By Mary O’Callaghan, Castan Centre Intern to IWRAW-AP

The first month and a half of my internship in Kuala Lumpur at International Women’s Rights Action Watch – Asia Pacific (IWRAW AP) has been marked by a complete immersion into the global feminist movement and has allowed me to gain a greater understanding of IWRAW AP’s role within it.

Soon after my arrival I had the privilege of attending an International Conference on Gender and Macroeconomics, hosted by IWRAW, and attended by feminist economists and activists from across the globe. I spent the majority of those three days in a haze of awe and intrigue, furiously taking down notes and trying to absorb as much of the debate as possible. One of the key objectives of the conference was to establish a resource group of women’s rights organisations and other experts to assist IWRAW in its advocacy and capacity-building initiatives related to global macroeconomic policies – an area that is largely overlooked (or perhaps seems out of reach) within the feminist movement. The session that left me feeling equal parts hopeful and inspired was when we were asked to unpack the different elements and principles of a feminist agenda for an alternative global economic order. This feminist ‘utopia’ that we were brainstorming was exciting to depict, especially considering that we had spent the previous day highlighting persisting structural macroeconomics. Highlights from our discussion included the proposition of a needs-based and rights-based economy, and examining what it would mean to eliminate the role of the state as a duty bearer for human rights.

Another key event I had the pleasure of attending was IWRAW AP’s staff retreat. The hustle and bustle of KL was left behind for the sleepy town of Ipoh, surrounded by limestone hills – but make no mistake, those three days were filled with a crowded itinerary that consisted solely of eating and intense planning for the year(s) ahead. Indeed, it has been a few weeks since we were holed up in our bunker (ahem, hotel), and yet the terms ‘log frames’, ‘donors’ and ‘organisational processes’ still seem to trigger me. Nevertheless, it was an excellent opportunity to gain an insight into the inner workings of an INGO. 

I also learnt a great deal about IWRAW AP’s strategic plan. This plan outlines IWRAW AP’s programs for the next five years, which will address: 

  • countering the regression of human rights;
  • interrogating borders and their impact on women’s human rights;
  • transforming economics and development through a feminist approach;
  • reframing environmental justice as a feminist issue; and 
  • amplifying voices and enhancing visibility of women workers

These focal points reflect an INGO at the forefront of women’s human rights; not only are they aware of the current social and political climate but they are adapting to it. It is an organisation with a sustainable mindset too; IWRAW has assessed the priority issues within the movement and is willing to fill the gaps and take the necessary steps to address such issues. 

Finally, my main responsibility over the course of this internship has been preparing for IWRAW’s Global to Local Programme (G2L). G2L is a training and mentoring programme that focuses on building the capacity of NGOs to engage in advocacy at the international level through the CEDAW review process. 

The states being reviewed at the 75th CEDAW Session this February are Afghanistan, Bulgaria, Eritrea, Kiribati, Latvia, Moldova, Pakistan and Zimbabwe. This review is an opportunity for the CEDAW Committee, state delegations and civil society to engage in a constructive dialogue regarding state compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). It has been extremely interesting sifting through and summarising the state reports, the list of issues (which are presented by Committee), and the subsequent state responses to the list of issues.

As part of preparing for G2L, I have also had the elephantine task of arranging and coordinating the NGO representatives who will be taking part in the program. At times, especially this past week, I have considered changing my LinkedIn profile to reflect that of a ‘professional emailer’. Nevertheless, it has been exciting and informative as I engage with fellow activists and I look forward to meeting them in Geneva two weeks from now. 

Ultimately, my time here at IWRAW has surpassed all of my expectations (which were incredibly high, might I add), and I would like to thank the Castan Centre for providing me with the opportunity to intern here. If I could stay for longer, I absolutely would!

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