YWCA of Palestine 2011 report
Reflections: A Journey of Intergenerational Leadership at the YWCA
by Mira Rizek, National General Secretary, YWCA of Palestine
Right at the outset of the World Council Meeting in Zurich, and as we lined up alphabetically and by country delegation to go into the official opening session of the plenary, I remembered vividly the first World YWCA council meeting that I attended when I was still a youth member, in Singapore in 1983. At the time, we were affiliated to the World YWCA movement as part of the YWCA of Jordan, and I still remember very well the struggle we had to go through to make our sisters understand our political situation, and why we were part of the Jordan delegation, and how we came to be under Israeli Occupation, and the implications this occupation has on the women and children. We had to spend long and relentless hours to draft the Middle East Resolution on Peace and Justice, and to get the region to start with to agree to it, and then the whole World Movement to endorse. One of the most impressive encounters for me was to witness the charismatic leadership of Dame Nita Barrow, the World President from Barbados, who I have a good memory of to this date. Dame Nita Barrow was not young at the time, but she was surely young in spirit. Her spirit, wisdom, strength and vibrant messages continue to live in the movement.
As part of the Youth Pre-Council Meeting in Phoenix/Arizona in 1987, I and Reem Najjar (who also was representing the Jordan Association as a youth member then), engaged actively in this meeting, delivered our presentations, and strongly voiced our concerns on the human rights violations and the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. I also attended at least three other World Council meetings since then; in Cairo in 1999 as the National President, in Nairobi in 2007, and this year in Zurich as the National General Secretary. Twenty four years later, we are still under Israeli Occupation, and the women still struggle to survive in dignity, and to cater for the family needs, and to shoulder the whole family as it continues to live in crisis, emergencies, stress and conflict, and the YWCA continues to call for Peace and Justice in the whole Middle East. What is different today is that although our situation did not change, yet the world movement is more supportive, understanding and engaged with us in our struggle for Peace with Justice.
It is interesting that in Zurich, I participated as one of the leading members within the world organization, and I was fortunate to be given the opportunity by the World YWCA to talk about my journey as a leader and about the concept of “inter-generational leadership”, which reflects very much my history in this movement. I used to be a youth member and a voluntary coordinator for youth activities in Jerusalem in the 80’s, and if I was not given the space, the support, the skill training and recognition at the time by the previous General Secretary namely Ms. Doris Salah, as well as Board Members and Presidents, I would not be one of the leaders of our local organization today. It was a historical moment to meet again in Zurich with Doris, and to celebrate this continued leadership within our movement.
So for the YWCA of Palestine, inter-generational leadership is not new, or newly practiced, yet it continues to be a challenge, especially as the numbers of young members continue to diminish, and as the older leaders and members continue to struggle to understand the changing needs, interests, problems and aspirations of the younger generations. The key word is “listening and accommodating”, and we all need to learn to listen to what the young members are telling us, and what they would like to do, and how they would like to engage, The world of 2011 is obviously very different. It is the world of globalization, technology, and what many also see as disintegration of cultures. Thus, the issues facing us all, the way we communicate and the communication tools we use, and existence of social media, are all very different. So for inter-generational leadership to work, all generations have to work hard to bridge that cultural, social, mental and technological gap. It does not happen coincidentally. We, as older leaders of the movement, are called upon today to open our doors, hearts and spaces for the younger people. The youth are also called upon to engage, accept and respect the long history of this movement which was made by these very old or older leaders. Being all together in Zurich convinced me that this can be done. I was very proud to see that four of the six Vice Presidents elected this year were under the age of 30, and that 44% of the new Board members were also under the age of 30. We could not have a better way of demonstrating our commitment to produce young leaders, and keep the “Y” in the movement very much alive.