Posted by: sallyharris11 | February 27, 2014

From Global to Local

I arrived back to Kuala Lumpur from Geneva late last night. Wow, what a trip! It was chaotic, fun and an incredible learning experience.

My colleagues and I arrived in Geneva a week before the formal opening of the 57th CEDAW session. We spent the first few days running around the city going to the offices of WILPF, the OHCHR and other partner organisations.

Then on Friday our first week of ‘From Global to Local’ (G2L) training began. The goal of G2L is to equip national NGOs with the knowledge and skills they need to be heard by the CEDAW committee. Over three days our participants from Bahrain, Cameroon, Kazakhstan and Qatar learned how to draft oral statements and how to deliver lunch briefings. My role in the G2L program was to document everything that happened so that each subsequent program can be further fine-tuned to create the best experience possible for our participants.

On Monday morning my colleagues and our participants arrived bright and early at the Palais des Nations, full of optimism. It was then that I had my first experience with the wonder that is the UN administration. It took us 3.5 hours to get security passes to enter the building as the UN had recently changed their registration system. But this waiting around wasn’t enough to dampen our spirits. We were at the UN!

In the afternoon our participants got to present their oral statements to the committee in the formal hall. NGOs from each country are allocated a total of 10 minutes for all speakers so statements have to be brief and precise. They need to clearly outline what the NGO believes are the main issues that women face in their country. Our participants were all fantastic and absolutely thrilled that they got to speak out in a formal setting and seek accountability from their state.

The rest of the week was spent at state reviews. Each state review takes a whole day as the state is questioned on the status of women’s rights in all areas. I found some aspects of the state reviews quite frustrating. Before any committee member asks the state a question they have to go through a long statement about how thankful they are to the state for coming to the review. This may sound minor but when there are 23 committee members it seems like this is all you hear for the whole week! Additionally it was frustrating to see some states either refuse to answer questions or flat out lie about certain issues. However, some states seemed to make a real effort to answer questions truthfully and accept that in certain areas they need to make changes, which was great to see.

The actual content of the state reviews was fascinating. Topics that came up included witchcraft, organ trafficking, breast ironing, female genital mutilation, polygamy and the rape of young girls to cure HIV. A dominant theme among all the states was violence against women. It was terrible to see that this persists in countries in all regions of the world and that the same excuses are given. Another issue that seemed to pop up in a few state reviews was laws that allow a rapist to avoid punishment if he marries his victim. This was the first time I had heard about such laws and I was absolutely shocked. It means the woman is not just victimized once, but every single day for the rest of her life.

On Friday we said goodbye to our participants from the first week and greeted our new ones from Iraq and Finland. The whole process was then repeated.

Overall I thought the G2L program was fantastic. Seeing the optimism and adrenaline running through our participants after their states were held to account was incredible. I also loved being in Geneva. The city has a real appreciation for good chocolate, cheese and wine and I was more than happy to be a taste tester! I was also lucky enough to have a few days off where I was able to visit CERN, the Museum of the International Red Cross, Mt Blanc and the Nestle Chocolate Factory. FYI if you’re heading to Geneva the chocolate factory offers all you can eat chocolate samples…

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