization provides accredited courses and information, advice and guidance to women from disadvantaged communities. Platform 51 helps women to make informed decisions about their lives and maintain healthy relationships. The organisation campaigns with them to change the lives of women in England and Wales. The organization regularly holds events where women are given the opportunity to talk about the things that matter to them. For instance, the Wise Up programme gives girls the ability and confidence address MPs and Ministers, give TV, radio and press interviews, hold functions and deliver group sessions. The participants develop skills in leadership, communication, teamwork and self-motivation.[16]

The services provided for young women include informal educational, information and advice on all manner of things, courses, workshops and drop-in sessions, counselling and one-on-one sessions as well as crèches. YWCA services can be accessed in 14 centres across England & Wales;[17] in Government regions of the South West, London, South East, the East and West Midlands, North West, Yorkshire and Humber in England and in South Wales.


Recent YWCA campaigns include the More than one rung campaign.[18] It called for help for young women to get skills and training so they can work their way off the bottom rung of the career ladder. The More than one rung campaign led to, amongst other things, an increase in the minimum wage for apprentices from £80 a week to £95 a week. YWCA also undertook the Respect Young Mums campaign[19] which worked towards getting better support for teenage mothers. Since 2004, the YWCA has been campaigning for young mums to get Child Support before pregnancy rather than after the baby is born. As of 2009 mothers were able to claim the Health in Pregnancy Grant from the 25th week of pregnancy (this is similar to a pregnancy premium to Income Support which we called for through Respect Young Mums campaign).[20]

By virtue of its work for the welfare and development of young people, YWCA England & Wales is a member of The National Council for Voluntary Youth Services (NCVYS).


The first YWCA in Australia was established in 1880. The organisation advocates for the interests of women and girls and delivers "a diverse range of community programs and services" in both rural and urban Australia.[21]


The YWCA in China was established early in the 20th century and became an important venue for social reform and the advancement of women's status.[22] Although the organization was founded by foreign workers, leadership was soon taken over by Chinese women.[23] In the 1920s, YWCA organizer Deng Yuzhi (Cora Deng) was important in organizing women factory workers in Shanghai and supporting the emerging revolutionary forces.[24] The YWCA in China today has associations in Beijing and Shanghai.[25]


Main article: YWCA USA

Founded in 1858, YWCA USA has 225 associations nationwide at more than 1,300 sites serving more than 2 million women and families.[26] Associations were configured into 9 regions until 2012, when the YWCA reorganized with a new CEO and eliminated the regional structure system. Regions varied in size from 19 associations (New England) to 60 associations (Great Lakes). The other regions averaged 32 associations each. In 2015, the associations had over 12,000 staff members and 44,000 volunteers.[26] A YWCA logo was created in 1988 by Saul Bass.[27]

Prior to the Civil Rights Movement, some YWCA facilities were segregated or operated as separate organizations. Advocates including Helen L. Seaborg in Washington, D.C. worked successfully to mediate mergers between the segregated groups. Today, YWCA USA works to eliminate racism and empower women.[28]

YWCA USA is one of the oldest and largest women's organizations in the nation, serving over 2 million women, girls, and their families. YWCA USA associations focus their work in three areas: Racial Justice and Civil Rights, Empowerment and Economic Advancement of Women and Girls, and Health and Safety of Women and Girls.[29]

YWCA USA is the nation's largest provider of domestic violence programs and shelters in the United States, serving well over ½ million women and children.[30] As comparison, the largest national hotline averages 192,000 calls per year. It is one of the top 25 largest charities in the U.S., with total revenues in 2014 of $776 million.[31]

The YWCA of The City of New York, the oldest US YWCA, is 150 years old. That organization is unique in that the organization is guided purely by human service-oriented programs rather than physical services. Such programs include Early Learning Centers, Family Resource Center, Out-of-School Programs, Professional Development Programming, and Women's Employment Programming. Such programs continue the YW mission of eliminating racism and empowering women. They are a major component of the non-profit community in New York City. They produce several fundraising events annually.

Women of Distinction is an awards program started in 2012 and sponsored by the national office of YWCA USA.[32][32] The award name seems to be borrowed from YMCA Canada.


Adelaide Hoodless[33] and Agnes Blizzard organized the first Canadian YWCA in two rented rooms in Saint John, New Brunswick in 1870. Other early YWCA were started in Toronto (1873), Montreal (1874), Quebec City and Halifax (both 1875).[34] Hoodless was later a key person in organizing the national body in 1895.[33]

Women of Distinction are awards given to notable women by about 60% of the local chapters of the YWCA in Canada. In addition to honoring women who have made a significant contribution to their community, the award dinners are one of the most important fundraising events for Canadian YWCAs.[35][36]


The YWCA was founded in England in 1855, by the philanthropist Lady Mary Jane Kinnaird, and the committed Christian Emma Robarts. They addressed the needs of single women arriving from rural areas to join the industrial workforce in London, by offering housing, education and support with a “warm Christian atmosphere”.

The movement spread quickly across the world and has been at the forefront to advance women’s rights in areas such as the European refugee crisis after World War II, the civil rights struggle in the USA and apartheid in South Africa.

The first world conference of the YWCA was held in 1898 in London, with 326 participants from seventeen countries[6] from around the world. It was a pivotal point in the founding of the World YWCA, cementing the principles of unity based on service and faith on a global scale.

In the beginning of the twentieth century, a profound shift began to occur within the YWCA. While industrialization had been a founding concern of the association, it had sought primarily to insulate women morally and socially from urban life. During the 1910 World YWCA conference in Berlin, however, the voices of thousands of working women from the United States were heard, and these objectives began to change. A resolution was passed requiring the association to study social and industrial problems, and to educate working women about the "social measures and legislation enacted in their behalf."[37] Thus the social conscience of the YWCA was born into the form that it maintains today.

Until 1930 the headquarters of the World YWCA were in London. The executive committee was entirely British, with an American General Secretary. This policy resulted in a resolutely Anglo-Saxon lens through which the association viewed the world. In 1930, however, the World YWCA headquarters were moved to Geneva, Switzerland, the same city as the newly formed League of Nations. This was both symbolic of the drive to become a more diverse association, and to enable itself to fully participate with other organizations in Geneva (such as the International Committee of the Red Cross and the YMCA.)

World War II

The Second World War both strengthened the YWCAs of the world, and left its mark. Many of its members found it necessary to choose between their conscience and the safety of themselves and their families. In several countries, particularly in Eastern Europe, YWCAs were suppressed and disbanded. Throughout occupied Europe, however, women worked relentlessly to construct support systems for their neighbours and refugees, often with exceedingly limited resources.[38]

Shortly after the end of the war, the YWCA worked to fortify the bonds of women throughout the world by holding the first World Council meeting in nearly a decade in Hangzhou in 1947. This was significant in being the first World Council held outside of the West, and further voiced the desire to be an inclusive, worldwide movement.[38] It also served to bring together women who lived in countries that had been enemies during the war, and to raise awareness among the western YWCAs that the ruin of war was not limited to Europe.

During the following decades, the World YWCA spent much time researching and working with the issues of refugees, health, HIV and AIDS, literacy, the human rights of women and girls, the advancement of women and the eradication of poverty; mutual service, sustainable development and the environment; education and youth, peace and disarmament, and young women’s leadership. These issues continue to play an integral role in the World YWCA movement.

Leadership since 1855

Past Presidents
Name Country Year
Mrs. J. Herbert Tritton United Kingdom 1898–1902
Mrs. George Campbell United Kingdom 1902–1906
Miss Mary Morley United Kingdom 1906–1910
Mrs. J. Herbert Tritton United Kingdom 1910–1914
The Hon. Mrs. Montague Weldgrave United Kingdom 1914–1924
The Rt. Hon. The Baroness Parmoor United Kingdom 1924–1928
The Hon. Mrs. Montague Weldgrave United Kingdom 1928–1930
Miss C. M. Van Asch Van Wijck Netherlands 1930–1938
Miss Ruth Rouse United Kingdom 1938–1946
Miss C. M. Van Asch Van Wijck Netherlands 1946–1947
Miss Lilace Reid Barnes USA 1947–1955
The Hon. Isabel Catto United Kingdom 1955–1963
Dr. Una B. Porter Australia 1963–1967
Mrs. Athena Athanassiou Greece 1967–1975
Dame Nita Barrow Barbados 1975–1983
Mrs. Ann Northcote Canada 1983–1987
Dr. Jewel Freeman Graham USA 1987–1991
Mrs. Razia Ismail Abbasi India 1991–1995
Mrs. Anita Andersson Sweden 1995–1999
Ms. Jane Lee Wolfe USA 1999–2003
Ms Mónica Zetzsche Argentina 2003–2007
Susan Brenan Australia 2007-2011
Deborah Thomas-Austin Trinidad and Tobago 2007-
Past General Secretaries
Name Country Year
Miss Annie Reynolds USA 1894–1904
Miss Clarissa Spencer USA 1904–1920
Miss Charlotte T. Niven USA 1920–1935
Miss Ruth Woodsmall USA 1935–1947
Miss Helen Roberts United Kingdom 1947–1955
Miss Elizabeth Palmer USA 1955–1978
Miss Erica Brodie New Zealand 1978–1982
Mrs. Ruth Sovik USA 1982–1985
Miss Ellen Clark (acting) USA 1985–1986
Mrs. Genevieve Jacques (acting) France 1986–1987
Mrs. Elaine Hesse Steel New Zealand 1987–1997
Dr. Musimbi Kanyoro Kenya 1998–2007
Mrs. Nyaradzai Gumbonzvanda Zimbabwe 2007–2016


  1. "Envisioning 2035 Goal – YWCA". www.worldywca.org. Retrieved 2016-07-06.
  2. World YWCA | World YWCA | About us | Strategic directions
  3. PRNewswire (21 November 2005). Statement of Dr. Musimbi Kanyoro, General Secretary, World YWCA. Press release. Retrieved on 3 August 2006
  4. Microsoft Word - 11_22_05 YMCA Partner-2_r.doc
  5. International Women's Summit: Women's Leadership on HIV and AIDS - Day 2 - Kaisernetwork.org
  6. 1 2 Carole Seymour-Jones, Journey of Faith: The History of the World YWCA 1945-1994 (London: Allison & Busby 1994)
  7. World YWCA Annual Report, 1987-88. (Geneva: World YWCA 1988)
  8. World YWCA | World YWCA | Our Priorities | Sustainable development | Development Programmes
  9. Welcome to YWCA Canada
  10. Margaret Martin, "Susybelle W. Lyons funeral will be held today", The Shreveport Times, August 4, 2007
  11. A full list of YWCA around the world.
  12. http://www.platform51.org/aboutus/|title=About Platform 51 |accessdate=2011-02-03
  13. "Change of name, passion the same". Platform51.org. Retrieved 2012-06-06.
  14. "Platform 51 Centre Closures," Young Women's Trust website (March 31, 2014).
  15. Rimmer, Abi. "Platform 51 plans to drop its name and transfer most services to The Cyrenians," Third Sector (23 August 2013).
  16. "Taking part". Platform 51. Retrieved 2012-06-06.
  17. "Platform 51 - Women's centres". Ywca.org.uk. Retrieved 2012-06-06.
  18. "YWCA - More than one rung campaign - young women need skills". Morethanonerung.org. Retrieved 2012-06-06.
  19. "Platform 51 - Young mums". Ywca.org.uk. Retrieved 2012-06-06.
  20. http://www.makechildbenefitcount.org/
  21. YWCA Australia
  22. R. G. Tiedemann, Reference Guide to Christian Missionary Societies in China from the Sixteenth to the Twentieth Century. (Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 2008), p. 293
  23. Karen Garner. Precious Fire: Maud Russell and the Chinese Revolution. (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2003). ISBN 1558494049.
  24. Emil Honig, "Christianity, Feminism, and Communism," in Daniel H. Bays. Christianity in China from the Eighteenth Century to the Present. (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1996. ISBN 0804726094), pp. 243-262.
  25. YWCA of China Continues to Meet the Social Needs of its People World YWCA May 2010.
  26. 1 2 http://www.ywca.org/atf/cf/{BF8EA0EC-D765-4988-ACD0-E6F97718CC89}/YWCA_Facts_1_16.pdf
  27. Lester, Paul Martin. Visual Communication. California, Thomson Wadsworth, 2006
  28. http://www.ywca.org/site/c.cuIRJ7NTKrLaG/b.7515887/k.9633/Mission__Vision.htm
  29. http://www.ywca.org/site/c.cuIRJ7NTKrLaG/b.9360119/k.7BA2/Our_Mission_in_Action.htm
  30. http://www.ywca.org/site/c.cuIRJ7NTKrLaG/b.7515903/k.ADCE/FAQ.htm
  31. http://www.thenonprofittimes.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/Top100_Charts-2.pdf
  32. 1 2 http://www.ywca.org/atf/cf/%7BBF8EA0EC-D765-4988-ACD0-E6F97718CC89%7D/YWCA_WOD_Award_national_release_43012.pdf
  33. 1 2 http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/young-womens-christian-association/
  34. http://ywcacanada.ca/en/pages/national/history
  35. http://www.ywca.org/site/c.cuIRJ7NTKrLaG/b.8075219/k.A2B7/Women_of_Distinction_Awards.htm
  36. http://ywcavan.org/programs/women-distinction-awards
  37. Dorothea Browder, A Christian Solution of the Labor Situation: How Workingwomen Reshaped the YWCA's Religious Mission and Politics (Journal of Women’s History, Vol 19, Summer 2007)
  38. 1 2 Karen Garner, Global Feminism and Postwar Reconstruction: The World YWCA Visitation to Occupied Japan, 1947 (Journal of World History, Vol. 15, June 2004)



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