You are currently browsing the monthly archive for June 2013.

It’s difficult to pick out the highlights of what has been a week of absolute immersion into the Berliner way of life. But I can say without a doubt that our dinner at Berlin’s first Paleo restauraunt, Sauvage was amazing!
For entre we shared a ‘hunter gatherer’ plate (pic of our half-demolished plate below), which included a selection of dips, chutneys, pickled veggies, tourine, spiced roasted garlic, and handmade grain-free crackers and bread.
For main course none of us could go past the grilled filet mignon with liquorice bone jus, macadamia nut crumble, and yuca mash. This was my first steak in over five weeks, so it tasted particularly good!


For desert I had the Paleo sticky toffee pudding, and Adele and Simon had the apricot cream tart…delicious!
Then it was off to a jazz jam session at Edelweiss in Görlitzer Park. I was kind of expecting to see musos of mixed ability get up and do their thing – the enthusiastic beginners and seasoned veterans.

But the standard was right up there. Typically the pianist, percussionist, drummer and double bass players would strike up a tune, while soloists alternated. I’m not sure who I loved more, the tenor sax, altos, tap dancing couple (yes, they tapped like they were riffing on instruments), or the flautist!
Tap girl
Wednesday’s highlight was definitely our private pandeiro lesson with the talented Adriano! Let’s just say that after an hour with him my brain felt like it had melted about 20 times over, but we learnt a lot!
Thursday took us for a day of swimming and picnicking at the beautiful Liepnitzsee, a lake about an hour from Berlin. It was a perfect way to spend a hot summer’s day!
Cooling off…
Adele underwater!

Geneva airport

At Geneva airport, about to board for Berlin

After a short flight to Berlin, the wonderful Adele Vosper met us at the airport to escort us back to her place and we have literally been non-stop since then!

After dropping our bags off at her place in Neukölln we headed straight to her mate’s bike hire place to get some wheels for the week.

Along the way we met several of Adele’s Brazilian friends and stopped for chats about life, the universe, and plans for the weekend.

Walking through the market at Maybach Ufer, we came across a Brazilian food stall (another of Adele’s Brazilian friends – there is a theme emerging), and we couldn’t resist grabbing a home-cooked bowl of mocqueca, a couple of coxinhas, and some guarana. It was the best I’ve had since my visit to Brazil in 2009 – yum!

Full of fuel, next stop was the bike shop which was owned by yet another Brazilian friend. He gave us a great deal on a couple of bikes for the week and sent us on our way.

With flash fixed-gear bikes in hand, we set out to see some live music in Görlitzer Park. It kind of reminded me of Sydney Park in Newtown – industrial surrounds, folk hanging out playing music and enjoying a beverage or two, and weathered graffiti on old brick walls.

Music in the park

We chilled out listening to a friend’s soul/harmonica beat-boxing/grooves band in the sun, before heading off to our official musical entertainment for the evening.

The Bela Sound festival at YAAM was a lot of fun, both in terms of venue and artists.

YAAM is kind of known as being Berlin’s Jamaican headquarters. There are food stalls, beach bars, and gorgeous spots down by the river to sit in deck chairs and chill out.

Bela Sound Columbians

Sadly they say the venue will be closing down, along with a bunch of other live music venues on the river side of the Berlin wall to make room for waterfront developments.

There was a range of latin artists to listen to, dance classes, Capoeira workshops, a small market including an Afro hair salon, bars, food, and a volley ball area – perfect!

Sunday brought us more music, but this time with more of the high culture variety. We jumped on our bikes and headed down to the open air opera in Bebel Platz.

The sun came out and we joined hundreds of people looking up at the fantastic architecture while listening to some solid classical music.


Props to the audio technician, the sound was amazing.

Opera in Bebel Platz

The Museum Insel was just around the corner, so we had some fun taking happy snaps and scoping out more awesome architecture.


Simon and Adele in front of the Berliner Dom

Having worked up an appetite after all that hard work, we went for lunch in Prater Biergarten, Berlin’s oldest beer garden. I had to try the Weiner Schnitzel and a “Radler” to wash it down (beer+lemonade – yep, a Shandy, but it’s cool here so it’s ok).

Having survived our respective food comas, we headed down to see Karaoke in Mauerpark. Now, I’m not a huge fan of listening to randoms who can’t sing bust out cheesy tunes, but this was unlike any Karaoke I’d ever encountered. Check it out!


On the way out of the park we passed a young group of musicians jamming out on latin tunes. They had a couple of guys on guitar and Uke, a girl playing steel drums and triangle, a guy on a djembe, and another guy on clarinet. We watched and danced for about an hour before moving on!


Our next date was with the sunset. The weekend we arrived in town, the suburb of Neukölln (where we’re staying) had a festival called “48 Hours Neukölln” which aims to showcase the artistic it’s artistic potential.

One of the features was an art exhibition in the car park of one of the local shopping arcades, so we went on up at sunset to scope the artworks and appreciate the awesome view of the city at that time of day.


Our day ended with a scrumptious and very affordable Vietnamese dinner around the corner from Adele’s place (food coma #2 of the day).

While Adele was at work we enjoyed doing some browsing around the shops in town, and bought a few bits and pieces. I think we averaged about 10kms on foot, so we took a ride with a bicycle taxi back past the Berlin Wall, and were dropped not far from our place.


These are two of my favourite murals on the wall.


We were glad to enjoy a

Brazilian dinner of Feijoada, pao de queijo, and acai at Cafe Mori before heading over to the Festsaal Kreuzberg to watch Tarrus Riley and the seriously Jamaican Black Soil!

The photo below really doesn’t convey the vibration in the room when these guys were playing, it was the best live reggae I’ve ever heard by any stretch of the imagination. The only downside was that the room was about 40 degrees C, and full of smoke – but hey, it’s a small price to pay for such a phenomenal live music experience.
Even if you aren’t a huge roots/reggae fan, check them out if they’re coming to your town. You won’t be disappointed.
More updates coming soon – off to bed now for some much needed shut eye!


I can’t have imagined a more perfect end to what was already an amazing time in Geneva.

After a tasty seafood dinner, gelato and stroll along the lake for our 3-year anniversary, Simon proposed!



This morning we attended the last Women’s Rights Caucus for the Human Rights Council. The Caucus is co-organised by the World YWCA, World Women’s Summit Foundation (WWSF) and Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF).

The meeting provided an opportunity for members to hear from women who are working in NGOs in Syria and Jordan on what is ‘really’ happening to women and girls in refugee settings in these countries.

This is an important issue for the World YWCA as it has member associations in Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine and Egypt – all of which are affected by and connected to the Syrian conflict.

Nyaradzayi welcomed us to the meeting, she’s always so powerful when she speaks and brings everyone right back to the heart of why we’re here in Geneva.

She reminded us that we need to make sure there’s a connection between what’s being talked about at the HRC and the realities of what women refugees are experiencing.

We know that the HRC will look at adopting the resolution on violence against women, and she challenged us to consider how today’s discussion can inform our broader engagement and advocacy at the HRC.

She also noted that we need an intergenerational focus in our dialogue, from girls and young women as refugees, to women and mothers, and older women.

The first guest speaker was Ms Fardous Albahra, from the Syrian Women’s League (SWL), who reminded us that what’s happening in Syria is not an armed conflict, it’s a revolution to reach democracy and justice.

The regimes have been focusing on different strategies to crack down on the revolution. Many Syrian women from a range of social classes have been raped and imprisoned, but there has been a particular focus on disadvantaged women. The aim of such tactics are to break the human spirit, disempower communities, and ultimately deter people from continuing their participation on the revolution.

She shared with us an insight into politics in Syria. Unsurprisingly, very few women are involved in Syrian politics. Fewer still are part of the women’s movement.

The majority of the women involved in Syrian politics don’t support the SWL’s call for women to have the right to pass their nationality on to their children. It was in fact the democratic secular men in parliament who supported it.

The SWL hopes that the revolution will end soon, and that a secular and democratic government will encourage women’s participation in decision-making, politics and public life.

They called for the international community to oppose human rights violations, and to support their long-term strategy and constitution for women to become a part of political life in Syria.

Next we heard from Ms Sabah Al Hallak, also a representative from the SWL who provided a brief overview of how the conflict in Syria began, and reminded us that women are disproportionately affected during times of conflict.

She said that women in Syria are calling for peace, and the SWL is doing whatever it can to seek women’s involvement in the political process, and demand women’s rights in the next government’s agenda.

She noted that the media has played a big role in enforcing negative framing of women, and in exaggerating claims about violations towards women.

Unfortunately I didn’t have time to chat to her about this (she was whisked off to her next speaking engagement), but I presume that the government and media are closely aligned and work together to perpetuate a sense of fear among Syrian people.

Ms Dana Abu Sham, from the Arab Women Organisation of Jordan (AWOJ) reminded us that domestic violence is seen as a part of some Syrian cultures, particularly rural areas, and that this was occurring prior to the revolution.

She spoke of the AWOJ’s work outside of refugee camps, and the current challenges around data collection, and so was reluctant to make concrete statements about which issues were most impacting on women.

She shared a very different perspective on the way that men, particularly Arab men view women from Syria, and women from Jordan.

“Syrian women have a reputation of being fair-skinned, very beautiful, knowing how to please men (both physically and emotionally), and being sweet-talkers.

Jordanian women on the other hand are not as fair-skinned, they are more aggressive and they will stand up to a man”, she said.

It’s not uncommon for wealthy Arab men to fly into Syria or Jordan for one week, pay a small dowry to the girl’s impoverished family, marry her, and after a week of pleasure leave her forever – with nothing.

When child brides get married and do not register their marriages in host communities, then it is considered illegal in that country. Moreover if she were to have a baby, then automatically that child is considered illegitimate. The ramifications on her rights and the rights of the child are overwhelming.

So what can women’s organisations in Geneva do? We were urged to continue our work on women’s rights especially in refugee settings, protecting women from all forms of violence, particularly in conflict situations, and to advocate for women to be involved in peace negotiations.


I spent the morning filming interviews with Kgothatso and Ramya about their long-term internship experiences thus far. It was hard to pin these two down even for 15 minutes, they are very busy ladies! Here’s Ramya’s interview, Kgothatso’s coming soon:

We then headed down to the Palais Des Nations to attend the NGO wrap-up session of the Human Rights Council.

This year there were over 100 written submissions from NGOs, and many more that took up the opportunity to engage by submitting video statements.

At side events NGOs have started to take advantage of Skype, and had panelists participate remotely, while others shared content with their communities by live Tweeting from events, and posting stories on Facebook.

While these are encouraging trends, there is still no mechanism by which NGOs can participate remotely in side events, which limits participation to those who can afford to send delegates to Geneva.

I asked the panelists whether they saw digital communication playing a greater role in NGO participation in the future – this seemed to stump them.

Of course there are formal registration processes and security checks which should apply to anyone participating in the HRC, be it in person or remotely. But we’re solving some of the world’s biggest problems here, so I’m not sure why the administration here seems so concerned about evolving admin processes to allow for more robust online engagement.

A simple example would be to integrate a chat facility within the same location as the live video stream. This would need to be moderated, and would allow for NGOs to participate in Q&As at side events.

We then got into the themes and topics covered at this HRC. There seems to be greater attention on societies in transition this year, as well as how human rights defenders are being protected, and the human rights of migrants. The hope is that the focus on these important issues will continue.

On the flip-side there’s an unfortunate trend of states co-sponsoring or signing onto a resolution, but then rejecting the inclusion of specific language to strengthen these statements.

Others are backing away from driving action on important issues. For example, South Africa has been leading the way on issues of sexual identity and gender, but has recently backed off in actually introducing a specific resolution. This is looks like more than non-participation, it is a deliberate backwards step.

Then there’s examples of countries not showing up for their review as part of the UPR process. This year it was Isreal, and there’s no indication as to whether they will do the same next year, when the review has been rescheduled to take place.

Some states have successfully moved recommendations into footnotes in important documentation, which means that NGOs and human rights defenders can’t hold them to account on those issues.

But while there are ways that states can attempt to distract from their true motives with carefully crafted and constructed language, there will always be another state, or NGO that will hold them to account.

Luminarium meeting

This morning Jenna and I had the pleasure of escorting two of the lovely ladies from the YWCA of Finland around the Palais Des Nations.

It was a nice reminder of how much we’ve learnt in the last couple of weeks. It seems like only days ago that we were waiting to register for our name badges at the front desk, bamboozled by the winding corridors and the odd room layout.

After our final group debriefing meeting with Marie-Claude and the internship and volunteer team, we headed off to a side event entitled “women in conflict, a close look at Syria”, hosted by the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom and the Permanent Mission of the Netherlands.

The session was moderated by Madeleine Rees, Secretary General, WILPF, and joined by panelists from the Syrian Women’s League, Syria, ABAAD – Resource Center for Gender Equality, Lebanon, and AWO – Arab Women Organisation of Jordan, Jordan.

The event explored three key questions:

1. What are the major gendered consequences of the civil war, and what are the immediate priorities of women inside Syria and in refugee settings that will prevent further gendered violence?

2. How can women’s political participation be strengthened inside Syria and in the refugee settings in the neighbouring countries of Lebanon and Jordan?

3. What measures should immediately be put in place to ensure that women participate in defining peace and security in the long term?

Afterwards we went straight down to the Luminarium for a discussion on sexual violence against women – a very different kind of meeting space!



Today we had the privilege of meeting board and staff members from the YWCA of Finland! This delegation of wonderful Y women had made a trip to Geneva to connect with the World YWCA office and other key stakeholders in the area, as well as attend some sessions at the Human Rights Council.

For me it was the first time that I’ve really been able to see first hand the relationships between YWCAs from different countries, and get a real sense of the global movement that I’m a part of!

We gathered in the salon, and a quick head count made more than 25 women in the room (too many to capture in a single photo frame).


First up was Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda who provided a very warm welcome and song. Love starting the day with a bit of music!

Michelle then talked us through the World YWCA Strategic Plan, and senior team members from the two associations provided a brief update on their key priority areas of work.

We then broke into groups. I was fortunate enough to join the communications professionals to chat and share knowledge and experiences.

It was great to hear from a national association about some the challenges they face and their successful communications efforts, as well as hearing from Sylvie and Ramya about their priority work areas and plans for the future.

After our meetings we came together for another wonderful home-cooked lunch prepared by Anna, and discussed outcomes from key events such as the International Training Institute, the Human Rights Council, and the Commission on the Status of Women.

Tomorrow we’re back at the Palais for a session with the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, and we’ll also scope out the much anticipated Luminarium exhibition.


After a 2-hour train ride though the gorgeous Swiss and French countryside, Jenna and I arrived in Lyon.

I had read about Lyon being the culinary capital of France, so it was funny that the first thing I noticed were all the people carrying freshly baked baguettes!

The second thing I noticed was the very tall and very old buildings and apartment blocks, which reminded me of downtown Brooklyn in the US (from what I’ve seen in movies).

Jenna and I headed down to the Rhone river to look around the surrounding shops, restaurants and patisseries, of which there are many!


Checking out the awesome architecture by the Rhone River


Evil patisserie treats, Lyon

We were fortunate enough to have fantastic weather, so winding our way around the streets was a very pleasant way to spend the day.

After an hour or so we found ourselves in what seemed to be the main dining area. Gorgeous brasseries, cafes, and traditional French restaurants with outdoor tables with checkered tablecloths lined the streets.

We picked a rustic looking place that specialised in Salmon. Not exactly traditional French cuisine, but it was what we were in the mood for!

Out came two dishes with perfectly cooked salmon fillets, lots of chunky herbed potato chips, salad, and carrot mayo – yum! We considered desert but then spotted a gelato joint and opted for that instead. Two delicious serves of fresh pistachio gelato later and we were off again!

It wasn’t long before we stumbled upon some kind of multicultural festival, complete with marching bands…


Chinese dragon dancing and of course Brazilian Batucada! Following closely behind were a troop of break dancers, they were fantastic!


After more wandering around, we came across the La Fontaine Bartholdi, a gorgeous fountain sculpted by Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi in the Place des Terreaux. I later read that this is the same artist that sculpted the Statue of Liberty, which explains why I was so impressed by it!


Then there was the human statue (looks like Redbull is what keeps her going)!


Sunday brought the rain back to Geneva, but that didn’t dampen my spirits at all.

I picked Simon up (by bus) from the airport at 9:30am, and I didn’t get lost along the way, win!

After dropping stuff off at the apartment we headed down to town for a walk around the lake and to orient him with the buses and various landmarks.

First stop, the lake. Simon agreed that while there are some similarities with Lake Burley-Griffin, the fountain here is a little more impressive (sorry Canberra).

Jo & Simon

We caught a water taxi over to the other side of the lake, and explored the old town and St Peter’s Cathedral.

St Peter's Cathedral

The stairs to the top are pretty treacherous, very narrow, very steep, and have very low door frames – people were shorter back when it was built in 1510 (I found this out the hard way – ouch).

After the climb we had lunch at a cute pizzeria on the hill. Just as Simon had said that he didn’t yet feel that he was “in Europe”, three buskers rocked up with a double bass and piano accordion to serenade us while eating lunch. I think it has sunk in now!




Looking towards Lake Geneva from the Serpentine Bar, Palais Des Nations

Today we attended an event on on the human rights of children during conflict, sponsored by The Worldwide Movement for Children’s Rights.

His Excellency Jean-Marc Hoscheit, Permanent Representative of Luxembourg opened by saying that without the very real possiblity of punishment, there is no way of preventing children’s rights from being violated during conflict situations.

He said that in terms of doing justice for children who’s rights have been violated during conflict, punishing the perpetrator is but a fragment of the picture.

More importantly it’s about acknowledging that their childhood has been completely destroyed, and that they require ongoing support to be able to reintegrate back into the community. They need physical rehabilitation, psychological support, and education.

More than 3 million children in Syria suffer from the consequences of the ongoing conflict. Many  have died trying to find hospitals or shelter.

A whole generation of Syrian children have been traumatised, raped, mutilated, and murdered. There are frequent reports of them being used as human shields, as well as trained as combatants and messengers during armed conflict.

Mr Hoscheit reiterated Luxembourg’s commitment to ending the bloodshed in Syria, and called on the international community to respect international agreements and honour their duties.

Mr Victor Ullom, International Commission of Inquiry on Syria shared with us some horrendous statistics from his most recent report on kidnapping, torture, children being killed due to being suspected combatants or spies, and children being forced to watch their parents being killed. In 2013 alone, over 40 child combatants have been killed according to his reports.

However, it’s highly likely that these numbers are underrepresented due to the difficulties of accessing data and reporting of such incidences. The Syrian Government doesn’t let the Committee conduct any investigations inside the country which definitely restricts their efforts. They do the best they can by talking to NGOs, people exiting the country, and they use Skype to interview people inside the country.

Next on the panel was powerful and passionate Justice Renate Winter from the CRC Committee, who began with another heart-breaking statistic: there are more than 380 thousand child soldiers around the world.


Justice Winter recounted how she has seen many child soldiers in her life as a judge, and not one of them isn’t traumatised.

She talked about many children between the ages of 4 and 10 years of age who know nothing but war and violence. Sadly, she said that she sees that the average age of child soldiers aren’t increasing, they’re decreasing.

When chatting with a war lord in Sierra Leone, he told her that the problem is that there’s no cheaper weapon than a child – they don’t eat much, they are “stupid” and will do things that an adult soldier would never do, they are readily available, and they are easy to intimidate.

He told her that when she came to him with an equal alternative that he would stop.

And then another harrowing story. A war lord had sent 200 children to cross a field that he knew was littered with land mines. Once the children had crossed (there were few left at the end), the war lord then sent his precious adult soldiers safely across the field.

She said one of the major problems with the international justice system is that there isn’t a single government in the world that would pay for the years of rehabilitation needed to provide the victims and witnesses of these crimes with the kind of care that they need in order to heal and reintegrate into the community.

There was some discussion with panelists and delegates about prevention – how can you stop this from happening? While there are some efforts to educate and work with some military groups regarding the use of child soldiers and the impact of conflict on children, the outlook is pretty bleak.

According to Justice Winter, there is no way of stopping it, and that the best we can do is better deal with adult perpetrators and children (be they victims, witnesses or perpetrators) in international and national courts. Her belief is that no child should be convicted of war crimes, and that adults should feel the full force of the law.

I left this session with a heavy heart.

I’m glad it’s Friday so I have time to digest all of this, and reflect on another intense week of learning.


In action: Kgothatso Ekisa Mokoena, World YWCA long-term intern

Today the Sexual Rights Initiative and the World YWCA co-hosted a side event on sexual and reproductive health rights and the post 2015 agenda.

Panellists included:

  • Dianela Pi, Ministro Conserjero, Mission of Uruguay
  • Alanna Armitage, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)
  • Sandeep Prasad, Sexual Rights Initiative and High Level Task Force for ICPD
  • Kgothatso Ekisa Mokoena, World YWCA

Ms Armitage spoke about the recent global survey that was conducted in 176 member states, providing data on what states are doing to combat gender equality and to support women’s empowerment. Some of the key findings from the report included that:

  • 85% of all countries reported commitments to increase women’s participation in the formal and informal economy
  • 70% are committed to improving the welfare of the girl child
  • 8 of 10 countries are committed to increase women’s accessibility to information and counselling on sexual and reproductive health
  • 50.4% are committed to providing access to safe abortion services
  • 158 countries have implemented laws to increase the legal age of marriage to 18 years

However, 3 of 4 countries with the highest rates of child marriage don’t show commitment to ending it as a practice.

Ms Mokoena from the World YWCA did a great job of providing a grass-roots perspective on sexual and reproductive health, highlighting the gap between service provision and education as a major issue.

She spoke about the importance of implementing both service provision and education at a community level, to ensure that women, young women and girls are well informed of the options available to them.

For me, the biggest take-home messages from this session were:

  • sexual and health rights are human rights. We must defend the gains we’ve already achieved, and continue to push forward where there is resistance
  • the 2015 millenium development agenda isn’t being adequately monitored and reviewed, and this needs to be addressed
  • education is crucial – we need to ensure that women, young women and girls can make informed decisions about their sexuality and sexual and reproductive health rights
  • cultural practices, tradition and religion are never reasons to prevent women from accessing reproductive and sexual health care, including safe abortion
  • we’ll never transform gender relations unless men and boys are part of the solution
  • There’s a lot of work to do!

After the session we attended the premiere screening of Girl Rising, hosted by Plan International.


The film spotlights the personal journeys of nine unforgettable girls born in unforgiving circumstances and their empowerment. The film aims to raise awareness that education and empowering girls can break the cycle of poverty in just one generation. You can read more about their work here.

One of Her Canberra’s 15 Women to Watch in 2015

Her Canberra - 15 Women to Watch

Nominated for Mamamia’s Most Clickable Women of 2013

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