Geneva Speech #1
Geneva trip report What an unforgettable experience. I never would have imagined that in the space of a week, I’d be able to go somewhere and return as a new version of myself. One who holds her head high with confidence, and advances with a sensible, well-rounded outlook on life and with the passion to make a difference in the world. I began my trip to the UN in Geneva, as a moderately shy girl with a few ideas but most of all an interest in protecting the rights of women and girls all over the world. Throughout the course of just eight days, I developed in maturity but also learnt an outstanding amount of knowledge about how the UN actually works the huge levels of time and effort that individuals put into protecting people’s human rights across the globe, and in different cultures.
What does the UN mean to me? If you’d asked me this a week ago, then I’d have replied with something to the effect of: ‘a political establishment where different countries decide what problems there are in the world regarding human rights and try to come up with a solution. However, now my answer would be so different, because I realise that it means so much more. There’s nothing like being gathered in a place full of alternating individuals all wearing various different passes, the one thing everyone has in common is the a passion for doing what they think is right in the world. Each and every person has one goal, and that is to make a difference.
We began on the Friday by diving right into politics having been up since five in the morning, as soon as we arrived in Geneva we had a lunch meeting scheduled with Anna Therese who worked for UPR (standing for: universal periodic review). It was really interesting to find out all about this unique mechanism that the UN uses aimed at improving the human rights situation on the ground of each of the 193 Member States. I have to admit that it was also somewhat refreshing to meet with Anna who was so nice and down to earth! I was expecting our first meeting to be tense, as well as slightly scary, but I’m pleased to say that I felt completely comfortable and it wasn’t like that at all. For the second part of our first day in Geneva, we were lucky enough to visit with Chris Lomax, a top UK diplomat. This was useful because it meant that we got to challenge as to why the UK hasn’t yet put forward an expert to the CEDAW committee. It was also beneficial to talk to someone as experienced as him, and feel that confidence boost from his interest in our opinions. This was nice because it made me feel that young people’s opinions do matter even though we are not yet as knowledgeable. I suppose it was somewhat reassuring also, to understand that the youth voices of our generation are being listened to.
The weekend was one of my favourite parts of our trip to Geneva. I found it useful and somewhat helpful to have our two days of recreational activities at the beginning, because not only did it give us all a chance to bond, and get to know each other on a more personal level. But it also gave us a chance to gain our bearings of Geneva as a place, including figuring out our means of transport. These two days gave us the chance to gain a more in depth knowledge of rich the culture and history in Geneva which was actually useful for the next week during our time at the UN because it almost gave us a context to work with of Geneva as a place and how its changed through time as a result of war.
Monday. Our first day at the United Nations. It still feels strange saying that, even now after we’ve returned. Actually, since our return I’ve come to realise how much of a different world the two are- sixth form and everyday life compared to being at the United Nations. Perhaps this is a bad thing because it shows a lack of understanding between the two, but then again, maybe it can’t be helped, because they’re so vastly different. It was the opening of the CEDAW session that day, so all of the countries being reviewed in that week were there, as well as all of the NGO’s. First of all, the new committee members introduced themselves, pledging that they’d do their best to change whatever needs changing in order to improve the lives of women and girls across all articles of the convention. I found it interesting to see the delegation for each country’s reaction, to what issues the NGO’s were proposing needed to be addressed.
Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday were all country review meetings where the delegation from each country would have half an hour to explain how they are implementing the articles of CEDAW into their country and then the experts for each article on the committee would question them. It would go back and forth for hours. This was absolutely fascinating to observe although at times quite difficult to follow because it was so fast paced! During the process it also helped me to gather some very up to date, interesting statistics for my speech on article six of the CEDAW convention.
Speaking of which, we left El Salvador’s meeting early on the Friday and headed over to the Palais Wilson to perform our Speeches. We were lucky enough to have the opportunity to speak with and perform them to Caroline Avanzo who worked for the international federation for human rights.
On a more personal note, what was very much enjoyable about our evenings in Geneva was that, four out of our seven nights we dined with friends, or colleagues that we had met, in their homes to which we were invited. This was such a great experience, getting to know different people, with vast amounts of knowledge and experience to share as well as giving them our opinions. It was also really useful because we got to practise our speeches and receive helpful, insightful feedback. An added bonus was the local Swiss food we got to try, which was delicious I must say as well as the lovely, hospitality we received repeatedly every evening.
On a whole, what an unforgettable, fantastic, inspirational opportunity that I’m so grateful to have been given. I will now be far more proactive about, as Ghandi said: ‘being the change I wish to see in the world’.
Geneva Speech #2
Thank you to NAWO, the CEDAW Committee and to you for giving me your time, and the opportunity to present to you today on a subject I feel is vital to the advancement of women and girls.
That is sexual exploitation and trafficking of women, as highlighted in Article 6 of CEDAW.
I would like to congratulate Ireland on the Bill that was passed on Tuesday relating to the criminalizing of purchasing of sex.
In my opinion this is a positive step forward because it means that those who have been prostituted are now more protected by the law rather,
than being at risk from it, especially as they are already in a vulnerable situation.
On a personal level, my first encounter with the sex industry was about a month ago when I was passing through Amsterdam with my family.
As I walked through the red light district barely three feet away from women, just a few years older than myself, pressed against the glass wearing next to nothing, it came as a shock to me to realize that many consider this an actual job.
What startled me even more though, is the realisation that a high percentage of those involved, are not there by choice but through trafficking. The International Labour Organization estimates that women and girls represent the largest share of forced labour victims with 11.4 million trafficked women as victims compared to 9.5 million men.
Whilst Ireland, France and some Nordic countries have passed legislation registering that prostitution is a form of violence against women and girls, and those who have been prostituted are survivors of sexual violence and exploitation, often across borders,
other countries such as Germany have legalized prostitution. They have done so based on the argument that this provides a safer environment for those involved.
Despite this, women and girls in Germany, have not found themselves free from debt bondage or less at risk of violence.
However, KOK is a German NGO network and coordination office against trafficking in human beings.Currently, it consists of 37 member organisations across Germany. Who’s mission is to promote the human rights of trafficked persons and other migrants experiencing violence.
It addresses trafficking and other forms of violence against migrants as a severe violation of human rights. Organisations such as these are beneficial in Germany at the moment for assisting the person’s involved in prostitution that still face such issues.
Trafficked women and girls come from many circumstances. One story I’d like to share with you is that of 19 year old Nada who was forced into prostitution by her own husband in order for them to provide income for their family. Nada and her husband are Syrian refugees fleeing conflict and currently taking refuge in Jordan.
Prostitution has become an increasing problem. Women with children refugees fleeing conflict are vulnerable due to their urgent need for income and lack of stability or security. Their desperate situation leaves them prone to traffickers. With the flow of refugees into Jordan, there is an increase in the number of sexually exploited women and children in Jordan.
Relating to this idea, child forced marriage is a form of sexual exploitation against women.
One in three girls in developing countries are married by the age of 18, one in nine marries before the age of 15. At the similar age of sixteen myself, I cannot even begin to imagine being placed into a situation such as this one.
These statistics are relevant to Jordan because early child forced marriage is a reality that occurs here. Marrying at such a young age means that these young girls often get pregnant when they are not mentally or physically ready causing Childbirth to be the leading cause of death among girls between the ages of 15 and 19 in developing countries. Child brides are also at a greater risk of contracting HIV/AIDS and from suffering domestic violence.
Unfortunately, even in these dire cicumstances prostitution is still viewed as a women’s choice.
A lady called Sammar said ‘ its a dangerous business, I’m putting my life at risk but what can I do’. This proves the clear desperation these women are facing.
In their 2016 state party report, Jordan acknowledged trafficking as an issue, although, it could be argued that more could be done.
One example of an NGO making a clear difference is Women At the Well, situated in a well know area for street women. It provides a pimp free environment and an education for street women that teaches them alternative skills with the aim that these new found skills can enable them to exit if they wish.
Another example is BACA who provide survivors of human trafficking with entrepreneurship training after they have already received trauma counseling. They then provide seed funding and training in jewellery making.
This provides a type of art therapy at the same time as skills to enable them to become financially independent. When working together in the workshops, the survivors are able to share their stories.
This is an example of best practice as it teaches skills to become financially viable at the same time as creating articles others buy and celebrate their creativity.
Sexual health care is essential. There is a clear link between the early spread of HIV/AIDS and prostitution. The route of transmission has, in some countries, followed the route taken by lorry drivers, as in Tanzania.
The drivers spread HIV/AIDS to and from prostitutes especially due to the lack of use of condoms.
In Rwanda, HIV prevalence among the general population aged 15_49 years has remained stable but higher than it potentially should be at 3.0% for the last decade.
However the prevalence is higher amongst women with 3.6% compared to the local men at a considerably lower 2.2%. It’s also proven to be higher in urban areas such as Kigali at 7.1% than in rural areas at 2.3% according to the demographic health survey.
In my nervousness during preparation for this presentation, a particular quote reminded me as to the reason I’m here speaking with you today.
Amelia Earheart said: ‘the most effective way to do it, is to do it’ may the simplicity yet power of this remind you that although there are a high number of different organisations working on the various important issues such as the ones I have raised.
when it comes down to it, we’re all working to achieve the same goals of protecting the rights of women. As a result of this, in the future, hopefully woman such as Nada will not have to be faced with the choice of having to sell their bodies as the only way to provide income for their families.
Next time I walk through Amsterdam with my family I will not be faced with half naked women pressed against glass windows as a provocative display for men but with young, strong female entrepreneurs present through their own personal choice and not due to the likes of trafficking.
As the United Nations I’m calling that we move forward and solve these issues as one.