Posted by: atho46 | February 12, 2012

Greetings from Geneva

By Amanda Thompson, Global Intern at International Women’s Rights Action Plan – Asia Pacific, Kuala Lumpur & Geneva

We have been here working and training for about a week now before the CEDAW session starts on this Monday (13th February) and the first thing I want to say is that it is bitterly, bitterly cold! I flew here from Amsterdam where I was caught in a snow blizzard, but the -10 degrees feels colder here because of the ridiculous, icy wind.

When my colleagues and I from IWRAW-AP arrived on Tuesday we launched straight into a program of meetings at NGOs and UN offices all over the city. Attending the meetings was all the more interesting for me, because of the surroundings we travelled through on the tram and bus! At one stage we went from the head international office for the YWCA to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights where the CEDAW secretariat resides and passed buildings for UNICEF and the International Labour Organisation on the way. As a student who has trawled through numerous documents from all of these organisations for research, I couldn’t help but get excited about being right where all of these important international bodies work.

In between the travels this week, we welcomed the NGO participants from Brazil, Congo, Norway, Algeria and Grenada. We are all staying at the same small hotel, which means breakfast has become a multilingual feast of exclamations and introductions as everyone gets to know one another and explains how to say ‘good morning’ in their respective languages.

On Friday our 3-day training program for the CEDAW review began and it has been really enjoyable. The training is designed to strengthen the understanding the participants have of CEDAW, the country review sessions and the UN system and then build their lobbying skills and techniques for the session.

The whole training is focused on facilitation, so that rather than explaining what the NGO participants should do and what they should say about problems in their country, IWRAW-AP recognises that the participants are the best people to explain the issues for women’s human rights in their home and constantly ensures that participants make their own decisions about content and lobbying, rather than putting words in their mouths. That is the outstanding point about this training and IWRAW-AP generally, which I think will become more evident next week when we meet other international NGOs. Of course these other NGOs do great, important work, but as is becoming clearer to me here, they often purport to speak for locals rather than making them part of the process. For example, there have been instances in which an international NGO has written a report for a State party to submit about themselves to a treaty body with good information through consultations, but that State, the government and civil society, has no ownership, because the report has not been planned, researched or written by them.

At the training this afternoon there was such a buzz. Amongst the participants there is suspense, excitement, hope and great determination to do a good job and represent their organisations well. It was so great to listen to them practising this afternoon. Even though I don’t understand much French and even less Spanish I was still drawn in by the gravity and passion evident in their delivery and gestures.

It is now Sunday evening and the participants who are presenting in front of the CEDAW Committee tomorrow are hard at work practising their presentations and listening to feedback from my colleagues. I am so excited about starting the first week of the session tomorrow, even though we have to be there at 8am (so early in the cold!) and given all the tasks I have set for me, I don’t think I will have much time to eat this week! Basically, I have to document everything that happens so that we have a record of all the questions the CEDAW committee members have asked and can analyse their interests for lobbying purposes.

So until next week and round two of the session!


  1. I’m so glad you got to make it to Geneva. I think IWRAW’s training program is fantastic and, as you say, a great model for ensuring that the local women say what they want to say in their own words.

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