EATON — YWCA Dayton held its first-ever Preble County Y-Dub Discussions on Wednesday, Oct. 16, at the Eaton Library. According to Preble County Manager Courtney Griffith, this community dialogue series event, held during YWCA USA’s Week Without Violence campaign, discussed the intersectional YWCA mission of eliminating racism and empowering women.
“While many individuals think of us primarily as an organization that provides direct services to survivors of gender-based violence, YWCA is actually a multi-issue social justice organization because we know that the lives of women and girls are complex and exist across many personal, cultural and political contexts,” Griffith said. “Broad and bold, the YW mission: YWCA Dayton is dedicated to eliminating racism, empowering women, and providing peace, justice, freedom, and dignity for all. [This] allows us to address these multivariate issues by recognizing that not all women or all people are treated equal.”
Griffith also shared historical information about the founding of YWCA and their growth and evolution over the years.
In 1855, the Young Women’s Christian Association began in London when two women’s groups (a prayer group and social activist group) joined together. The only link with the YMCA was the London women who started the group had husbands who were active in the YMCA, which had been founded a short time before.
“The women asked, ‘How can we elevate the women in our midst?’ And the YW was born,” Griffith said.
Early YWCA leaders focused on improving the lives of women by highlighting Christian social justice principals. Later on, YWCA would remove any religious affiliation they once had, to be inclusive to all.
The first American YWCA was founded in 1858. They sought to address what they determined to be women’s greatest needs by: establishing resident services, ensuring safe passage to and from work places, creating healthy opportunities for social activities, and advocating to improve working conditions in the mills, factories, and where young women held domestic jobs.
Griffith added, early YWCA services focused on young women who faced the choice of “starving or sinning.” They were provided with housing in well-regulated boarding houses and given moral and religious training. Women’s empowerment advocating and services rapidly grew over the next several years.
In 1889, the first YWCA black branch and leadership positions for women of color were established in Dayton.
“YWCA was an early pioneer in fighting obvious segregation practices, as well as exposing hidden patterns of discrimination in legislation, institutions, and systems. Many YWs were segregated in these early years due to State laws. As a result, two YWCA’s were founded in many towns and cities: one with African American membership and one with white membership,” Griffith said.
Grants and Advocacy Manager Sarah Wolf-Knight shared a timeline of services, programs, and mission with the crowd, showing how the YWCA has evolved over the many years they’ve been in operation.
“What all this has lead to is a movement of intersectionality in YWCA. Because of our mission, all of YWCA’s work is threaded through this lens of intersectionality. Which is defined as, ‘The interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage,’” she said.
“In other words, intersectional theory asserts that people are often disadvantaged by multiple sources of oppression. That can be their race, class, gender, sexual orientation, religion, and any other pieces of identity. Intersectionality recognizes that these identity markers, such as being a white woman or black woman, don’t exist independently of each other – you are not black separately from you are a woman. It creates complex conversions of disadvantage for people who hold multiple marginalized identities.”
Wolf-Knight further discussed YWCA’s mission, impact, framework, and theory of change, before she and Griffith opened the discussion to those in the audience. She asked those in attendance to talk about their own experiences with gender bias and racism and how they think situations could be improved in the future.
Reach Kelsey Kimbler at 937-683-4061 or on Twitter @KKimbler_RH