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Young Women's Christian Association
YWCA Logo.svg
Founded1855; 166 years ago (1855)
FounderMary Jane Kinnaird
Emma Robarts
Founded atLondon, United Kingdom
HeadquartersGeneva, Switzerland

www.ywca.org (US)

www.ywcaindia.org (India)

The Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA) is a movement working for the empowerment, leadership and rights of women, young women and girls in more than 100 countries. The members and supporters include women from many different faiths, ages, backgrounds, beliefs and cultures. Their common goal is that

[B]y 2035, 100 million young women and girls will transform power structures to create justice, gender equality and a world without violence and war; leading a sustainable YWCA movement, inclusive of all women.[1]

The World office is currently based in Geneva, Switzerland.

The YWCA is independent of the YMCA, but a few local YMCA and YWCA associations have merged into YM/YWCAs or YMCA-YWCAs and belong to both organizations, while providing the programmes of each.


Although "YWCA" is often associated with hostels and fitness centres, the World YWCA is a human rights-based organization that provides support and opportunities for women, young women, and girls to connect, mobilize, and inspire each other to take action for women’s rights and gender equality. The World YWCA’s constitution states that its purpose is "to develop the leadership and collective power of women and girls around the world to achieve justice, peace, health, human dignity, freedom and a sustainable environment for all people.”

Adopted by the World YWCA in 2015, this Goal 2035 reflects the movement’s approach to leadership, foundational beliefs, and commitment to the future. This is directly supported by the World YWCA’s key priorities today:


As a global movement that engages with and mobilizes women, young women, and girls, the World YWCA is committed to progressive, community-based leadership, particularly through programming that is led by and for young women. In all its work, the World YWCA takes a collaborative, intergenerational approach that centers young women’s leadership and provides them with resources to build transformative leadership skills and become advocates and change-makers in their own lives and that of others.

Human Rights and Women Rights[edit]

The World YWCA’s work hinges on a commitment to human rights-based, feminist, faith and intersectional leadership that is inclusive, grounded in local communities, and grassroots-driven. The global YWCA movement has long emphasized a gender and human rights approach, and tackled issues in support of gender equality and human rights through a range of programming, advocacy, and services, and this work continues to this day.

The YWCAs work to secure access to sexual and reproductive health and rights through comprehensive sexuality education and programming, safe spaces, health services, & training.

The YWCA is involved in the fight to address and end violence against women and girls, which is the world’s largest human rights violation. YWCAs provide support to victim survivors and at risk individuals through crisis, health, housing, and legal services, safe spaces, and advocacy.

The YWCA has provided safe spaces to women and girls since its founding in 1855, and this work continues to this day, both in person and virtually. Such safe spaces are a safe environment that encourages all people present to share experiences, opinions, and views without fear or threat of any harm.


Founded by women from Christian traditions and inspired by core principles of faith that recognize the equal value of all human beings, the YWCA has a powerful faith-based, grassroots history. There is a wide range of YWCA associations: some are ecumenical, while others are entirely secular organizations. The World YWCA works with a range of multi-faith leaders and ecumenical partners, secular organizations, governments.

Peace and Justice[edit]

The World YWCA maintains that not only are women, young women, and girls profoundly, negatively impacted by war and conflict, but their leadership is essential to promoting non-violence and achieving a world with lasting peace and justice.

Sustainable Development[edit]

The World YWCA’s work supports the UN’s 2030 Agenda and Sustainable Development Goals.


YWCA Week Without Violence[edit]

Each year during the third week in October, YWCAs worldwide focus on raising awareness to end violence against women, young women, and girls. YWCA’s Week Without Violence was launched in 1995 and has grown from a grassroots initiative into a global movement with events in over 20 countries.

YWCA Week of Prayer[edit]

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[edit]

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.

Governance Structure[edit]

The World Board is the governing body of the World YWCA, and includes representatives from all regions of the global YWCA movement. The World Council is the legislative authority and governing body of the World YWCA. The 20 women who serve on the World Board are elected during the World Council, which meets every four years to make decisions that impact the entire movement. This includes the World YWCA’s policy, constitution, strategic direction, and budgets. The Council includes representatives from the 100+ member associations that are affiliated with the global YWCA movement.

  • Royal Holloway College, England - 1955
  • Cuernavaca, Mexico - 1959
  • Nyborg Strand, Denmark - 1963
  • Melbourne, Australia - 1967
  • Accra, Ghana - 1971
  • Vancouver, Canada - 1975
  • Athens, Greece - 1979
  • Singapore, Singapore - 1983
  • Phoenix, Arizona USA - 1987
  • Stavanger, Norway - 1991
  • Seoul, Korea - 1995
  • Cairo, Egypt - 1999
  • Brisbane, Australia - 2003
  • Nairobi, Kenya - 2007
  • Zurich, Switzerland - 2011
  • Bangkok, Thailand - 2015
  • Johannesburg, South Afric a- 2019

The most recent World YWCA Council occurred in Johannesburg, South Africa on the theme "Young women transforming power structures for gender equality". It was hosted by the YWCA of South Africa on 17–22 November 2019. There was representation from 71 countries with 256 delegates, and hundreds of observers and special guests, including sponsor and partner representatives.

The location for next World Council has not been finalised yet.


The YWCA can trace its history back to 1855 when the philanthropist Lady Mary Jane Kinnaird founded the North London Home for nurses travelling to or from the Crimean War.[2] They addressed the needs of single women arriving from rural areas to join the industrial workforce in London, by offering housing, education and support with a "warm Christian atmosphere". Kinnaird's organisation merged with the Prayer Union started by evangelist Emma Robarts in 1877.[2]

In 1884 the YWCA was restructured. Until then, London had had almost a separate organisation, but there was now one YWCA organisation. Beneath this there were separate staffs and Presidents for London, England and Wales, Scotland, Ireland, "Foreign" and Colonial and Missionary. This organisation distributed Christian texts and literature, but it also interviewed young women in an effort to improve living conditions. In 1884 they were working amongst Scottish fisherwomen, publishing their own magazine and operating a ladies' restaurant in London.[2] This work was launched at a time when women were said to kidnapped into prostitution (White Slavery). In 1886 the British government raised the age of consent from 13 to 16.[3]

The World YWCA was founded in 1894, with USA, Great Britain, Norway and Sweden as its founding mothers.

A YWCA poster from 1919

The first world conference of the YWCA was held in 1898 in London, with 326 participants from 77 countries[4] 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. The YWCA motto: "Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord Almighty" (Zechariah, 4.6).

Early 20th Century[edit]

In the beginning of the 20th century, a profound shift began 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."[5] Thus the social conscience of the YWCA was born in 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 symbolic of the drive to become a more diverse association, and also to co-operate fully with other organizations in Geneva (such as the International Committee of the Red Cross and the YMCA).[citation needed]

World War II[edit]

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.[6]

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.[6] 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[edit]

As a global movement that engages women, young women, and girls from across backgrounds, beliefs and cultures, YWCA has a presence in over 100 countries across eight regions, with over 130,000 volunteer leaders in thousands of local communities across the globe.[7]

Around the world, YWCAs vary in size and programming. Many YWCAs operate as independent entities at the local level, and belong to their country’s national YWCA body as part of a federated, membership-based model. The YWCA movement is grounded in local communities, with programs led by and for women in response to the unique needs that they see in their communities.

At a larger scale, national YWCAs are member associations of the World YWCA, uniting all YWCAs in a global movement working towards shared goals for the rights, leadership, and empowerment of women, young women, and girls. This facilitates strategic collaboration between YWCAs around the world, as well as with a wide network of organizational and individual partners and allies.

These eight regions are: Europe, Middle East, Africa, Asia, Pacific, North America, Caribbean, and Latin America.


YWCAs have a presence in 27 countries in Europe. The European YWCA includes national YWCAs in Belarus, Denmark, Great Britain, Norway, Romania, and more. The European YWCA is a regional legally registered body, serving as an umbrella organization for the national YWCAs around the European continent.

Middle East[edit]

The YWCAs of the Middle East region are in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, and Palestine.


There are over 20 national YWCAs serving communities across the Africa region. YWCAs of Africa include YWCA of Burkina Faso, YWCA Malawi, YWCA South Africa, and YWCA Togo.


YWCA has a presence in a number of countries in Asia, including YWCA of Bangladesh, YWCA of China, YWCA India, YWCA Korea, YWCA of Nepal, YWCA of Taiwan, and YWCA of Thailand. Sophia Cooke established of the Young Women's Christian Association in Singapore[8] in 1875.


National YWCAs in the Pacific region include YWCA Aotearoa New Zealand, YWCA Australia, YWCA of Papua New Guinea, YWCA of Solomon Islands, and YWCA of Samoa. YWCA Australia dates back to 1880, when the first YWCA in the country was established in Sydney to help migrant women.

North America[edit]

In North America, YWCA has a presence in the United States and Canada. YWCA USA was founded in 1858 and today has over 200 member associations, serving over 2 million women, girls, and their families.[35] YWCA USA is one of the largest provider of domestic violence programs and shelters in the United States. YWCA Canada dates back to 1870. Today, YWCA Canada has over 30 member associations, serving 1 million women, girls, and their families.


National YWCAs in the Caribbean region include YWCA Barbados, YWCA Grenada, YWCA Haiti, and YWCA Trinidad & Tobago.

Latin America[edit]

YWCAs of Latina America include YWCA Argentina, YWCA Belize, YWCA Brazil, YWCA of Chile, YWCA Colombia, and YWCA Honduras.

Leadership since 1855[edit]

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 Freeman 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 2007-2011
Deborah Thomas-Austin Trinidad and Tobago 2011–2019
Mira Rizeq Palestine 2019 – present
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 2007–2016
Ms. Malayah Harper Canada 2016–2019
Mrs. Casey Harden USA 2019 – present


As a movement that values collaboration and centers young women's leadership, the World YWCA is involved and is a part of the Big Six Alliance of Youth Organisations (World Alliance of Young Men’s Christian Associations, World Young Women’s Christian Association, World Organization of the Scout Movement, World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and The Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award Foundation). It is also a member of Accountable Now, ACT Alliance, and has consultative status with ECOSOC of the United Nations. World YWCA works in partnership with a number of ecumenical players (World Council of Churches, Lutheran World Federation, etc.) and a number of international institutional and government donors.


  • 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



  1. ^ "Envisioning 2035 Goal – YWCA". www.worldywca.org. Retrieved 6 July 2016.
  2. ^ a b c "Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA)". mrc-catalogue.warwick.ac.uk. Retrieved 30 May 2017.
  3. ^ David Doughan; Peter Gordon (24 January 2007). Women, Clubs and Associations in Britain. Routledge. pp. 87–88. ISBN 978-1-134-20437-3.
  4. ^ Carole Seymour-Jones, Journey of Faith: The History of the World YWCA 1945-1994 (London: Allison & Busby 1994)
  5. ^ 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)
  6. ^ 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)
  7. ^ "Members Page". World YWCA. Retrieved 17 February 2021.
  8. ^ Lee, Gracie. "Sophia Cooke". Singapore Infopedia. National Library Board, Singapore. Retrieved 5 May 2019.
  9. ^ "Finding aid to Young Women's Christian Association of Canada fonds at Library and Archives Canada" (PDF).
  10. ^ "Fonds description of the Young Women's Christian Association of Canada fonds".

External links[edit]