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Yes

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!

 

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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.

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.

UN HRC - main room

On Wednesday we were back in the main room (the one with the funky ceiling) for the Annual Day of Discussion on Women’s Rights – great to see a whole day dedicated to this subject at the Human Rights Council (HRC).

It was an important day for the World YWCA and the Y movement, because we had prepared a statement that focused on child, early and forced marriages that Jenna read out to the assembly in the afternoon.

There’s no guarantee for NGOs as to whether they’ll actually have an opportunity to speak, because it all depends on what states have to say (they are given priority) and how much time remains after they have all spoken.

Here’s a video we made in the lunch break that explains what the statement is all about:

The first panel discussion of the morning focused on reflecting on efforts to eliminate violence against women, from the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action to the 57th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW).

The opening statement  was made by Ms Navanethem Pillay, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, with the discussion moderated by Ms Rashida Manjoo, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences.

Panellists included:

  • Ms Patricia Schulz, member of the CEDAW Committee
  • Ms Florence Butegwa, Representative to Ethiopia (OIC), and Representative to the African Union and UNECA, UN Women
  • Dr Fatma Khafagy, Ombudsperson of Gender Equality, Egypt
  • Ms. Simone Cusack, Senior Policy and Research Officer, Australian Human Rights Commission; Author and Expert on Gender Stereotyping; and
  • Juan Carlos Areán, Member of the Secretary-General’s Network of Men Leaders senior program director at the Family Violence Prevention Fund (FVPF)

Ms Pillay provided an overview of the recent history of women’s human rights, highlighting CEDAW and the Vienna Declaration as milestones in reframing the debate on women’s human rights.

Ms Schulz spoke on behalf of the CEDAW committee and how it worked to frame violence against women as a form of discrimination. She also noted the importance of the contribution that NGOs make on informing this issue, and that the Committee has institutionalised the participation of NGOs and civil society in its work.

She said the influence of the Committee is growing despite the fact that some states don’t implement its recommendations. However, she also acknowledged that
violence against women continues all over the world and that dealing with it is not just the job of the Committee alone.

While the Committee has no legal power to enforce its recommendations and many states are slow and irregular in their reporting, the CEDAW convention provides a holistic legal framework to be able to effectively tackle this issue in an international setting like the HRC.

Ms Butegwa then shared some positive trends regarding violence against women, noting that 34 African countries now have legislation to eliminate violence against women. She thanked the participation of the CEDAW committee and supportive states in making this a reality.

We then heard from states on the issue, what their country had done to address the issue, and their suggestions for next steps to eliminate gender discrimination and violence against women. States who were particularly strong in their positions included: Brazil, Estonia, Canada, Lithuania, Chile, South Africa, Norway, USA, and Greece, as well as the European Union.

I noticed a common theme emerging, that was first noted by Ms Pillay in her opening address, and that is that implementation of resolutions is still a big problem.

Sierra Leone suggested that we need detailed action plans that are country-specific, include targeted strategies for different population groups, and media strategies and effective message dissemination for public education and awareness-raising campaigns.

The second session of the day focused on strengthening the work of the HRC and other inter-governmental bodies and processes in the area of violence against women.

Ms Flavia Pansieri, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights provided the opening statement, and the discussion was moderated by Ms Rashida Manjoo, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences.

Panellists included:

  • Ms Zainab Bangura, SRSG on Sexual Violence in Conflict
  • Mr Sandeep Chawla, Deputy Executive Director, UNODC
  • Ms Patience Stephens, Director of the Intergovernmental Support Division, UN Women
  • Prof Marilou McPhedran, Institute for International Women’s Rights at The University of Winnipeg Global College, Canada

Ms Pansieri made some practical recommendations for steps that could be taken to address violence against women in the work of the HRC at state level:

  • integrating violence against women in country-specific sessions and resolutions
  • making specific reference to violence against women in mandates of enquiry
  • introducing mandates to make special mention of violence against women during country missions
  • paying attention to other forms of discrimination that impact on violence against women, as it leads to a greater risk to exposure to gender-based violence
  • avoiding duplication of work and recommendations
  • developing strategies to implement the recommendations of the resolution on violence against women

Ms Bangura’s address brought us all back down to earth by sharing horrific stories from women and girls in her country, particularly relating to sexual violence and rape of babies, girls, and young women. The statistics are truly sickening.

She talked about how when someone in her country is raped, it’s commonplace for the family of the victim to disown them, or worse, kill them because of the apparent shame that it brings to the family.

She strongly pointed out that the shame and the stigma should be that of the perpetrators, not of the victim. And that it’s up to everyone to condemn the scourge of violence against women, something she calls history’s greatest silence.

She said that includes teachers, journalists, political and religious leaders, those involved in the judicial system, health professionals, and social commentators, can all make a difference in changing attitudes towards these crimes. Not to mention folk at the international level including treaty bodies, specil rapporteurs, and experts that are engaged in HRC processes.

States then took to the floor to reiterate the importance of the issue, it’s complexities within their cultural context, and the impact it has on their states socially, politically, and economically. They also spoke about the work that their governments are doing at a national level in prevention, treatment, persecution of perpetrators, and ongoing support to victims of violence.

I’ve been here long enough now to read the subtext of these statements, to understand the intentions and implications of certain language that states use, and the alliances that are formed to either block or promote the passage of UN resolutions and other actions.

For example, states such as Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt have all taken a position to reject suggestions to include language from agreed conclusions from CSW57 in the draft resolution on the elimination of violence against women that is being lead by Canada. The language they most object to is about women’s right to have an abortion, and also protecting the human rights of lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender, and intersex people.

It’s clear that behind-the-scenes collaboration takes place so they can support eachother’s positions in consultations and events where official documents are being drafted and discussed.

On the flipside there’s Norway and the group of Nordic countries, who make a point of using specific language (rather than implicit) in their statements and contributions to ensure that their governments can’t sit on their hands when it comes to championing women’s human rights.

Then there’s a group who sit on the fence, or make statements that appear to support the positions of states like Canada and Norway, but BEWARE!  You have to “read the fine print” in order to not be mislead.

On the surface they seem supportive, but they often conclude their seemingly supportive statements with disclaimers that nullify the essential content of documents like the resolution on violence against women.

A classic example would be a line like “we support the elimination of all forms of violence against women, including sexual violence, and acknowledge women’s right to access health services, in the cultural and religious context of the state.” Ie, if a religious or political leader says that a woman should be imprisoned for seeking an abortion because she was raped and fell pregnant, then so be it.

So why do we spend days and sometimes weeks negotiating over one or two words? Wouldn’t it just be easier to make generalised statements so that everyone agrees and gets on with the job?

When language is diluted it allows states to abrogate their responsibilities to take meaningful action on these issues, and to ignore critical areas that need urgent attention in relation to women’s human rights.

That’s why it was important for the World YWCA to make the oral statement. It sends a strong message to the HRC and states that we know what work needs to be done, and we’ll keep pushing for meaningful action until we see all women and girls enjoying their human rights.

Jenna-in-action

Jenna in action, making the oral statement on behalf of the World YWCA.

Flags

It was refreshing to start the day with some good news. The European Union and the African Group delivered a cross-regional statement on child, early and forced marriages yesterday afternoon at the HRC, and it was supported by over 100 states.

This is particularly important for the World YWCA, as it followed the side event that it co-hosted with Plan International last Friday. It also demonstrates that the advocacy of the World YWCA and its members at The Commission on the Status of Women, Session 57 (CSW 57) has influenced the framing of the issue and subsequent debate.

The language about “child, early and forced marriages” that was part of the agreed conclusions at CSW 57 has featured prominently in discussions at the 23rd Session of the Human Rights Council. A great win! The World YWCA will continue to work with its allies to push for a resolution at the Human Rights Council in September.

While Jenna covered the third informal consultation on the draft resolution on the elimination of violence against women, I headed off to a session on freedom of expression.

While waiting for the session to start, a mysterious Kashmiri NGO representative introduced himself and insisted on reading my palm (not the kind of offer one expects in the halls of the Palais Des Nations)!

Palmistry

The conversation went a little like this:

He said: I can see you recently bought an apartment, you’ll buy another one soon.
Me: Wow, looks like I’m going to win the lottery then.
He said: you do things well when you’re going 100%, don’t slow down because you won’t be as effective.
Me: yep, that’s generally how I roll.
He said: you have a queen’s heart.
Me: sweet.
He said: nice to meet you, you can go now.
Me: ok…

People that know me well will be able to make up their own minds about how accurate his reading was!

ICTs

Now, back to business!

Shahzad Ahmad is a development communications expert and is at the forefront of the internet rights movement in Pakistan. He’s the country coordinator for an organisation called Bytes for All, which focuses on building the capacity of human rights defenders through the strategic use of digital communication (wow + awesome).

Bytes for All’s focus areas include:

  • Strategic use of ICTs for women’s empowerment and combating violence against women
  • Youth & peace building in the South Asia region
  • Freedom of Expression
  • Privacy Rights in Pakistan
  • Digital Security for Human Rights Defenders
  • Open Governance
  • Open Net Initiative
  • Greening IT
  • The Internet & human rights
  • Global information society watch
  • Innovation for development
  • Internet governance

He opened by talking about major human rights issues in Pakistan that came about during the last election.

There were violent acts that attempted to prevent certain parties from campaigning, refusing women of their right to vote in certain regions, and curbing of people’s freedom of speech in both online and offline environments. For example, YouTube was blocked by the government apparently due to its widespread blasphemous content. However it was clearly about muzzling the voices that posed a threat to the government of the day.

The Pakistani code of conduct states that religion can’t be used to promote the platforms of political parties. But this is being breached left, right and centre. It also prohibits the display of arms during promotions, yet there are many examples of political parties parading the streets with weapons, aiming to intimidate anyone who opposes them.

Mr Ahmad then introduced the PakVotes project, which is all about empowering ordinary citizens to participate in the electoral process in Pakistan. Essentially, it’s a platform for people who would otherwise be voiceless throughout the election process. The main way they do this is by highlighting people’s stories, and bringing human rights abuses (such as pre-poll rigging, violence at polling stations or issues in voter mobilisation or discrimination) to the attention of the global public sphere.

So one of the first things they did was go out into communities, and train people in the use of smart phone technologies and social media so that they could:

  • report in real time from the field with “just a smartphone”
  • be able to use a variety of social media tools for reporting
  • understand the essence of honest, safe and accurate journalism
  • be able to unearth stories which may otherwise be overlooked by mainstream media

Some key points about their approach:

  • the online platform, www.pakvotesmap.pk monitored and documented violations in different regions
  • citizen journalists reported back on what was happening in their region
  • stories were then picked up by mainstream media, bloggers, and political activists as a source of new and fresh content, who would then report to their own networks about what was happening during the election
  • Storify was used to document their discussions with different minorities and make them publicly available
  • Twitter and Facebook were used to facilitate instant, dialogic communication with citizens and social influencers to raise awareness about the unfolding issues

They had some fantastic outcomes, with thousands of people engaging in the Twitter and Facebook discussions, hundreds of stories being submitted and verified for the website, and gaining significant national and international media coverage on the issue.

Mr Ahmad closed by saying that when you engage the citizen you can promote openness and participation to influence political processes, and that new technologies provide us with a unique opportunity to amplify the voices who otherwise have no voice, and no agency.

Rock!

Jo_UNHRC-Day 2

While I’ve only spent 24 hours here, I can confidently say that Geneva and Canberra have a lot in common. And I’m not just talking about the overrepresentation of folk sporting lanyards with official ID badges.

Both cities are kind of like big villages, dotted with landmark buildings, and surrounded by mountains (snow-capped at the moment). In rush hour, people seem to commute relatively harmoniously, whether by foot, bicycle, vesper or on public transport.

Locals here also speak of the “12-month window”, in which newcomers make up their minds about whether they love or hate the city. Those that like it tend to make it their home for much longer than they originally intended. A familiar story.

So, what of our first Monday in Geneva?

I started the day with a surprise language win, which is strange considering I don’t speak French.

Jenna and I went for a walk to find some breakfast before heading off to the Palais des Nations. We spotted a cute patisserie with deliciously evil looking pastries in the window, so naturally we couldn’t resist.

I asked the girl at the counter if she spoke English, and she replied in French “sorry, I only speak French, German, Spanish, and Portuguese”. Portuguese – bingo! I was so keen to have a chat with a local in a language other than English that I probably came across a little over excited. But she sold me a freshly baked ham and cheese croissant, so we were both happy!

After meeting up with the lovely Ana at our hostel, and learning about the trams and buses that would take us to the Palais des Nations, we had a long wait before finally getting through security checks and receiving our ID badges. This was however, provided a good opportunity for us to get to know the lovely Marie-Claude, Ana, and Frances from the World YWCA head office.

We made our way across the lawns and into the new building where the 23rd Session of the Human Rights Council would be meeting. One of the first items to be discussed was a proposal to hold an urgent meeting on the deteriorating human rights situation in Syria, but several countries opposed it, mainly due to a lack of time to consult and discuss the situation.

Next up, the High Commissioner to the UN, Ms Navi Pillay gave an opening address where she reported back on her recent activities, and discussed key areas of concern including the impact of the GFC on human rights, the use of drones in counter-terrorism and military operations, the plight of Palestinian prisoners, women’s status and their participation in society, and violence in Iraq, to name a few.

She also spoke about the important role that civil society and NGOs play in examining and prioritising human rights issues and commented that it is “particularly depressing to observe policy debates and legislative measures – in many countries, across all regions – which may severely undermine non-governmental organisations that are vital to the healthy functioning of democracy.”

We then heard a series of reports back from the EU, the OIC, the Arab group, and more.

After the morning session we headed over to the World YWCA office for a fabulous home-cooked lunch, a meet and greet with the team, and our official training session.

World Y Office, Geneva

Michelle Higelin, the World YWCA’s Deputy General Secretary  discussed with us our expectations for the internship, and the World Y’s strategic priorities which are all about “women leading the world to a better place”.

We learnt about the way the World Y does business, that is, through a human rights approach to advocacy, targeting the most vulnerable people in the world, equipping women with an understanding on their human rights, and working with governments to support the human rights of women around the world.

It was interesting to note how the strategic direction of the Canberra Y is so closely aligned with the World Y. In particular, their strategies around transformative and intergenerational leadership, good governance, and young women’s empowerment.

We were then lucky enough to have some time with Maria Munoz from the Women’s International League for Peace & Freedom. She came to talk to us about the ways that NGOs can influence UNHRC processes and negotiations, the various advocacy mechanisms attached to the UNHRC, and the role of the media in exerting pressure on states to act on issues of key concern.

The World YWCA’s Marie-Claude then talked to us about CSW and its thematic priorities, and the World Y’s particular focus on violence against women. Some of the key areas of involvement for the World YWCA at the HRC include:

  • Women’s Human Rights
  • Women’s peace and security
  • Child, early and forced marriages
  • Rights to peace
  • Sexual violence; and
  • SRHR and the post-2015 agenda

World YWCA’s Communication Manager Sylvie then discussed the communication objectives for HRC and the role that Jenna and I would play in promoting the World YWCA’s involvement with the HRC, and how we might go about covering the side events that hang off the main meeting.

I’ll be covering the event that Ramya Kudekallu will be speaking at on sexual violence in conflict, transition and community. I’ll also be covering the forgotten conflicts event that Nyarradazayi Gumbonzvanda will be speaking at on June 3, so stay tuned for more posts!

Our trip back to the hostel came with it’s own surprises. To cut a long story short, we accidentally ended up at the French border – the image below gives you a bit of an indication about how we were feeling!

All in all a huge, inspiring and slightly terrifying day.

Day 2 - French border

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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