She’s indeed a world citizen

Anne Abayasekara meets Susan Brennan, the World YWCA’s youthful president

It’s exhilarating to talk with her, like having a fresh breeze ruffle your mind. A practising Barrister from Melbourne, Australia, 38-year-old Susan Brennan has seen, and helped to bring about, significant changes in the world-view of the Young Women’s Christian Association.

She told me that in 2003, at the World Council meeting held in Brisbane, Australia, and attended by about 1000 women from all parts of the globe, an Argentinian woman was elected as World President, the first Roman Catholic to hold that position.

Susan Brennan

Under her leadership, a task force was established to rewrite the Constitution of the World YWCA with a view to making it more inclusive of Y members of other faiths who formed a considerable portion of the membership.

Susan was very much involved in writing the new Constitution. While stating that the YWCA was founded on and was inspired by the Christian religion, it was recognized that the World Family had adherents of many different faiths and that nobody should be barred from membership or from holding office because of her faith.

This new draft constitution was brought to the World YWCA conference held in Nairobi, Kenya, in 2007 and was accepted. “A very momentous occasion for this part of the world where Buddhist and Hindu members of the Y couldn’t hold office,” Susan commented.

Susan congratulated our Y as being the first of any country to complete drafting a new constitution when it was presented and accepted at the Triennial AGM held on October 18.

It was in Nairobi last year that Susan herself was elected to the position of World President. Susan had just qualified as a lawyer and started working in a law firm in Melbourne when she joined the local YWCA at age 23. “I call myself one of the `Quota Girls’, she said with a smile, because the Australian National Y had then firmly resolved to have 55% of women under 30 on all its Boards and she was an early recruit.

Two years later she was elected to the Board of the National YWCA of Australia. “ It’s having young people that guarantees the future of the YWCA,” she said. Susan had found her work in a law firm in Melbourne “boring and soul-destroying”, so she went back to further law studies and qualified as a Barrister, which means that she is self-employed and is her own boss. “I can take leave when I want, to attend to YWCA duties, and the only loss pertains to my income!”

She works in the area of town-planning, environment, urban development and public transport. “The aim is to ensure we have sustainable cities,” she said.

Susan didn’t seem to mind the hectic schedule she had in Sri Lanka. She was at the public meeting on Friday, the 17th evening as Chief Guest; she was present the whole of Saturday at the session of the Triennial AGM; she left for Batticaloa with YWCA officers at 5 a.m. on Sunday to see for herself the work of the Batti YWCA; on Monday they came to the Kandy YWCA, returning to Colombo in the evening, and she had to be at Katunayake by 4 a.m. on Tuesday for her return flight to Melbourne. “I’ll sleep on the ‘plane”, she smilingly told me.

I asked Susan what she would say to any young women considering joining the YWCA and this was her reply: “Join the YWCA because it will open the world to you and give you opportunities no other organization will, to meet and learn from women the world over, and to serve as advocates and instruments of social change.”

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