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Ash-8-Months

I promise this isn’t some kind of mummy blog rant. I’ve never had the urge to write publicly on the topic of pregnancy and parenthood, but recently some friends have encouraged me to share my experiences. They said it would be helpful for women “like us” to read, so I’ve jotted down some observations and thoughts – I hope some of you find some of it useful.

Last week Ash turned nine months old, and in exactly a week from today I will be on my way home from my first official day at work in almost a year. Lots of people have been asking me how I feel about it, and while I will undoubtedly miss Ash, I am  looking forward to it (it helps when you enjoy what you do for a living).

It will be great to get back to contributing to positive social change, being inspired by my talented colleagues, and exercising the professional part of my brain. Importantly for me, the work aspect of my life hasn’t been completely on hold while on parental leave. I’ve been chipping away at developing a start-up social enterprise with a good friend of mine who happened to also be on parental leave at the same time.

Over the past nine months we’ve spent many days pushing prams together while brainstorming, feeding our babies while planning, and writing to-do lists while cleaning up vomit. It’s been so much fun!

I also decided to do a bit of tutoring at uni to bring in a few extra dollars, and have a break from full-time parenting duties. Fortunately I was able to teach classes in between Ash’s feed times, and feel relaxed about leaving him, knowing that he was with his wonderful grandmother.

Interestingly, when I tell people about working while on leave, most of the time they respond with something like “How do you manage all that? Aren’t you too exhausted to think about work? I can’t believe you can handle a newborn baby and work at the same time!”.

I guess I could take it as a complement, but these comments are usually promptly followed up by more generalised advice such as “don’t think about work while you’re on leave, enjoy your time with your baby”, or “you should really forget about doing the housework, you need to sleep when the baby sleeps”, and “don’t worry about exercising, your first priority is looking after the baby”. Sigh.

Clearly it never occurs to them that my way of coping, managing, and mothering may be different to theirs, or social norms.

Some days all I want to do is clean while Ash sleeps, so that when he wakes up I can enjoy the environment around us. Sometimes I am physically exhausted, but have lots of ideas that I just have to get out of my head and onto a google doc before Ash wakes up. Other days I sleep when he sleeps.

I think it’s really important to do what makes you happy, especially when you’re sleep deprived, a little isolated, and going through a lot of physical and psychological change.

For me, having professional projects and “work” to focus on has really helped keep me grounded, intellectually challenged, and feeling like I hadn’t had a complete identity change the minute Ash came into the world.

There is no single, better, or right way of spending your time. This clearly isn’t rocket science, but then why hadn’t anyone, any blog, or any book suggested it to me before?

In light of this, I thought I’d share some of the things that I found really helpful when I was pregnant, and in the early days when Ash was born.

But before you read on there is one very large caveat to all this – I am extremely fortunate to have a fantastic husband, an amazing mother, a caring father, a supportive workplace, and good mental and physical health. Without these things, the list below would undoubtedly look very different.

Seeing a kick arse GP

A visit to a GP is typically where your pregnancy journey will begin, so having a good rapport with them is pretty important. They’ll likely influence your decision making and set the tone for your pregnancy early on. One of the most helpful things my GP did was to firmly tell me not to read too many pregnancy or parenting blogs, and under no circumstances play Dr Google when it came to health-related issues. After that appointment I promptly unsubscribed from a bunch of sites that were doing little more than causing me mild anxiety about all the things that could go wrong with me, my baby and my relationship while I was pregnant.

Listening to the experiences of like-minded women

I’m fortunate that most of my closest girlfriends already had babies, or were well on their way by the time I fell pregnant. They have been an invaluable source of information and ideas for me, and a great sounding board.

I should stress though that I chose pretty early on in my pregnancy who I would listen to and who I would politely smile and nod at, while disregarding everything that was coming out of their mouth. There’s no shortage of opinions and views about pregnancy and parenting out there, and most people don’t hold back before telling you what you should and shouldn’t do. That’s why I think it’s really important to stick to a few trusted sources, and ignore the rest!

Writing up my birth preferences

I was hesitant about birth plans, but I really liked the idea of Simon and I both knowing my birth preferences. For me it was about understanding some of the decisions that I might need to make during labour, and discussing them with Simon and our midwife in advance. For example, what pain relief options I would like to try during labour, whether I wanted to have vaginal exams during labour (and whether I wanted to be told how dilated I was), preference for skin-to-skin contact with the baby immediately after birth, how I wanted to birth the placenta (and what to do with it afterwards), the list goes on!

One of the most useful sources of information I found in preparing my birth preferences were the prenatal yoga classes I attended with Vedanta Nicholson. Not only were these classes a fantastic way to relax and learn essential active birth skills, but Vedanta gives you really practical, evidence-based information about labour and birth in each class. I also found the following books incredibly useful – they all helped to inform my birth preferences:

One of the things I learnt about birth preferences, is that they can be helped or hindered by hospital policies. For example, some hospitals in the ACT don’t allow water births, and they all have various standards when it comes to medical intervention during labour.

A couple of my girlfriends had gone through the Birth Centre at Calvary, and highly recommended it. After chatting with them I thought it would probably suit me, because I was keen to have a vaginal birth with little or no intervention if possible. I must say that I received amazing care from the midwives, nurses and doctors at Calvary – and I saw quite a few after a 30 hour labour that ended in an emergency cesarean section!

Even though my labour didn’t end as I would’ve liked, I found the entire experience absolutely empowering and mind-blowing! Anyway, that’s another blog post

Once Ash was finally born, there were a few key things that I found helpful, particularly in the early days:

Focusing on the positives – there are lots!

While I spent the first few months post-partum feeling frustrated about being so physically inactive while my body recovered from the Cesarean Section, and adjusted to keeping another human alive (outside my body this time), I kept focusing on the fact that we had a gorgeous and healthy little boy in our lives. This simple mantra gave me a clear reference point when I was thoroughly sleep deprived, full of raging hormones, feeling fat and lethargic, and at times, completely unsure if Simon and I were “doing it right”.

Forming a parental brains trust

Simon and I are really lucky that the group of parents we did our hospital classes with started a really supportive and candid closed Facebook group so we could stay in touch. While I’ve never been big on the concept of “mother’s groups” or discussing difficult and personal issues with perfect strangers, this crew was (and still is) a great support for Simon and I. It’s been so interesting to chat with other parents about everything from sleep, to teething, nappy options, health issues, weaning, first foods, childcare experiences, and everything in between.

Finding my new training routine

Having gone from doing functional fitness, Capoeira, and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu regularly pre-pregnancy, to being restricted to “just walking” for 6 months post-partum, I had to rethink and reimagine my ideal training routine. It went something like this:

When Ash was about four months, I started to do some one-on-one personal training sessions with my man Simon. My focus for these sessions is mobility and light strength work. When I am super tired we run through a series of stretches, focusing on unlocking all my tight and tangled spots (there were lots).

At six months I felt I could add some more dynamic, whole body movements into my training. So I was super excited when I returned to FuncFitness to train once a week, it’s one of the friendliest gym communities in Canberra. The culture of where you train is always important, but even moreso when you’re getting back to training after a break, and are feeling super unfit.

Most recently I’ve started doing some one-on-one Muay Thai sessions with my friend Mitch Langman. Some days we work on the psychological aspects of my training, sometimes we spar, sometimes we run drills on the focus pads. One of the things I love about training with Mitch is that regardless of what we’ve done during that hour, I always leave with a smile on my face, feeling a billion times better than when I first walked in.

So what’s next? I’m absolutely itching to get back into some Capoeira and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu at Elements – I’ll find some time somehow!

I was recently asked to share my leadership story with a group of students participating in YWCA Canberra’s She Leads Diploma program. Below is an abridged version of my talk – enjoy!

I would like to start by acknowledging the Ngunnawal people as the traditional owners and custodians of the land on which we are meeting on this afternoon.

I would like to particularly extend my respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, who for thousands of years have preserved the culture and practices of Aboriginal nations across their countries.

Having just last week hosted Julia Gillard at an event at the Portrait Gallery, where she discussed her memoir, My Story with 300 adoring fans, I’m feeling a little dwarfed, standing here with you today as I share my humble insights into my own experiences – I hope you take something useful from them.

So what I’ve decided to share with you are three moments in time, that I believe have fundamentally shaped my leadership journey and my career.

But first, a little about my early outlook on life – to set the scene.

When I was 16 I wanted to be a rock star. I had green dreadlocks, facial piercings, and a really intense death stare.

I played bass guitar and sung in a couple of punk and metal bands with my brother and friends.

We were about as “out there” as you could get for kids from the upper middle class, lower North Shore area of Sydney.

We wrote music about stuff that concerns most angst-ridden teenagers: conformity, oppression, “the system” – all that.

But at the heart of what we were doing, were a set of strong values, and a desire to see all people treated equally – regardless of the way they looked, how much money they had, where they were from, what music they listened to, or what they believed in.

We didn’t know it at the time, but we were proponents of social justice principles.

So I always thought I’d make a career out of writing the kind of music that would fundamentally change the world – but in my final two years of school I made a conscious decision to pursue photography and film making, my other passions.

It was a really difficult choice because I loved to do both, but as my HSC exams loomed, I reconsidered my potential career path.

I decided that storytelling through visual and written media was where I really wanted to focus my energy.

Which brings me to my first stand-out moment in time.

BROOME 2004

It was a bright summer morning, the day I found myself in a small plane, descending on Broome Airport – which looked more like a garden shed than any airport I’d ever seen!

I was about to embark on my broadcast internship with Goolarri Media, an Aboriginal owned and led television and radio station. Their vision – “to close the gap for all Indigenous peoples across the Kimberley region”.

So looking out the plane window at the red dirt and dazzling aqua blue water, I felt pretty scared.

I’d only had a short video-conference interview with the Director and staff at Goolarri the week before, to see if “I’d be alright out there”, and all of a sudden I was on the other side of the country, about to live and work with a crew I’d never met before, in a place I’d never been before, immersed in a culture so completely different to my own.

I reminded myself of my purpose and intention – I wanted to learn to harness the power of communications and media to tell important human stories, and facilitate positive social change.

It’s hard to put into words exactly how much the time I spent out there blew my mind, both on a professional and deeply personal level.

From working on documentaries about hunting and cooking in the middle of the desert in 40 degree heat, to producing important community service announcements and health campaigns with incredibly knowledgeable local people – to mentoring a young, deaf Aboriginal man in post-production techniques – it all pushed me way out of my comfort zone.

But it wasn’t just what I learned about my professional craft that shaped my world view, it was the first time that I felt like I was part of a minority (I’m pretty white as you can see), it was the first time I had met Aboriginal people the same age as me, and it was the first time I’d ever been trusted so much as a young professional.

I think I learned more about this country we live in, and my own leadership potential in that month than I have from any other experience in my life.

POP PRINCESS 2008

After a few years freelancing in film and television production, I finally came to terms with a few cold hard facts about the industry I was working in.

The penny finally dropped while I was working a 16 hour shift on a shoot for a very well known “Princess of Pop’s” music video. I realised that:

  1. The hours were long, the pace furiously unrelenting, and getting decently paid work involved competing with a lot of other people
  2. The gigs were mainly corporate – commercials, training videos, and the like
  3. I wasn’t prepared to claw my way to the top of the industry food chain

So one day on set, as she tried to get me fired from the crew for purchasing the wrong brand of herbal tea for her dressing room stash, I knew I had to face up to the fact that my dreams of telling important community stories, and making the world a better place were not coming true.

In fact, I was exactly where I didn’t want to be – spending my time and talent working for people I had little connection with, on projects that I largely didn’t care about, in an industry that facilitated an “every man for himself” culture.

So I finished the shoot, had a BIG sleep, and thought hard about what to do next.

THE CANBERRA MULTICULTURAL FESTIVAL 2009

As I wandered around my first Multicultural Festival, I took some time to hang around the not-for-profit stall area.

I was working on a project for the Heart Foundation, and really wanted to grow my networks in the sector. I was on the hunt for a volunteering opportunity.

I’d never heard of the YWCA before, and wondered if the well-intentioned ladies behind the stall had their wires crossed.

But after hearing about their mission to “work for a world where reconciliation, justice, peace, health, human dignity, freedom and care for the environment are promoted and sustained through women’s leadership”, my interest was immediately sparked.

As I signed off on my membership form that day, I had no idea what opportunities would present themselves to me in the years to come.

A friend of mine, who was also a member, spent the next few months harassing me to undertake the Y’s Board Internship Program. I gave in, applied, and much to my surprise, was selected.

In 2011 I was actually co-opted to the YWCA Canberra Board when a position became vacant.

The next year I was again politely harassed into standing for Vice President, and was voted in by the membership.

That same year I was also successful in applying for a Great Ydeas grant, which enabled me to bring together an offline and online community of women martial artists here in Canberra – to share knowledge and skills.

Last year I was politely harassed into applying for a Communications and Advocacy internship with the World YWCA in Geneva, and I was truly shocked and delighted when I was selected.

In Geneva I was fortunate enough to spend time with the World YWCA and UN Human Rights Council to explore how digital communication can enhance the work of international advocacy efforts.

And now here I am, Director of Corporate Relations and Communications at YWCA Canberra – one of the most influential, dynamic and innovative NFPs in this town.

I can honestly say that I’m “living the dream”, albeit my dream of helping share important community stories, and facilitating positive social change.

So what did I learn from Broome, a Princess of Pop, and the Multicultural Festival exactly?

On reflection, my time in Broome gave me the perfect opportunity to explore and understand my values, passions, and innate leadership qualities. Agreeing to get on a plane with a week’s notice to do that internship, was the first time I had said “yes” to something pretty big, that I didn’t feel at all confident about. I had no real reference point, no support, and I didn’t know what to expect. I’m so glad I said yes.

From The Princess of Pop I learned that sometimes it’s incredibly valuable to have a clear understanding of what you don’t want to do. While some people might see these experiences as “wasted time”, I am thankful that I had a chance to live the life of a freelancer in Australia’s film and television industry. I honed my business acumen, organisation skills, technical ability, and it definitely tested my resilience on a number of levels.

Through my membership and now employment with the Y, I have been exposed to life-changing opportunities that have allowed me to explore my own leadership potential, to understand what positive social impact I can make as a communications professional, and to form friendships, skills, and experiences that are well beyond any dollar value.

Last year I was lucky enough to attend the Better Boards Conference, and co-present with the talented Ruth Pitt on the YWCA of Canberra’s long-term strategic plan. This week the Better Boards team sent me the video of our presentation, so here it is – enjoy!

You can read my original post covering the conference here

Note: I’ve since resigned from the YWCA of Canberra board to take up an exciting role within the staff team, and I love it!

Syrian-Women

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.

RamyaJ-video

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!

Luminarium-Jo-Jenna-Marie-Claude

Finland-group-shot

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).

Finland-meeting

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.

Only-Lyon

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!

Lyon-lake

Checking out the awesome architecture by the Rhone River

Patisserie

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…

Marching-band-Lyon

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

Breakers-Lyon

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!

Horse-sculpture-Lyon

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

Stone-lady

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!

Jo&Simon-Lunch

 

View-from-Palais-to-Lake-Geneva

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.

Child&ForcedMarriage

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.

Kgothatso

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.

Girl-Rising-Screening

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

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Nominated for Mamamia’s Most Clickable Women of 2013

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