Women's Empowerment and Leadership Development for Democratisation

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Advocating at the UN, in the Words of the Participants

Published Date: 
Friday, June 13, 2014

This May, eight women from WELDD partner projects in Sudan, Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Nigeria took part in the two-week Human Rights Defenders Advocacy Programme hosted by the International Service for Human Rights in Geneva.  The programme gave intensive training on the United Nations system before taking participants to the 26th session of the Human Rights council, to listen in on the session and meet with diplomats.  The culmination of the week was putting the newly-gained advocacy skills into practice in one-on-one meetings with UN officials, where each made a case for addressing the pressing issues affecting women in their respective countries.  The testimonials below give an insight into the participants’ experiences of the training.

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‘This was the most useful training that I have recently had – a very successful working group with excellent expertise.  The training was beyond my expectations because of the great methodology of mixing the theoretical and practical.  What is more, I had not expected to meet so many diplomats – that was excellent!  The meeting with Michel Forst [Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights Defenders] gave me the chance to raise the issue of the HRD in detention and suffering torture.  This prompted a commitment to contact the Sudanese government.  Since returning home, I have continued to correspond with the other participants via a Facebook page, where we can share issues and useful materials.  I am already receiving very helpful responses.’

Hikma Ahmed Rabih, ACAL, Sudan

‘Meeting, interacting, and networking with human rights defenders from various parts of the world was an important part of the training, since sharing experiences is learning in itself.  Networking made me more aware of issues encountered within the profession and helped me learn from others’ experiences.  I also now feel that I know more about UN Complaint Mechanisms and communication with UN bodies as well of Special Procedures.  I learn new advocacy strategies and was taught how to communicate with the media effectively.  Meeting with the Pakistani Diplomat gave us a great opportunity to implement the strategies we learnt during the workshop’

Aliya Khan, Shirkat Gah – Women’s Resource Centre, Pakistan

‘I was taken through theoretical and practical advocacy as well as having the opportunity of learning advocacy strategies from other network members.  I got to know more about the treaty bodies and how to engage with them.  The workshop on the UPR [Universal Periodic Review] revealed to me how we can engage with the UPR to make our advocacy more effective.  Since returning home, I have started discussing with our member on how to rework our report for both the CEDAW [Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination Against Women] Committee and the UPR.  During the time for personal advocacy, I was able to meet a representative of the Nigerian Permanent Mission.  I discussed our memorandum calling the Nigerian Constitution Review Committee to expunge the section of the law that grants an underage girl who has been married the ability to revoke her citizenship even though she has not attained the legal age of maturity.  It was a fruitful meeting!’

Catherine Adewojo, BAOBAB For Women’s Human Rights, Nigeria

‘This was the first time for me to learn about international advocacy, and yet the ways it was taught made it clear to me.   The diversity in the programme also allowed me to effectively learn from others’ experiences. I am now able to teach other organisations and individuals what I have learnt, so they can advocate at the international level and bring about more change.  My intention is to work for the empowerment of women in the long term.’

Hafasa Issa, RIWPS, Afghanistan

‘This training taught us that we can always turn to the UN for our issues now we have learnt the procedures.  It was also great that we got the chance to interact with the UN, not just formally but also mingling with diplomats in the Serpentine [cafeteria inside the Palais des Nations].  Being a panellist on a side event at the Human Rights Council was an unexpected bonus of my trip to Geneva. We were also lucky enough to meet Albie Sachs – this meeting taught us about leadership within activism.  We learnt the importance of joint leadership and how it is no possible for one person to bring a change; we need to work together.  He also reminded us that change is a gradual process, it does not happen overnight, so we can work on passing on the leadership to the younger generation to keep the movement alive.  With this in mind, I am going to pass on the tools I have gained to colleagues and women in the communities I work in. I am feeling so motivated I feel I can do it all!’

Humaira Mumtaz Sheikh, Shirkat Gah - Women’s Resource Centre, Pakistan

‘All parts of this workshop were important, personally and professionally.  It was so inspiring and opened my mind.  I built my personal qualification as a trainer by gaining a wide and extensive knowledge of human right and the UN system and by learning new ways of training which will help my organisation and my community.  It will help me be a better trainer, and a better lawyer.  As my country goes through war, we need this free space and international support to further our work.’

Jihan Rashid, Warvin Foundation for Women’s Issues, Iraq

‘I learnt about many important topics – how to report about our human rights situation to the UN High Commissioner for Human rights, how to understand the situation in other countries in the world, and how civil society organisations in other countries are dealing with their human rights violations cases.  With regards reporting to the High Commissioner, most organisations in Afghanistan are not aware of this, or if they are aware they don’t know how to do the reporting.  Now that I have learnt this, I can take this information, along with all the other lessons, back to Afghanistan where I can hold sessions to train others.’

Liah Jawad Ghazanfar, Foundation of Solidarity for Justice, Afghanistan



Political and Public Participation
Culturally Justified Violence Against Women