Posted by: atho46 | April 30, 2012

Final Report: International Women’s Rights Action Watch – Asia-Pacific

International Women’s Rights Action Watch – Asia-Pacific: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Report by Amanda Thompson

As the only intern in the small but lively, office of thirteen staff at International Women’s Rights Action Watch – Asia-Pacific in Kuala Lumpur, I was warmly welcomed and able to build great rapport with my colleagues. I learnt very quickly about the importance Malaysians place on food and I came to look forward to our lunchtime tours of Malaysian cuisine, which, as anyone who’s been there will know, is amazing!

The work I undertook at the office was varied but mainly centered around preparations for the 51st review session for the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which took place in February 2012 in Geneva, Switzerland. Three times a year, the UN expert committee tasked with monitoring state party compliance with CEDAW meets and reviews whether different State parties have been properly implementing the treaty. IWRAW-AP was founded in response to this process to ensure that women in the countries being reviewed, rather than just the State party representatives, could participate at the international level and provide evidence on what it is really like for women in their country.

I arrived in KL in early January 2012, and worked on summarising State party, NGO and CEDAW reports. Zimbabwe, Algeria, Jordan, Norway, Brazil, Congo and Grenada were the countries being reviewed. It was extremely interesting reading the reports about the experiences of women in each country, especially when the State would say one thing and the local NGO something entirely different. I found myself zooming in and out on Google maps and trawling through history pages on Wikipedia – there was so much to learn and so little time!

In early February we flew over to Geneva to start the Global to Local training program. Not only does IWRAW-AP bring local women activists and NGO representatives to Geneva so they can have their say about their country, but they provide intensive training before the session starts. Even if an activist is familiar with the UN, the training is an invaluable opportunity for them to learn in detail how the CEDAW expert committee functions, who is who and how to prepare tools and carry out effective lobbying.

Observing the CEDAW session and having a chance to participate in the machinery of the UN was just amazing. Basically, the CEDAW expert committee questions each State party about women’s human rights, but it depends on whether the experts ask good questions as to whether the truth about the status of women comes out. After having spent so much time reading through all the reports and listening to frustrating stories of discrimination from the activists, I found myself fully swept up in the process. When the State parties were questioned, I was gasping with dismay and giggling with disbelief at their answers, passing snacks surreptitiously under the tables (you’re not aloud to eat inside the room!) and sharing in wide grins and silent high fives with the activists to celebrate spot on questions. I really value the opportunity I had to get to know the local activists, especially learning about how they each fight for gender equality and maintain their passion in the face of such blatant disregard by the State.

To be honest, I did not know what to expect from the UN. Generally, I hoped I wouldn’t be disappointed, but I was cynical as to whether anything world changing could be achieved in the space of a two-week session. Surprisingly though, I realised that, problematic as they are, the CEDAW sessions really do have the capacity to trigger change, however incremental, in the State parties that are reviewed. By publicly questioning certain policies and conduct by the State, the CEDAW committee is enforcing international mechanisms of accountability and it is an incredibly empowering process for the local activists to have their concerns recognised and validated at the international level.

While the session in Geneva was an unforgettable experience, living in Malaysia, making friends and getting to know my colleagues at IWRAW-AP was a real blast too. I did not know what I would need to wear or how I would be expected to behave in a Muslim country, but I easily settled in and was soon looking forward to hearing the call to prayer to break up my day, sweltering in the blissful heat and trying all the new food. The highlight was definitely working with my inspirational colleagues at IWRAW-AP. It was so empowering to feel a part of such an important organisation that fundamentally shared my feminist views, but it was really the relationships I built at the office, the laughs, the stress and the achievements that defined the experience for me.

My experience at IWRAW-AP has definitely broadened my appreciation of gender development, policy and international diplomacy and I feel much more confident pursuing a career in these areas now. I would like to thank the Castan Centre for enabling the internship and I hope that the partnership with IWRAW-AP continues so that many other students are able to contribute to their important work.


  1. […] Final Report: International Women’s Rights Action Watch – Asia-Pacific( […]

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