Posted by: estellepetrie1 | February 24, 2016

In the midst of CEDAW

At the UN it sometimes seems like the most authoritative thing you can do is quote statistics. Allow me to provide some of my own as a quick summary of my time so far in Geneva, at the 63rd Session of the CEDAW Committee.

I have sat in on over 25 hours of ‘constructive dialogue’ between five states and the Committee with at least 10 more hours to go, I have witnessed 5 lunch briefings between NGOs and Committee members, smash typed approximately 130 pages of rapporteur notes as part of my intern role, consumed at least 20 cups of (terrible) UN coffee, got lost twice in the Palais des Nations (please observe the many winged labrynth here) and met some courageous, tenacious national NGO members from 8 countries. I also twice slipped and fell publicly in the snow in the space of about 20 minutes one day, but let’s not talk about that particular statistic.


So, three quarters of the way through IWRAW-AP’s Global to Local program, what have I learned? Apart from the importance of proper grip in shoes, I have also sharpened my interpretation skills for the language of bureaucratic-government-speak.

Jokes aside, the clearest development has been in my understanding of the role of UN treaty bodies, not only in assessing state compliance with international conventions but in setting international norms and nuancing the contents of international law. This is the ‘progressive interpretation’ I mentioned last time.

Last week, an example of such evolving interpretation included the question of whether states should regulate or criminalise sex work to prevent discrimination against women. The namesake of the ‘Swedish model’ on sex work was reviewed by the Committee and the state was asked to analyse and comment on the success or otherwise of their approach.

It was clear where the delegation for Sweden stood on the matter, hopeful to export their approach to Europe and the world. It will be interesting to see how the Committee deals with the matter in its Concluding Observations.

Another emerging area in which CEDAW might be applied is in considering the extra-territorial obligation of states to ensure non-discrimination. Again, the dialogue with Sweden provided the forum. The Committee posed questions to the state on the measures they had taken to ensure that their policy for their international arms trade considered the potential use of weapons in perpetrating gender based violence against women.

In addition, the state party were asked to explain how they ensured private companies based in Sweden but operating overseas (Ericsson and H&M to name some examples) did not discriminate against or exploit women in their manufacturing supply chain. Both extra-territorial obligation and state regulation of businesses to protect human rights are more recent progressions in the scope of the Committee’s questioning.

Again my head is bursting with ideas for future reading and research and my time in Geneva will serve as good blog fuel for some time to come. Unfortunately this is all I can write for now, as each day I dash from constructive dialogues with states, to gulped down soup for lunch to lunchtime briefings and back to dialogues. I can’t wait to write about the impact and activities of NGOs in the treaty body process, and then maybe sleep a little.

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