New Internationalist

Getting their hands wet

September 1980

N.I. Issue No. 45: November 1976

The National General Secretary of the Australian YWCA, Wendy Rose, recently admitted that ‘The ‘Y’ is now involved with political action.’ For years the ‘Y’ - whether the Young Women’s or Young Men’s variety - could have vied for the title of the quietest dogooder amongst the national charities. The turnabout has come with the realisation that all charity work is political, treating either the effects of social injustice or attempting to tackle the causes.

Events of the past couple of years - the jailing of Joyce Seroke, YWCA’s National General Secretary in South Africa, and the killing of YWCA staff in Seoul - have shaken the thinking of Australian YWCA members. Some were amongst the 80 countries represented last September at the World YWCA Council meeting in Athens. Here they heard recommendations for the boycott of South African goods and business organisations. In June this year the national board gave its official blessing to that recommendation.

‘In Australia,’ Ms Rose explained ‘we campaign for the right to professional status of women jetliner pilots, while in South Africa women have to fight for the right to be considered human beings if they are not fortunate enough to be born white. So the Y has become involved in political action by boycotting South African goods.’ Specifically the appeal is to members not to buy products marketed under the ‘Holiday’ brand, John West pilchards, Shell and BP products, Rothmans products, and not to deal with any agency involved with promoting South African tourism.

It’s clear there is a feeling in the Australian YWCA that it has not been as actively involved in political issues as its counterparts in more troubled areas of the world. ‘Now,’ says Ms Rose, ‘we are slowly becoming sensitised to the needs of our sisters … For us the Zulu saying “if you wipe the tears from someone’s face you are bound to get your own hands wet” is beginning to mean something.’

This column was published in the September 1980 issue of New Internationalist. To read more, buy this issue or subscribe.

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