Young Women's Christian Association of New Zealand (Inc.)
The Young Women's Christian Association, an international, interdenominational fellowship of women and girls, functions in over 70 countries, with membership open to women of all races, creeds, and colours. The YWCA of New Zealand is in full affiliation with the parent body, the World YWCA, which has its headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland.
The YWCA was founded in Great Britain in 1855 and rapidly spread to other countries. The first association in the Southern Hemisphere was opened in Dunedin in 1878. Other associations were developed and in 1907 they joined with YWCAs in Australia to form the YWCA of Australasia. This affiliation lasted until 1926 when it was decided to form two separate, fully autonomous national associations, each with its own affiliation to the World YWCA.
The YWCA is an educational and character-building organisation designed to adapt its programme to meet the particular needs of any given group. Broadly speaking, its programme offers physical, social, mental, and spiritual education to the women and girls of the country, and this is done in a variety of ways and places. The YWCA of New Zealand has a membership of over 5,000 women and girls, and in addition it serves countless hundreds who pass through the hostels, attend classes, or make use of the various facilities of the association. An occupational analysis shows that the membership is made up of schoolgirls, of students, workers in industrial, clerical, trade, and professional fields, and of home makers.
Each YWCA in a local centre enjoys autonomy in the control of its own affairs and has its own constitution and board of directors. By means of committees of the board, and of groups which direct their own programme, opportunity is offered at different levels for practical experience in democratic procedure, and for the development of members' latent powers of leadership. The local associations of Whangarei, Auckland, Hamilton, Rotorua, New Plymouth, Wanganui, Palmerston North, Wellington, Hutt Valley, Christchurch, Timaru, Dunedin, and Gore together form the national body – the YWCA of New Zealand. The governing body of the national movement is the National Board consisting of representatives of each local association together with a Headquarters executive and staff who administer the work between meetings of quadrennial conventions of the movement. The national headquarters of the association are situated in Wellington.
Throughout the years the YWCA has planned its programme to meet changing needs. This adaptability was most clearly demonstrated during the war periods when the association devoted much of its work to the needs of women engaged in various spheres of war work. One particular contribution was the accommodating of girls and women in hostels in various parts of the country. The YWCA has been running hostels for girls since its inception, and today this is still an integral part of the programme.
Most associations in New Zealand have residential clubs (as they are now called), offering a Christian home to young women needing to work away from their home centres. While accommodation is offered to many groups, the association feels its first responsibility is towards the younger girls, particularly to those away from home for the first time. A new venture is the setting up of “Self-Service” residences which offer girls a measure of independence while still giving them the protective care and the discipline of a YWCA hostel. In these clubs the girls provide and cook their own meals, thereby learning something of such matters as housekeeping, budgeting, and hostessing.
In a number of instances local associations are extending their work into suburban and surrounding districts, thus offering women and girls club facilities in their own home area. One association is working with younger members in two Maori pas and with schoolgirls in a farming district 15 miles distant. New housing areas present another opening for YWCA Club work for girls and women in areas where there are few cultural and social amenities.
The YWCA's concern, as a Christian fellowship of women, is for the provision of opportunities for women and girls to grow into fullness of life. It seeks a Christian way of living, both as its goal and as its method of work.
by Eileen Higgs, National General Secretary, Young Women's Christian Association, Wellington.