Posted by: atho46 | February 23, 2012

51st CEDAW Session in Geneva

So week two is well underway and I’ve managed to cobble together some time to blog and update you on the whirlwind 51st CEDAW Session.

Last week Congo, Grenada, Brazil and Norway State parties reported and this week, Zimbabwe, Algeria and Jordan are reporting.

The first day last week was very exciting, walking up to the entrance gate with the big UN sign and emblem, getting our individual UN nametags and then passing a wandering peacock on our way to exploring the huge, empty buildings. But greeting an exotic bird at the entrance in – 5 degrees was just the beginning to a bizarre, rollercoaster week and a half I have experienced.

The first morning was about slowly becoming less confused, working out how the translation system worked, which person in the cavernous room was who, who was more important than who and most important of all – what were they actually talking about?

Within the first few hours, my simple task of documenting everything suddenly exposed itself to me in its true, horrid glory as I realised I had to decipher the UN dialect of diplomacy very quickly otherwise I would waste my time recording their repetitive niceties and fail to notice the quietly controversial seeds the CEDAW Committee members planted in long monologues.

For example, Congo reported after our first exciting day of brilliant oral statements by the NGOs and without having had that day to settle in and learn who was who, I wouldn’t have quite understood how and why the CEDAW Committee members from Africa were able to really butter up the Congolese State delegation with congratulations on their achievements, before launching into imposing questions on State adherence to CEDAW. They were able to do it in a way some of the other CEDAW Committee members didn’t even attempt.

The oral statements of the NGO participants, on the first Monday were great. After all the work over the weekend, they gave their 10 minute formal oral statement about issues in their country and the CEDAW Committee members asked questions. It was a very formal setting with very little time to answer questions properly but it is a valuable opportunity to raise issues, which can be clarified and fleshed out later and our participants were glowing afterwards.

Over the next few days our participants worked hard holding lunch briefings with the CEDAW Committee, putting together information and recommendations to lobby them with and observing their State under review.

Each country review session was very different to the next, the Congo session was difficult because of lack of data, however the state delegation was very positive and interacted well with the CEDAW Committee.

Grenada was interesting but unfortunate, because only one ambassador from Brussels attended to answer questions and it was very obvious he could not speak for women’s issues, given he lives in Europe and is an economist! However our NGO participants were very happy with the outcome of their lobbying and the questions, which the CEDAW Committee posed, raising issues important to their work in Grenada. These included the status of the bill for sexual harassment, increasing sexualisation and exploitation of women and girls and women’s employment opportunities.

The Brazilian session was really thrilling because of the controversial nature of the issues that our NGO participants had been lobbying for the CEDAW Committee members to address.

The Norway session was absolutely fascinating because they really do have amazing policies and it was so valuable to hear the congratulations and criticism that the CEDAW committee had for one of the countries that has the best gender equality index in the world.

To better understand the situation of our NGO participants I will outline their main goals with an example.

Abortion has been a hot topic with all countries – the government of Brazil had not been prepared prior to the CEDAW session to recognise the problems of a new Bill concerning the status of unborn children. Our participants had explained how their concerns were ignored or demonised in their country and were terribly worried about the impact the Bill would have on women’s reproductive rights. Basically the law established rights of an unborn foetus and criminalised abortion.

It was just brilliant when an extremely articulate CEDAW Committee member from Switzerland took the floor and launched into a fierce reproach of the state of Brazil for creating this Bill that could be so negative for women’s reproductive rights in Brazil, she said it ‘reduces women to a passive role and mere vessel to bare children’!!

Our Brazilian participants were turning around in their seats amongst us punching the air – in a subtle manner of course – with huge grins and a sense of brilliant satisfaction at genuinely being heard and being able to be part of the process.

The importance of a question like that is through the fact that the reply of the State goes on the international record, and they are judged and held accountable in an international forum for their answers.

Moments like that have really been highlights of the process so far and I hope to remember them as a manifestation of real, substantive advocacy on women’s human rights.

The last couple of days with Zimbabwe and Algeria reporting really have been fascinating but also dramatic and even demoralising sessions and I think I will leave those stories until next week!


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