YWCA: Giving Voice to Nigerian Women  

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YWCA believes the voice of women is the voice of the nation and when empowered is a powerful change agent, Peace Obi reports

 Investment in women is believed to be a right investment into the future of the world. With the global acknowledgement of the positive relationship between women empowerment and the overall development outcome in the society, the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) of Nigeria in its 110 years of coming into Nigeria has remained committed to her vision of seeing Nigerian women lifted from obscurity to prominence.
The journey which took off in 1906 at Abeokuta in Ogun State with a few women, today has its presence felt in almost every  nook and cranny of the country. A century and 10 years down the line, rather than falling to the hard squeeze of time, weather and challenges, age has become an object of blessing to the women organisation. Making it to appear that the higher the YWCA goes in age, the greater its strength. Through its philanthropic services, the YWCA of Nigeria has pursued her vision of giving hope and voice to Nigerian women to both young and old and its impact felt all around. 
And against all odds, for a century and 10 years, the Christian women’s organisation, has held tenaciously to its dreams, spreading its message and advocating for peace, education, justice, human, among others. And in its drive to shape and bring about a better society for all, YWCA has broken barriers of ethnicity, class, economic and social status to empower and celebrate Nigerian women. And realising that it has spent 110 years already in the journey, the oldest and largest network of women and girls in the country rolled out the drums to celebrate God’s faithfulness thus far with a theme, ‘Creating an Inclusive World Through Women’s Transformative Leadership’. To YWCA and her guests, it was amazing to note that the higher its age, the stronger the women organisation has waxed and has continued to spread it tentacles, affecting lives across the country.
Speaking at the YWCA’s 110th year anniversary, fundraising/awards dinner at Sheraton Lagos Hotel, the National President of YWCA, Lady Chikwue Ochiagha, noted that the women and girls empowerment is critical to achieving the global agenda of Sustainable Development Goals. According to Ochiagha, women and girls constitute an influential constituency for shaping a sustainable world and that women can only rightly take their place in the society if sufficiently empowered with the necessary knowledge, skills and competences.
Stating that improving the status of women is at the core of the YWCA’s work, the national president said that the voluntary, multi-generational women’s organisation has since inception continued to support women and girls with no thought to cost or profit. “The YWCA has a long history of not just empowering women and girls to lead change in their communities, but also has an established tradition of celebrating women’s leadership at all levels – from unpaid care givers within homes and communities to partakers on decision making tables. And the world is clearly getting to the inevitable realisation that women, young women, and girls constitute a powerful constituency for shaping a sustainable world that is better for everyone.”
According to her, with a membership strength of about 20,000 spread across 18 states of the federation as well as Federal Capital Territory, the YWCA, Nigeria in affiliation with the World YWCA stands with the global community in the advocacy for the transformation of power structures to create justice, gender equality and a world without violence and war, leading a sustainable YWCA movement inclusive of all women. “We stand with the global community in this advocacy.”
“The YWCA of Nigeria is a voluntary, non-profit multigenerational women’s organisation, it cuts across religion, race and status in its affiliation to the World YWCA – the oldest and largest network of 25 million women and girls advocating for peace, education, justice, health, human rights and care for the environment in 132 countries. YWCA works around the world to empower women and girls and raises awareness on their rights, advocate for the adoption and implementation of laws and policies that prohibit and prevent discrimination against women and mobilise communities against the practice,” Ochiagha said.
The Minister of Women Affairs and Social Development, Senator Aisha Alhassan, the recipient of the Woman of Valour, in her speech commended the organisation for its tenacity in keeping its vision alive, Alhassan noted that it is not easy to keep an organisation alive, vibrant and relevant for over 100 years. Describing the YWCA as a true partner of government, she hinted that YWCA’s role in advancing and empowering women complement the mandate of her ministry.  “You are true partner of government and agent for the advancing and empowering women. Your role complements the mandate of my ministry and I hope we will continue to work as partners to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals target for women and girls. And I hope we will work together to promote our priority goal of empowering Nigerian women.”
Adding that despite being founded at a time when the terrain was not gender friendly as well as when the world system lacked the political will to pursue women agenda, the minister said that YWCA has from its inception, played and maintained a very significant role in championing the rights of women and girls. “It is not doubtful that at the time of its creation and earliest, the terrain was not gender friendly. Nevertheless, the YWCA remains focused to its cause and today a power bloc to reckon with in the international arena with its presence in 132 countries around the world,” Alhassan said
On her part, the Lagos State Commissioner for Women Affairs and Poverty Alleviation, Mrs. Lola Akande, in her goodwill message congratulated YWCA on its numerous achievements and the milestone of 110 years in Nigeria and noted that women empowerment is a necessary step to overcome the obstacles associated with poverty and development. The commissioner, who expressed her delight and the ministry’s in being part of YWCA’s 110 years celebration, fundraising/awards dinner, said she was happy “to associate with the women’s organisation for its long history of empowering women and girls as positive change agents in their various communities.”
Stressing that the effort of the YWCA at improving the status of women is not only in tandem with the global view on the need to provide women with the enabling environment to truly function as agents of change, Akande noted that Lagos State Government considers women development and poverty reduction as means of attaining sustainable growth through efficient and prompt service delivery.
According to her, “The Governor, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode in fulfilling his promise to make Lagos work for all, irrespective of age, sex, tribe or any other factor, believes that women and girls in Lagos could be more productive and empowered for better life if the right programmes and policies are put in place.”
The wife of the Lagos State Governor, Mrs. Bolanle Ambode, represented by Mrs. Ladun Ogunbanwo in her goodwill message wondered how YWCA has managed to sustain the over a century old organisation. “I congratulate YWCA for their milestone on the anniversary of 110 years of existence in the country. I cannot stop wondering how you have managed through the years to sustain this organisation till date.”
Wondering if there is any surviving women organisation that is older than the YWCA, Ambode noted that the beginning of the journey might have been tough but through resilience the group has managed to stay intact. She added that YWCA has continuously spread to the utmost realm of the country, bringing more girls, young women, women to the limelight as agents of change and advocates of the best interest of women in their respective communities.  
Many things that appeal to her about the organisation she said include its volunteer activities, girl, women empowerment and its advocacy focus on making the world a better place for all. “The whole world and indeed women are facing critical challenges in the areas that matter most to the joyful existence of humanity. We are challenged in the area of peace, education, health, justice, human rights and care of the environment.”
According to the recipient of Woman of Excellence Award, women have a divine mandate to intervene so that humanity will continue to occupy and enjoy the world. “This is what you demonstrate in your advocacy for peace. In many countries of the world, it is total chaos or one form of violence or another. But humanity cannot enjoy the world when the environment is polluted and abused or in an atmosphere of conflict and confusion. That is why we appreciate your deliberate effort at peace in the home, communities and our country at large,” Ambode noted.
In recognition of some distinguished individuals for their service to humanity and commitment to transforming the lives of women and girls, Senator Aisha Jummai Alhassan was awarded ‘Woman of Valour’, wife of the Lagos State Governor, Mrs. Bolanle Ambode, honoured with ‘Woman of Excellence Award’, wife of Anambra State Governor, ‘Woman of Influence’, wife of Governor of Plateau State, Mrs. Regina Kitmwadang Lalong, ‘Woman of Character Award’, Senator Daisy Danjuma, ‘Woman of Purpose Award’, Barrister (Mrs.) Ifeoma Ojemeni Okali, ‘Woman of Distinction Award’, Dr. Stella Okoli, ‘Woman of Substance Award’, among others.
However, standing tall for their unwavering support in championing the cause of women development and empowerment, Mr. Olutoyin Okeowo was honoured with ‘Man of Worth Award’ while Mr. Nwakalor Michael Osigwe and Sir. Edwin C. Mmuoemenam were honoured with ‘Man of Charity Award’, respectively.