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Young Women's Christian Association


Young Women's Christian Association

For other uses, including specific buildings and chapters, see Young Women's Christian Association (disambiguation).

The YWCA, or World Young Women's Christian Association, 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, second only to the Relief Society.[1][2][3] The organization is currently based in Geneva, Switzerland.

The original Christian focus is still strong in many of the national associations, but some have changed their focus to social programs and services and mission-based topics. The YWCA is independent of the YMCA, though many local YMCA and YWCA associations have amalgamated into YM/YWCAs or YMCA-YWCAs, and belong to both organizations while providing the programs of each.



The movement that resulted in the World YWCA began in England in 1855 in the midst of the Industrial Revolution and the Crimean War Founded through the convergence 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 nature of Kinnaird’s interest in work abroad and the expansiveness of the British Empire, the initiative spread rapidly to western and northern Europe, India, and the United States.[4] 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[5] 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.’[6] Thus the social conscience of the YWCA was born into the form that it maintains today.

Until 1930 the headquarters of the World YWCA were 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 were 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 (such as the International Committee of the Red Cross and the YMCA.)

World War II

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 neighbours and refugees, often with exceedingly limited resources.[7]

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. 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.[7] 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 AIDS, literacy, the 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.

YWCAs around the world

The YWCA is present in over 120 countries.[8]

Great Britain

A war poster dating back to 1915 shows a YWCA in the background

Platform 51 (previously YWCA England & Wales), YWCA Scotland and the independent YWCAs in England, form an ‘umbrella’ organisation, YWCA of Great Britain.

England & Wales

YWCA was founded in 1855 in London by two Englishwomen to provide a safe place for young women en route to the Crimean War.[9]

The organisation changed its name to Platform 51[10] in December 2010 to reflect changing attitudes and to distinguish itself from the YMCA, and because the women and girls who use the charity wanted it.[11] The re-branded charity retains affiliations with the national and international YWCA umbrella organisations.

The name reflects the proportion of the population that are female.

Activities and services

Platform 51 provides accredited courses and information, advice and guidance to women from disadvantaged communities. Platform 51 helps women to make informed decisions about their lives and maintain healthy relationships. The organisation campaigns with them to change the lives of women in England and Wales. Platform 51 regularly holds events where women are given the opportunity to talk about the things that matter to them. For instance, the Wise Up programme gives girls the ability and confidence address MPs and Ministers, give TV, radio and press interviews, hold functions and deliver group sessions. The participants develop skills in leadership, communication, teamwork and self-motivation.[12] The services provided for young women include informal educational, information and advice on all manner of things, courses, workshops and drop-in sessions, counselling and one-on-one sessions as well as crèches. YWCA services can be accessed in 14 centres across England & Wales;[13] in Government regions of the South West, London, South East, the East and West Midlands, North West, Yorkshire and Humber in England and in South Wales.


Recent YWCA campaigns include the More than one rung campaign.[14] It called for help for young women to get skills and training so they can work their way off the bottom rung of the career ladder. The More than one rung campaign led to, amongst other things, an increase in the minimum wage for apprentices from £80 a week to £95 a week. YWCA also undertook the Respect Young Mums campaign[15] which worked towards getting better support for teenage mothers. Since 2004, the YWCA has been campaigning for young mums to get Child Support before pregnancy rather than after the baby is born. As of 2009 mothers were able to claim the Health in Pregnancy Grant from the 25th week of pregnancy (this is similar to a pregnancy premium to Income Support which we called for through Respect Young Mums campaign).[16]

By virtue of its work for the welfare and development of young people, YWCA England & Wales is a member of The National Council for Voluntary Youth Services (NCVYS).


The first YWCA in Australia was established in 1872. The organisation advocates for the interests of women and girls and delivers "a diverse range of community programs and services" in both rural and urban Australia.[17]


The YWCA in China was established early in the 20th century and became an important venue for social reform and the advancement of women's status. [18] Although the organization was founded by foreign workers, leadership was soon taken over by Chinese women. [19] In the 1920s, YWCA organizer Deng Yuzhi (Cora Deng) was important in organizing women factory workers in Shanghai and supporting the emerging revolutionary forces. [20] The YWCA in China today has associations in Beijing and Shanghai. [21]


Founded in 1858, YWCA USA has nearly 300 associations nationwide at close to 1,100 sites serving 2.6 million members and participants. Associations were configured into 9 regions, until 2012 when the YWCA reorganized with a new CEO and eliminated the regional structure system. Regions varied in size from 19 associations (New England) to 60 associations (Great Lakes). The other regions averaged 32 associations each. The associations employ about 14,000 staff members - 44% are full-time and 56% part-time. In 2004 YWCA USA utilized 75,225 volunteers to deliver its services. A YWCA logo was created in 1988 by Saul Bass.[22]

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 of The City of New York, the oldest US YWCA, is 150 years old. That organization is unique in that the organization is 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 including the Salute to Women Leaders Luncheon, the YWCA-NYC Theatre Benefit (featuring the broadway hit The Color Purple in 2005 and the revival of Michael Bennett's A Chorus Line in 2006). They host an annual Summer Soirée (held at the W Hotel in 2005 and Cipriani 23rd Street in 2006) at which they present their "W" award, presented to a woman who is a visionary, an innovator, trend-setter, a woman who gives back to her community and helps those the YW serves daily: the women, girls and families of New York City. In 2005, this award was given to Marian McEvoy and in 2006 to Star Jones-Reynolds.

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

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 USA is an organizational member of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, which advocates gun control.


Although 'YWCA' is often associated with hostels and fitness centres, the World YWCA sees itself as a human rights-based organization. Many association 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".[23] 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,”[5] 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.”[24]

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.[25]

The World YWCA recently held the first international conference on Women and HIV and AIDS.[26] The International Women's Summit on HIV and AIDS featured speakers from UNAIDS, YWCAs and other global leaders. The Positive Women's Forum, held on the first day, was organised by and for HIV-positive women; over 300 women attended.

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.”[27] The movement has emphasized a gender and human rights approach, acknowledging the exploitative and exclusionary factors that perpetuate the feminisation of poverty.

The World YWCA has been involved in recent global forums on sustainable development and related issues, and is an active member of the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance, a network of churches and ecumenical organisations working for recognition of international human rights, social, and environmental agreements as a priority over trade agreements and policies.[28] There are YWCA programs for sustainable development in 40 countries, ranging from literacy and awareness building of environmental issues in Papua New Guinea to skills building and job training in Peru.

Partner organisations

As a principle of young women’s leadership, the World YWCA is involved with other youth organizations, such as Youth Employment Net, European 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 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.[29]

The Violence Against Women unit in Shreveport, Louisiana, was formerly directed by the socialite and civic figure Susybelle Lyons. In 1996, she and Marilyn Joiner were co-chairwomen of a $1.1 million capital campaign drive for the Shreveport branch of the YWCA.[30]

YWCA Week of Prayer

Starting in 1904, the World YWCA and the World Alliance of YMCAs have issued a joint call to prayer during the Week of Prayer and World Fellowship. During this week, the two movements pray and act together on a particular theme in solidarity with members and partners around the world. The week-long event is a Bible study based on that year’s theme.

World YWCA Day

At the 1947 World Council meeting in Hangzhou, China, the decision was made to establish an Annual YWCA Membership Celebration. The 1947 Council asked the Executive Committee to assume responsibility for the design of the celebration, and in 1948 an Advisory Group of the Executive Committee conducted a survey among nation associations and defined the name, aim and timing of the soon-to-be annual event. World YWCA's Observance Day was born, to help each member see how she could act locally in relation to the theme for the year. The Wednesday or Thursday of the last week of April was chosen as the date for the Observance Day each year.

In 1949 a Planning Group was formed, representing national associations, members of the Executive Committee and the World YWCA staff. Some chosen themes for the Observance Day have been: My Faith and My Work, My Place in the World, My Contribution to World Peace, I Confront a Changing World, Toward One World and My Task in Family Life Today.

In 1972 an Executive Committee decided that the event name would be changed to World YWCA Day and that the theme would be chosen by the Executive Committee from among various programmes decided by the World Council. A 1989 Executive Committee Task Force decided that the date of celebration for World YWCA Day would be April 24.

World YWCA Councils

The most recent World YWCA Council occurred in Nairobi, Kenya in July 2007, where Susan Brennan, an Australian barrister and former co-president of the YWCA of Australia succeeded Mónica Zetzsche, and Nyaradzai Gumbonzvanda, a UNIFEM programme director and human rights lawyer from Zimbabwe succeeded General Secretary Dr. Musimbi Kanyoro. Notably during this council, the Constitution was revised to offer a more inclusive interpretation of the YWCA’s founding principles.

The first international conference on Women and AIDS was held during the World YWCA Council 2007. The International Women’s Summit on HIV and AIDS discussed women's leadership in HIV and AIDS and featured speakers such as Dr Peter Piot, UNAIDS and Mary Robinson. The conference was organized in partnership with the International Community of Women living with HIV (ICW). A ten-point Call to Action was launched at the end of the conference.[31]

The next World YWCA Council is set for 2015 in Bangkok, Thailand.

Previous World Council venues: 2011
Year Official name Country 2011 World YWCA Council Zurich

Leadership since 1855

Past Presidents
Name Country Year
Mrs. J. Herbert Tritton United Kingdom 1898–1902
Mrs. George Campbell United Kingdom 1902–1906
Miss Mary Morley United Kingdom 1906–1910
Mrs. J. Herbert Tritton United Kingdom 1910–1914
The Hon. Mrs. Montague Weldgrave United Kingdom 1914–1924
The Rt. Hon. The Baroness Parmoor United Kingdom 1924–1928
The Hon. Mrs. Montague Weldgrave United Kingdom 1928–1930
Miss C. M. Van Asch Van Wijck Netherlands 1930–1938
Miss Ruth Rouse United Kingdom 1938–1946
Miss C. M. Van Asch Van Wijck Netherlands 1946–1947
Miss Lilace Reid Barnes USA 1947–1955
The Hon. Isabel Catto United Kingdom 1955–1963
Dr. Una B. Porter Australia 1963–1967
Mrs. Athena Athanassiou Greece 1967–1975
Dame Nita Barrow Barbados 1975–1983
Mrs. Ann Northcote Canada 1983–1987
Dr. Jewel Graham USA 1987–1991
Mrs. Razia Ismail Abbasi India 1991–1995
Mrs. Anita Andersson Sweden 1995–1999
Ms. Jane Lee Wolfe USA 1999–2003
Ms Mónica Zetzsche Argentina 2003–2007
Susan Brenan Australia 2007-
Past General Secretaries
Name Country Year
Miss Annie Reynolds USA 1894–1904
Miss Clarissa Spencer USA 1904–1920
Miss Charlotte T. Niven USA 1920–1935
Miss Ruth Woodsmall USA 1935–1947
Miss Helen Roberts United Kingdom 1947–1955
Miss Elizabeth Palmer USA 1955–1978
Miss Erica Brodie New Zealand 1978–1982
Mrs. Ruth Sovik USA 1982–1985
Miss Ellen Clark (acting) USA 1985–1986
Mrs. Genevieve Jacques (acting) France 1986–1987
Mrs. Elaine Hesse Steel New Zealand 1987–1997
Dr. Musimbi Kanyoro Kenya 1998–2007
Mrs. Nyaradzai Gumbonzvanda Zimbabwe 2007–
-Mrs. Sussie Amala Metu                                                                                                   - Nigeria


  1. ^ "Relief Society Building". LDS Church. Retrieved 12 September 2009. 
  2. ^ "History of the YWCA USA". YWCA. Retrieved 12 September 2009. 
  3. ^ World YWCA | World YWCA | About us | Our History
  4. ^ Anna Rice, A History of the World’s Young Women’s Christian Association (New York: Woman’s Press 1947)
  5. ^ a b Carole Seymour-Jones, Journey of Faith: The History of the World YWCA 1945-1994 (London: Allison & Busby 1994)
  6. ^ Dorothea Browder, A Christian Solution of the Labor Situation: How Workingwomen Reshaped the YWCA's Religious Mission and Politics (Journal of Women’s History, Vol 19, Summer 2007)
  7. ^ a b Karen Garner, Global Feminism and Postwar Reconstruction: The World YWCA Visitation to Occupied Japan, 1947 (Journal of World History, Vol. 15, June 2004)
  8. ^ A full list of YWCA around the world.
  9. ^|title=About Platform 51 |accessdate=2011-02-03
  10. ^
  11. ^ "Change of name, passion the same". Retrieved 2012-06-06. 
  12. ^ "Taking part". Platform 51. Retrieved 2012-06-06. 
  13. ^ "Platform 51 - Women's centres". Retrieved 2012-06-06. 
  14. ^ "YWCA - More than one rung campaign - young women need skills". Retrieved 2012-06-06. 
  15. ^ "Platform 51 - Young mums". Retrieved 2012-06-06. 
  16. ^
  17. ^ YWCA Australia
  18. ^ R. G. Tiedemann, Reference Guide to Christian Missionary Societies in China from the Sixteenth to the Twentieth Century. (Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 2008), p. 293
  19. ^ Karen Garner. Precious Fire: Maud Russell and the Chinese Revolution. (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2003). ISBN 1558494049.
  20. ^ Emil Honig, "Christianity, Feminism, and Communism," in Daniel H. Bays. Christianity in China from the Eighteenth Century to the Present. (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1996. ISBN 0804726094), pp. 243-262.
  21. ^ YWCA of China Continues to Meet the Social Needs of its People World YWCA May 2010.
  22. ^ Lester, Paul Martin. Visual Communication. California, Thomson Wadsworth, 2006
  23. ^ World YWCA | World YWCA | About us | Strategic directions
  24. ^ PRNewswire (21 November 2005). Statement of Dr. Musimbi Kanyoro, General Secretary, World YWCA. Press release. Retrieved on 3 August 2006
  25. ^ Microsoft Word - 11_22_05 YMCA Partner-2_r.doc
  26. ^ International Women's Summit: Women's Leadership on HIV and AIDS - Day 2 -
  27. ^ World YWCA Annual Report, 1987-88. (Geneva: World YWCA 1988)
  28. ^ World YWCA | World YWCA | Our Priorities | Sustainable development | Development Programmes
  29. ^ Welcome to YWCA Canada
  30. ^ Margaret Martin, "Susybelle W. Lyons funeral will be held today", The Shreveport Times, August 4, 2007
  31. ^ World YWCA | World Council & IWS | IWS - Women’s Summit


  • Mary S. Sims, The YWCA: An Unfolding Purpose (New York: Woman's Press, 1950)
  • Mary S. Sims, The Purpose Widens, 1947-1967 (New York: YWCA, 1969)
  • Anna Rice, A History of the World’s Young Women’s Christian Association (New York: Woman’s Press 1947)
  • Karen Garner, Global Feminism and Postwar Reconstruction: The World YWCA Visitation to Occupied Japan, 1947
  • Carole Seymour-Jones, Journey of Faith: The History of the World YWCA 1945-1994 (London: Allison & Busby 1994)
  • Dorothea Browder, A Christian Solution of the Labor Situation: How Workingwomen Reshaped the YWCA's Religious Mission and Politics (Journal of Women’s History, Vol 19, Summer 2007)
  • List of other YWCA articles

External links


  • Young Women's Christian Association (University of Washington) Records. 1903-1982. 50.6 cubic feet. At the Labor Archives of Washington, University of Washington Libraries Special Collections.
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