AWiB in 2020

YWCA is a movement of women working for social and economic change around the world. It advocates for young women’s leadership, peace, justice, human rights and sustainable development, both on a grassroots and global scale. It is the largest women’s organization in the world, and the second oldest organization of its kind. Each year the World YWCA reaches more than 25 million women, young women and girls through their work at grassroots level in 22,000 communities. The organization is currently based in Geneva, Switzerland.

Originally founded as the Young Women’s Christian Association, the abbreviation no longer has that meaning, as their staff and the people they serve are not all young, women, or Christian. The name has been kept to maintain brand equity.

The YWCA movement  began in England in 1855 in the midst of the Industrial Revolution and the Crimean War Founded through the meeting of social activist Lady Mary Jane Kinnaird’s General Female Training Institute, and committed Christian Emma Robarts’ Prayer Union, it sought to be a social and spiritual support system for young English women.

Due to the interest of Kinnaird in work abroad and the mighty reach of the British Empire, the initiative spread rapidly to western and northern Europe, India, and the United States. The pace and success of the World YWCA movement spoke of a considerable need for the services provided by the association, primarily access to educational and religious classes, hostels for young women, and opportunities for both service and recreation.

The first world conference of the YWCA was held in 1898 in London, with 326 participants from seventeen countries 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.” Thus the social conscience of the YWCA was born into the form that it maintains today.

Until 1930 the headquarters of the World YWCA was 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 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.

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 neighbors and refugees, often with exceedingly limited resources.

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. [Karen Garner, Global Feminism and Postwar Reconstruction: The World YWCA Visitation to Occupied Japan, 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. 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 AIDSliteracythe 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.

Prior to the U.S. civil rights movement, some YWCA facilities were segregated or operated as separate organizations. Advocates worked successfully to mediate mergers between the segregated groups. Today the YWCA works worldwide to eliminate racism.

In 2004 YWCA USA associations registered 2.6 million people in programs for children, youth and adults, of which 22% were helped with domestic violence programs, 8% were involved in economic empowerment & leadership development programs, 10% participated in racial justice programs, 7% were served by housing and shelter programs, 24% experienced child, youth and teen programs, 24% enjoyed the benefits of health, fitness and aquatic programs. The majority of the YWCA USA associations publicly advocate on Racial Justice, Violence Against Women, Early Childhood Education and Increasing Women’s Income issues. The YWCA USA is an organizational member of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, which advocates gun control.

The YWCA USA is a preeminent provider of domestic violence programs and shelters in the United States, serving well over ½ million women and children. As comparison, the largest national hotline averages 192,000 calls per year. They are one of the largest providers of child care in the United States with nearly 350,000 children cared for, possibly more children than the largest for-profit center chain. The total income per year is $649,500,430. Of this amount, 49% is from government grants, 23% from public support (individuals, foundations, corporations) and membership fees, and 21% from program service fees.

The YWCA of The City of New York, the oldest US YWCA, is 150 years old. That organization is unique 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.

Racial Justice

The YWCA’s commitment to racial justice is one of the common threads that unites YWCAs across the country. Beginning in the mid-1800s, the YWCA was one of the first institutions to defy accepted societal opinions on race. Eliminating racism is one of the two central principles of the YWCA mission, along with the empowerment of women. And, at the core of the YWCA’s work is the recognition that not all women, or all people, are treated equally. Gender, race and economic equality are social issues that are interconnected and must be addressed in concert. For this reason, the YWCA advocates at the local and national level on racial justice and economic equality issues and also offers extensive programming to address these topics at local associations.


Although ‘YWCA’ is often associated with hostels and fitness centers, the World YWCA is first and foremost a human rights-based organization. Many YW associations around the world run hostels, gyms, swimming pools and sports facilities, these activities form part of a strategy to prepare women – particularly young women – for leadership. 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”. Providing women with shelter, either from abusive partners or as they migrate to the city and building young women’s confidence through sports and fitness is one of the strategies used in the YWCA movement to build leadership in women.

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


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,” in regard to the Arab-Israeli conflict.


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.”

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.

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. The movement has emphasized a gender and human rights approach, acknowledging the exploitative and exclusionary factors that perpetuate the feminization of poverty.

Job Training and Empowerment

Over 100,000 women annually are enrolled in YWCA job training and empowerment programs. The YWCA provides job education and training to assist individuals in achieving self-sufficiency. Illiteracy, lack of educational achievement (high school diploma/GED) and lack of employment experience are significant barriers to gainful employment, economic security, advancement and self-sufficiency. Educational programming (literacy and job readiness training) empowers adults with the knowledge and skills to advance their educational and economic status. YWCAs in the USA are empowering women of all ages in their communities by giving them the tools and the knowledge necessary for employment.

Financial Literacy Programs

The imbalance in female earnings is real: according to a recent report, for every dollar a man earns, a woman earns 82 cents. Closing that gap is one of the YWCA’s most important goals helps over 100,000 women annually gain independence through economic empowerment programs. YWCAs offer financial literacy training, from budget basics to retirement planning. With the support of the Allstate Foundation, every YWCA in the USA has been provided with a financial literacy course: “The Allstate Moving Ahead through Financial Management Curriculum.” The course includes tools and information designed to empower victims of domestic violence and people of all incomes to be self-sufficient with their finances.

Partner organizations

As a principle of young women’s leadership, the World YWCA is involved with other youth organizations, such as Youth Employment NetEuropean 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 has a seat in the UN platform.

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.

Equipped with skills, knowledge and resources, women can be a powerful force in changing lives and communities around them.


In 1997, a program called TechGYRLS was developed by the YWCA USA in order to address the still-evident and significant gender gap in girls’ development of interest and skills in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). In 2014, YWCA USA became a partner with the Million Women Mentors initiative in order to strengthen STEM programming for girls and young women across the country. Million Women Mentors® (MWM) is an initiative of STEMconnector®, a company which works closely with corporations and organizations to assist in corporate development, corporate structure and smart STEM investments. The goal of MWM is to captivate one million mentors to link with one million girls and young professionals for their STEM careers.

Young Women’s Scholarships

Every year, the YWCA serves approximately 20,000 young women through leadership development programs and scholarships. Some awards are based on need, others on achievement and community service. All adhere to the goals of the YWCA: to seek peace, justice, freedom, and liberty.

YWCA is dedicated to eliminating racism, empowering women and promoting peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all.

World YWCA Council

The World Council is the legislative authority and governing body of the World YWCA. During this auspicious event, representatives from each affiliated association come together to elect the members of the World YWCA Board, to set priorities for the coming years work and to determine policies through resolutionsThe Council also provides practical training and education on the priority issues of the global movement. It is a place of celebration of women’s leadership and of building a vision for the future.

World YWCA Council 2015 has chosen the theme Bold and Transformative Leadership – Towards 2035 because leadership lies at the heart of the YWCA movement. This forms the core purpose of the World YWCA as stated in the Constitution – “the purpose of the World YWCA is to develop the leadership of women and girls for collective action towards peace, justice, human dignity, freedom, health and care for the environment”.  Envisioning 2035 will examine how YWCAs can organize, strategize, strengthen and mobilize their  collective power and common ownership and commitment to a program of action that will advance the World YWCA’s purpose and establish a clear vision for the future that will enable the  movement to continue to bring about positive change for women and their communities.

YWCA in Ethiopia

On this spirit, YWCA is Ethiopia was established in 1952 by female members of the royal family. The Association helped many and brought the idea of fighting for one’s right to the Ethiopian society but soon to be interrupted the Derg regime after 22 years of operation. When the military government took control of the political establishment in 1976,   YWCA Ethiopia became a victim of the Derg’s propaganda. Claiming this useful and important movement was part of the CIA, it confiscated all assets including land by “Amist Kilo” where now ironically enough belongs to men’s sports commission. The fund that was raised by selling “kolo” and whatever beneficiaries themselves could make to sell was frozen.

After the Derg regime was ousted, a campaign by the former staff members, women activists and the communities for the revival of YWCA and the return of its property and money frozen in the CBE, intensified. YWCA of Ethiopia was re-established in 2000. But campaign and effort for the return of its assets including several hundreds of thousands birr in CBE is yet to materialize.

When the YWCA was reestablished after so many years of non-existent, those who dedicated their time and money for the cause have been appealing to the Ethiopia government for many years and to date this injustice has not been righted. The late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi finally became interested and was in the process of finding solution that would benefit all involved but his unfortunate and untimely death has stalled the case. Interestingly enough, YMCA was also in the same position but this government has given at least some part of their property back but not the women’s. Again women became part of the injustice no one wants to hear or deal with.

Despite the challenges and disappointments today, the new office compound contains 3 structures, housing 12 full time staff members and a small but beautiful “GOH” library, donated in the memory of a young man and promising poet whose means of transformation was through love of reading.

Under the leadership of Saba Haile, the General Secretary, the Association is once again thriving in its impact and activity. The YWCA Ethiopia now works on HIV and AIDS, economic empowerment and leadership development programs targeting women and youth.

The YWCA Ethiopia works on projects in four cities: Addis Ababa, Adama, Debre Berhan and Bahir Dar and planning to add the 5th project in the region Jujuga. 90% of the national staff across Ethiopia is women and 50% young women.

The Association follows the World YWCA’s strategic framework investing in projects around reproductive health, economic empowerment and young women’s leadership. The YWCA of Ethiopia focuses on holistic education including training in entrepreneurship, sexual and reproductive health, life skills and creative crafts. The Association is a beneficiary of the World YWCA Power to Change Fund. Currently YW is using this funding to work with women living with disabilities.  Through support systems and facilitating trainings, these women can have possibilities of access to health, employment and economic empowerment.  YWCA Ethiopia will soon partner with Save the Children on a 3 year project working with out of school youth and young street vendors.


To see a vibrant society where women and girls are empowered and developed.


The YWCA endeavors to create socio –economic empowerment and self-reliance of women and girls for the attainment of a better life for women regardless of their ethnic, religious background or physical impairment through its youth development, economic and social programs and environmental protection activities with all stakeholders.


YWCA embraces the World YWCA values and principles as indicated below.

Principles we value:

  • Our worldwide solidarity as a women’s volunteer membership movement
  • Diversity, inclusiveness, tolerance and mutual respect
  • Integrity and responsible accountability

Action we value:

  • The self-determination of women and girls in all areas of life
  • The teaching Life skill which improves the status of women and children around the world
  • The care of the environment,  care for the elderly and children

Target groups:

The YWCA principally targets women and girls; however, within the target groups, YWCA gives priority to disadvantaged, marginalized, disabled and poor groups of women and girls.


The following are the major objectives of the Association:

  1. To facilitate: provision of vocational training and other capacity building programs  for women to empower them economically and socially;  conditions for their access to information and services to improve their knowledge of  reproductive health;  provision of  education to young women to help them become self-confident ; conditions for young women to participate in voluntary programs ;
  2. To design programs that will  keep and increase the  number of the Members and also benefits
  3. To Coordinate its activities with NGOs having similar objectives and government institutions
  4. To participate  in the  poverty reduction program of the Country
  5. To provide  education on reproductive health to physically disabled women and also improve their economic status
  6. To enable women and youth to have access to information about environmental protection so that they can participate in protecting the environment in their day to day activities
  7. to include environmental protection in YWCA programs


  1. Economic empowerment and educational attainment of adolescent girls
  2. Creating a Skills Training Program
  3. Providing of Capacity Building Trainings for the Skills
  4. Basic business skill, business negotiation skill and entrepreneurship and Life skill and sexual and reproductive health trainings
  5. Partnering with girls’ club for the promotion and support of girls’ education in schools

In the economic empowerment and educational attainment project, YWCA formed two girls’ clubs in two public high schools. The YWCA is also supporting the girls technically and financially so that they continue to be partners with the YWCA. The girls’ clubs are primary means of young women in awareness creation activities.

To promote and encourage girls’ education, the YWCA awards prizes to girls who have finalized their education successfully. This helps in promoting girls’ education and encouraging female students to aim for good performance in schools. Simultaneously, YWCA facilitates an awareness raising program and dialogue.

Despite the obstacles and numerous challenges, the YWCA of Ethiopia is committed to women and girls to provide safe space and support to the communities. YWCA has grown significantly in the last few years, but some challenges such as lack permanent property, a need for more committed volunteers and a change in our Government’s policy on advocacy have become impediment to the growth and catching up with other YWCAs worldwide.

Why support the YWCA of Ethiopia?

YWCA Worldwide as gathered from the narrative must be supported and it is each citizen’s responsibility to support movements that stands for human rights…YWCA Ethiopia is part of this movement and is right here at our doorstep helping and giving voices to those who couldn’t find theirs yet.

  • Be an actor in offering women, young women and girls the opportunity for a better and safer life
  • Give millions of women, young women and girls worldwide the power to change their lives…
  • Make a significant difference in the world…

Each year, thanks to World YWCA programs funded by generous donors, women, young women and girls can improve their living conditions, their health, their financial situation, understand their rights, become leaders and decision makers, and in turn help their families and contribute constructively to their communities.

Ways to Donate:

1. Invest in the Present

  • Support local programs that target the root causes of poverty, violence, poor health, injustice, stigma and discrimination
  • Support training programs to allow YWCA leaders to develop the most effective solutions to problems facing their communities
  • Support global advocacy programs which bring core issues to the forefront of global arenas

2. Invest in the Future

  • Donate to the Power to Change Fund – a permanent fund of the World YWCA that endows leadership development programs for women, young women and girls worldwide. Info could be obtained from the website.
  • The fund was created to ensure that funding would be available long term, regardless of political climate, currency fluctuations, economic downturns or inconsistencies in annual support

3. Honor a woman leader

  • Make your donation in the name of someone who has inspired you – whether within your family or in your social or professional environment.

YWCA Ethiopia needs not only financial support but volunteers who are champions to move the association where it needs to BE. If you are a writer, you could help volunteering your time to produce the important information that must be dispersed to the community. If you are a lawyer or work for a law firm, you can donate a few hours a month to help with the legal issues YW desperately needs its property returned or find an exchange land somewhere in the center of the city where is convenient to the beneficiaries. If you are a teacher or would like to be one, join them in their many programs of economic and self-empowerment.   If you have a success story to share, be a mentor. YWCA Ethiopia has many roles for you to play.   Help YWCA help many in need and in the process you help make a better society.

The members, volunteers and staff members thank you much for lending them your ears. YWCA Ethiopia trusts they have won your hearts.

YWCA of Ethiopia, Headquarters in Addis Abeba, Ethiopia

Phone: 011-6627585



Note: This document was prepared from information gathered from Worldwide, USA and Canada YWCAs websites, from printed & electronic materials, from interviews of YWCA Ethiopia members and annual reports.

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