The 27th AU summit themed “African Year of Human Rights, with particular highlight on the Rights of Women” was held in Kigali from 8th-18th July 2016. It is important to stress that Rwanda stands as a world model in empowering and realizing the potential in women, with 64% of her parliament, 40% cabinet, 40% provincial governors and 83% of her Vice-mayors being Women. The summit in Kigali acted as a great interacting and information sharing for Young Women from different associations, who inspired, encouraged and challenged each other regarding Women Empowerment and Human Rights.
Present in the summit was a delegation of YWCA members from Burundi (4), Cameroon (1), Ethiopia (2), DRC (2), Tanzania (3) Uganda (2) Rwanda (14) and the World YWCA being represented by (2) delegates. The excitement was palpable as we saw the young women from different associations interacting, sharing information and encouraging each other at the various sessions we attended. Members also had an opportunity to attend a two-days High Level panel on Gender, which was held on July 8th through July 9th. The major focus of the meeting was political goodwill and financing, as the two most important aspects of achieving gender quality. The necessity of having leaders that are capable of implementing all the commitments made by state parties, to promote women inclusive leadership was highly emphasized.
Regarding financing, different panelists also emphasized the need for gender responsive budgeting, as a step towards gender equality. Best practices were showcased (UNECA borrowed the regional body in Latin America model), specifically, studies to show the financial impact on the national economies. Among the practices showcased also was that of inviting deliberate interventions, which are not just targeting gender equality but the overall health and development of communities. In the opening ceremony, the chairperson of the African Union Commission emphasized on the necessity of involving young women in such dialogues, citing that youth are often radical, and can be constructively radical. This chimes well with what we do at the YWCA, empowering women to lead change!

The high panel brought forward concrete recommendations that were presented to the summit for adoption and implementation. The day ended on a high note with the continental gender awards ceremony for gender champions. The awards for gender champions were given to President Kagame of Rwanda, and Dr. Nkosana Dlamini-Zuma, the chairperson of the African Union Commission. The award is usually given by the women rights movement in Africa, in which the YWCA`s in Africa are highly active. During the award giving ceremony, some of the Young women were asked to join other leaders of the movement in the award ceremony. This was a great opportunity as Dr. Zuma has been openly supportive to the YWCA delegation at the AU summit encouraging their participation, and has often met with members to share her wisdom in being an agent of change. Dr. Zuma shared her life-long experience as a young woman from the apartheid times in South Africa to her present role. Using an example of her personal life story inspired and encouraged other young women to realize their potential. Dr. Zuma continues to enthuse many young women in her leadership role as the first female chairperson of the African Union Commission. Her leadership skills also serve as an example of unlimited passion and abilities that women have, that have to be acknowledged and empowered.

Following the AU high-level panel on Gender was the GIMAC meeting held at Umubano Hotel, on the 10th-11th July 2016. GIMAC stands for “Gender is my Agenda Campaign”. This was the 28th GIMAC meeting held by the African Union, and aims at bringing together various Civil Society Organizations, to discuss and debate the current gender issues affecting Africa. As usual, young women from YWCA delegation made several interventions; two of our young women from Tanzania and Rwanda made presentations on July 10th, regarding good quality leadership. Raisa Gaju, a young woman from YWCA Rwanda and only 15 years old, won the hearts of the audience with her understanding of rights. The audience praised the YWCA for empowering very young woman with an in-depth understanding of their rights. As one of the core values of YWCA movement, intergenerational mentorship was also applauded as an essential tool to ensure that the young women benefit from elder women that have been fighting for women’s rights for decades.

After the AU summit, the YWCA delegation members had an opportunity to conduct a field visit together with the YWCA Rwanda staff on July 12th 2016. The delegation visited Ruli Catholic Primary School, located in Muhanga district, which is one of the many beneficiaries of GROW UP SMART PROJECT. Grow Up Smart project aims at empowering very young adolescents aged 10-14, with knowledge and thorough understanding of Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR). Demographically, Grow Up Smart has 250 beneficiaries at Ruli Primary School, of whom 125 are girls, and 125 are boys.
During the visit, Ruli pupils and beneficiaries expressed understanding of SRHR acquired through Grow Up Smart; they articulated their thoughtful insights and appreciation of the program through short skits, songs, poems and dances, that all highlighted the importance of knowing and understanding Sexual Reproduction Health and Rights. All pupil-led activities stressed potential risks of being uninformed, yet also highlighting the significance of the awareness gotten through Grow Up Smart. Members of the delegation that were given chance to speak, encouraged the pupils to work hard, and make full use of the resources provided through Grow Up Smart.
After visiting the school, the YWCA members went to the YWCA sub- office at Muhanga, where they visited the scaling up sweet potato through Agriculture and nutrition (SUSTAIN) project that is being implemented by YWCA Rwanda in partnership with the International Potato Center(CIP). This project aims at reducing the deficiency of vitamin A in children under five years and pregnant and lactating mothers by working hands in hands with the community health workers. They aim at equipping people with knowledge of maintaining a balanced diet in their homes, by including orange sweet potatoes in their daily meals. The sweet potatoes are processed into different products like donuts, cakes and other different kinds of bread, which improve nutrition while also enlarging market for the potatoes. The YWCA delegates conveyed their interest for SUSTAIN project, and encouraged the sustainability of the project. The day ended on a high note, with visitors appreciating the beauty of the country in general, and the enthusiasm and courage by the YWCA Rwanda staff.