Posted by: sallyharris11 | October 30, 2014

International Women’s Rights Action Watch Asia Pacific Internship Report – Sally Harris

Having been home for two months now, I am starting to realize how much I truly learned during my internship at IWRAW-AP. This semester I’m studying several international law based subjects and it has been incredible to sit in class and hear lecturers discuss topics such as the United Nations and think ‘wow I’ve been there and seen this in action!’

The goal of IWRAW-AP is to achieve full human rights for women, particularly those in the Global South. The main tool that IWRAW-AP uses to do this is the CEDAW convention. CEDAW is used because it allows women to monitor and facilitate the implementation of the convention domestically and utilize it to advance their interests. Women also get the chance to sit before an international committee and demand change from their governments.

The staff at IWRAW-AP are passionate about the work they do advocating for women’s rights and from day one of my internship they were more than happy to take the time to share their knowledge with me. Though I had some knowledge of women’s rights before I left Australia, the depth of knowledge the staff provided me with was second to none. I was lucky enough to be provided with a full history of the struggle for women’s rights by Shanti Dairam, a former CEDAW committee member and Executive Director of IWRAW-AP.  She explained that even though the struggle for women’s rights is at different stages throughout the world, CEDAW can still be used by every woman to demand change. For instance, for some countries at the CEDAW session I attended reproductive rights meant access to legal abortions. For other countries it was as fundamental as having access to a trained midwife for births.  That women in both of these situations can advocate for change using article 12 of the convention shows just how powerful this international instrument really is.

My time at the United Nations Office in Geneva was also a real learning experience. Certainly some aspects of the state reviews were frustrating- the slow pace and the flat out lies told by some states are just some examples. However on the whole I found the experience to be a positive way to create change for women around the world. The women’s rights activists who attended our training and had the chance to speak directly to the CEDAW committee were very happy with the experience. They believed the system gave them a change to be heard and have attention drawn to their issues. It also provided these activists with clear direction for the future as states often make promises at the sessions.

On a personal level, getting to hang out at the United Nations for three weeks was just awesome. I was lucky enough to have dinner with CEDAW committee members, chat with the OHCHR staff who wrote the recent report on human rights abuses in North Korea, and meet inspiring people from across the globe. Being able to see international human rights law in action is not an experience many law students have access to. For this reason I am so grateful to IWRAW-AP for allowing interns to be involved in the process, not only as a spectator, but as a member of their team. I’d like to also thank the Castan Centre for organizing the internships, running essential pre-internship training, and also providing funding.


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