By Amran Hassan Ali – Castan Centre Global Intern to IWRAW-AP
My first month in Kuala Lumpur (KL) with the IWRAW-AP team was a month of, what can only be described as, ‘getting to know’. Getting to know the team who were equal parts away on mission or leave since I arrived in early December, getting to know the work IWRAW does and also getting to know KL. My arrival coincided with the 25th anniversary of IWRAW and I was definitely struck by the opportunity to work at an organisation, for however short a time, which has been advocating for women’s human rights for a quarter of a century.
My main responsibility was helping in the preparations for the 72nd CEDAW review and the Global to Local Programme run by IWRAW to facilitate the participation of CSO’s from the countries being reviewed. Preparations ranged from reading and summarising State/NGO and UN reports, getting in touch with CSO’s, soaking in the expert knowledge of the whole CEDAW review process and everything in between. The best part of this process was reading some of the NGO reports which gave a clearer view of the situation for women on the ground which some States tried to obfuscate with legalise, long winded unclear data and at times out right claiming the work of CSO’s as their own accomplishments. I’m looking forward to Geneva and hearing states respond to the questioning by the Committee.
The IWRAW team also run many more advocacy and capacity building programmes and luckily for me they didn’t hesitate to ask for my assistance which has given me a really varied experience and more in-depth look at the world of women’s human rights. I was invited to attend the Global Conference on Trafficking in Women & Girls in the Context of Global Migration being held in Bangkok and organised by IWRAW, and after a reading the concept note I know it will be an extremely enriching and enlightening conference, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to attend and learn from the impressive array off attendees invited.
The second month of my internship was also the first month of 2019. By now I’ve settled into the city and the office nicely. Though work on the Global to Local programme is the main priority, I have also been assisting with other programs such as doing research on family law cases in SE Asia and researching judges in SE Asia who have made rights affirming judgements in the area of family law for an upcoming symposium being organised by the IWRAW team. I was also lucky enough to be invited along by the team to Bangkok to provide support during a global convening on trafficking in women and girls in the context of global migration.
The convening aimed to analyse the root causes of trafficking as a violation of women’s human rights located at the intersections of gender, migration, development and labour. Also, to discuss positive and negative examples of anti-trafficking laws and policies and their implementation and to identify specific human rights-based, gender-sensitive protection and assistance measures. The participants in the convening ranged from CEDAW committee members, special rapporteurs and CSOs and it was such a learning experience to hear the differences in opinions from the varied participants as well as taking into perspective women’s rights, workers’ rights and migrants’ rights when thinking of human trafficking.
Geneva was next, for the Global to Local Programme and to attend the 72nd CEDAW review. I missed KL (and the warmth) but I was looking forward to seeing the work of the last two months come to fruition, and to witness the impact women’s rights activists and CSO’s can have on the review process.
The “From Global to Local” programme run by IWRAW Asia Pacific’s is designed to bridge the gap between human rights monitoring by the CEDAW Committee at the international level and grassroots activism demanding government/State accountability at the national level. The programme provides technical guidance and support on the CEDAW reporting process to women’s NGOs and facilitates the presence of women from reporting countries at the CEDAW sessions to monitor and observe the review of their government’s report and to interact with the CEDAW Committee members. The programme covers substantive input on the CEDAW Convention, processes during the CEDAW Session, the NGO oral presentations, how to effectively lobby the CEDAW Committee members, and what follow up work can be done once NGO representatives return home.
This year the countries under review were Antigua and Barbuda, Angola, Botswana, Colombia, Ethiopia, Serbia and the United Kingdom as well as Myanmar for an exceptional review. It was all systems go from the moment the team landed in Geneva and we worked every day for three and a half weeks straight. It was intense but extremely rewarding helping the women activists from these countries navigate the CEDAW review process. Both weeks were extremely different, both by the size of the groups as well as the nature of the issues covered by the review. The questioning ranged from child marriage and marital rape laws for Ethiopia to demilitarisation and the rights of afro-Colombian women in Colombia. The questioning of the UK revolved around devolvement, Brexit and Northern Irelands lack of government and what that meant for women, while for the smaller countries such as Angola, Botswana and Antigua and Barbuda the Committee asked about the Gender Machinery and government support. These were obviously just the tip of the iceberg as questioning for the countries ran for a whole day. Seeing the committee raise questions on issues that were highlighted by the NGO groups as priorities, with the Government representatives was extremely satisfying. Both for the activists and myself and helped to solidify that the work they were doing and for some, the extremely long journey to Geneva, was worthwhile.
My time with IWRAW helped me to really see the impact of human rights law and its application, but also its limitations, at work. Essentially everything taught in a classroom but at the source. The experience was invaluable and I’m grateful to the Castan Centre for the support and providing me with such an exciting, educational and rewarding experience.