Posted by: estellepetrie1 | February 10, 2016

Three weeks packed with women’s rights and street food

In these first thrilling weeks, the famous tastebud stimulation of Kuala Lumpur has run a close second to the intellectual food my host organisation has been providing.

Since arriving in Malaysia around three weeks ago, I have hardly had a chance to breathe. This is perhaps partly due to the humidity which can sometimes feel like breathing through a wet towel, but mostly it is because the day after I flew in I went straight to work at International Women’s Right Action Watch Asia Pacific (IWRAW, pronounced ‘eer-roar’). My main task has been to assist with the mammoth job of preparing for their Global to Local program (taking place in Geneva in two days’ time), but also squeezed in with this was a weeklong advisory committee meeting held to strategise IWRAW’s next three year plan.

My first day now feels like it was an age ago, reinforced by the fact I am writing this post from my little single bed hotel room in freezing Geneva (it snowed when I went running this morning!).


The wintry view from my hotel in Geneva


However, I do remember that the morning I started with IWRAW my new job nerves were slowly tempered as I learnt more of the specifics of their work and their approach to women’s rights. Walking past the shelves and shelves of international law, feminist and human rights materials in the resources area, and glancing at the newly arrived feminist human rights journals on display, I thought ‘this is really my kind of office’.

As a brief introduction, IWRAW Asia Pacific is an international NGO which was established in 1993. They use the UN Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) as a tool to promote respect for women’s rights; applying international human rights standards at a national level.

As well as contributing to the progressive interpretation and universalisation of CEDAW they also focus on capacity building and providing support for national non-government organisations or civil society organisations (CSOs, a new acronym I have seen everywhere since arriving). Their programmes range from research and resource development, to training for women’s rights advocates and logistic support.

That first week was full of new faces, new names and immersion into the 9-5 work of a women’s rights NGO. It was also a week of rich Indian, Malay and Chinese cuisine, of spices and tofu and other street foods (the ingredients of which I am not entirely sure about). The whole office was very welcoming, provided some excellent preliminary lunch tips, and were excited to hear I will be staying three months. I am excited to think I will be working with them for that long.

In my second week I headed to Penang with the KL office staff for IWRAW’s Advisory Committee meeting. The Board of the Directors and Advisory Committee members met us there, flying in from all over Asia, and the world. Some had been involved with IWRAW since the 90s and when I googled their names the night before leaving KL it was clear they had some real activist pedigree.

Clichéd, but I was pinching myself that I had the opportunity to sit in a room with them and absorb the feminist debate taking place around emerging issues in women’s rights. Common threads in the discussion included the importance of the substantive equality requirement found in CEDAW, the emerging challenge posed by non-state actors and the creeping threat of delegitmisation of the human rights discourse. All very good bases for future blog posts.

I was there to assist with documenting discussion and found myself with a second side document open on my computer so I could also take some of my own notes of things to look up and read about later, like this book on ‘the politics of gender justice at the ICC’ that someone mentioned, or the ‘New Zealand model’ of sex work regulation.

The discussions were refreshingly unapologetically feminist and substantive discussions about programming priorities were infused with debate on patriarchal forces and the meaning of substantive equality.

Returning to the office the week after Penang, I was once again neck deep in Global to Local work. G2L is one of IWRAW’s premier programs and a good example of their capacity building work. It involves supporting national NGOs to head to Geneva and engage with the CEDAW Committee sessions when their state is being reviewed.

IWRAW assist these organisations in the lead up to write shadow reports to the state reports to the Committee. They provide logistical support for some organisations to travel to Geneva and once there they run training and provide support for these groups to lobby and advocate the most pressing women’s rights issues in their countries to the Committee.

The 63rd session in Geneva starts in less than a week, and our training starts in two days. The countries being reviewed are Japan, Iceland, Sweden, Mongolia, Czech Republic, Tanzania, Vanuatu and Haiti.

My work last week was to read and summarise a number of documents for each country, including: state reports to the Committee; ‘lists of issues and questions’ from the Committee; replies to those ‘lists of issues and questions’; and shadow reports from NGOs and CSOs. It was a lot to wade through, but has given me an essential grounding for what will be an extremely busy few weeks here in Geneva.


  1. I think you passed some really great time. Like your activity so much. Great work for women’s right. Keep continue your awesome job. Thumbs up for the post.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: