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Girls Summit 2017: girls’ empowerment through membership to feminist NGOs

[Speech of Ruxandra Diaconescu, member of YWCA Romania and of the European YWCA, for the Girls Summit 2017] On the International Day of the Girl Child, the European Women’s Lobby invited a delegation of youth representatives to take part to the European Week of Action for Girls. Among them, Ruxandra Diaconescu spoke at the Girls Summit: a member of YWCA Romania, she represented also the European YWCA, one of EWL European member organisations, together with Krist Petraj Zicishti from YWCA Albania. You can read her speech below:

Speech of Ruxandra Diaconescu, Girls Summit 2017

Good Morning to you all,

Thank you to you all for showing up and thank you to the European Women’s Lobby for inviting us here today.

I’m Ruxandra, 21 years old, fresh graduate, young women leader and advocate from the women’s rights organization The European YWCA. The European YWCA works in the communities of 27 European countries – to further the rights of young women and girls with an intergenerational approach.

Our vision is a fully inclusive world where justice, peace, health, human dignity, freedom and care for the environment are promoted and sustained through women’s leadership, with a special focus on young women. We have a unique role to play in the region particularly in lifting the voices and perspectives of young women and girls with partners.

I, for example, come from the YWCA of Romania. I joined the organization 3 years ago as a response to a personal need of belonging to a network that is preoccupied with young women’s empowerment through mentorship. The first activities I have taken part in with YWCA Romania had a focus on stopping violence against women through advocacy and informative campaigns, but also through social programs of psychology social counseling. I have come to lead workshops aiming at raising awareness on the importance of young women’s participation in the decision making process, at the decision making table, for social justice and now for the furthering of the Sustainable Development Goal Number 5 on gender equality.

But at the end of it all, personal development of young women through membership, pulling each other up in safe spaces, has and is the focus.

It is a real privilege for me to address you today and I would like to take the opportunity to share the voices of one of the young women from the YWCA of Romania. For me this young woman inspires, and thrive. Perla Scripcariu. Perla (romanian for „Pearl”) was 19 in 2015 when the press went viral about her story. A rroma girl, abandoned at birth by her mother, with a father forced to leave to work abroad, raised by an aunt was scoring a high grade at the Romanian final exam, the Baccalaurate and was being accepted to five top universities in the UK.

But just for you to understand, let me brief you on the Rroma woman’s position in Rroma communities:

  • „Family” is a „divine gift” in roma communities, and as per tradition and cultural identity families are still founded when the girl and the boy are 12-13 years old in rural areas; 16-17 years old in urban communities
  • The pragmatic reason for this is the VIRGINITY of the girl, an essential aspect in establishing a new family
  • Gender roles: People believe that „women should not open their mouth”, because the „man is a bit above” and while he „leads”, the „woman does what she is told”. There are strong cultural rules when it comes to girls and boys clothing, too.
  • Roma communities are characterised by low educational levels with a high rate of illiteracy and poor school attendance by the children, in particular as far as the girls and women are concerned -> lack of education in the case of Roma women is identified as one of the key factors for the social exclusion and poverty of Roma women.

Perla is not married, not illiterate, she does not fight poverty. She loves to read, dance, sing and write poems. Her chance might have been the presence of her aunt in her life - an intellectual Romani language teacher. There’s no leader without a mentor, right? Being discriminated both as a woman and as an ethnic minority, Perla only became more ambitious and motivated. She is a dedicated activist for women’s rights and social inclusion. Her dream was to study Political Sciences at Birmingham University (which she did) and continue her volunteering work in the UK where she wanted to found an NGO of her own and become a leader for those with a similar purpose. She urged the roma community she was part of to go to school and follow her example. Shortly after her story was on everybody’s minds and heart, Dan Buda, National Liberal Party euro-parliamentary invited Perla to work as an intern in his cabinet, allowing her to play a part in the decision making processes.

In this room I also have a fellow from the YWCA of Albania and I would like to take the opportunity to share some of the experiences of girls there.

“Every Roma Kid in Kindergarten” initiative of YWCA of Albania, since several years is making the most to ensure the rights for Roma kids and Roma mothers. Through this project, YWCA is helping young mothers with the necessary documentation requested by the Albanian government to accept enrolling a kid in kindergarden without tuition. With their kids enrolled, young mothers have now time to seek a job and start working. YWCA is also providing professional training for these women, who then become nannies, housekeepers, seamstresses.

I, on the other hand was more fortunate. I am a student who has been given plenty of opportunities to learn, explore,speak my mind without some of the barriers most young women face – free from violence, free from fear, free from hunger, free from discrimination. I am a female citizen who has been given the chance to speak her mind. I am a young woman leader, just like Perla and the Albanian roma mothers. Because despite our different stories, we all have one thing in common: our purpose.

Stories can’t be heard in isolation. That is why I want to use the privilege I have addressing you today and emphasize on the importance of belonging to a safe network from community, connecting to national and to you where at the regional level. To a group of friends, to an NGO, to a common purpose.

I together with my other sisters will come back and speak to you again soon, because:

  • Women are still outnumbered by men in leadership positions, whether in business, politics and other fields.
  • Women are still paid less than men per hour of work across the entire economy.
  • Women interrupt their careers to care for others.
  • So many have suffered physical violence at least once in their life.
  • Young mothers, young widows, young refugees are in need of help.
  • Women and girls are major drivers of development, yet in some countries girls are still denied their right to primary education.
  • Women continue to be denied opportunities to influence decisions that affect their lives both in public and private spheres.
  • An astounding 39 000 girls are still being forced to get married at an early age every day.

But I hope the hope that the next young women who joins that European YWCA will not have to come and answer these questions.

Thank you very much.

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