From theory to practice: an advocate’s experience with the cedaw committee
Robert Aseda had the pleasure of participating in the Kenya Review by the Committee of the Convention of Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) on behalf of our partner organization NAYA. The CEDAW Committee is the United Nations Committee that monitors the implementation of the CEDAW Convention: the International bill of rights for women that define what constitutes discrimination against women and sets up an agenda for national action to end such discrimination. In this blog, he writes about his experiences and the long journey towards the CEDAW Committee.
Advocating at the United Nations is among the top moments in an advocate’s journey. You never get used to it. Each moment is special. The hoisted flags, the imposing buildings and of course the special opportunity to amplify your message to a global pool of policy makers. It’s in the rich history, the unrivalled legacy, it’s of the great conventions, resolutions and outcome documents.
You can feel the aura of the possibilities; of the diversity floating in the air. Different people from all over the world, from the big and the not so big nations. People of diverse ages, levels of income, sexual orientation and gender identities, religions and languages – all gathering together to protect human rights and to bolster sustainable development.
But participating in the review wasn’t an end of itself. It was just but one of stops in the long journey towards improving the lives of women and girls.
Before getting started, it’s important to have the right capacity and skills as an advocate. I participated in trainings on understanding human rights mechanisms by CHOICE for Youth and Sexuality, the Sexual Rights Initiative and IW_RAW. This gave me the crucial information and confidence in mapping advocacy opportunities, entry points and how to effectively utilize these international processes for national level advocacy.
Building an Alliance
Partnerships are a key component of NAYA’s Participatory Advocacy Model for Youth and are crucial in the preparation for UN advocacy. NAYA sought out partnerships with other Kenyan organizations that work on human rights. As a team, we prepared for the Committee, the advocacy we would do during the event and follow up beyond it. This partnership was particularly successful due to the commitment from the different organizations and their different strengths. Above all, I believe that the shared genuine desire to make a difference is what made our collaboration so successful.
Writing a Shadow Report
After coming together, the next step was developing and submitting a shadow report to the Committee highlighting the sexual and reproductive health and rights challenges that affect women in Kenya including young women and sexual and gender minorities. This was an intense process that involved consultations and feedback, not just from the core team but also from other partners such as CHOICE. When we finally got to submit the shadow report and received notification that it had been uploaded on the OHCHR website, we knew that we were inching closer to the next stop.
Participation in the Review in Geneva
Once in Geneva, we had several opportunities to popularize the shadow report and engage with other key global civil society organizations (CSO’s) and relevant United Nation agencies on the key issues within the shadow report.
The oral statement is a crucial stop in advocacy. The statement gave us the opportunity to brief the committee on the situation of women’s rights in Kenya. Kenya CSOs were accorded 10 minutes to make a presentation on the situation. A difficult moment: how would we divide this time with over 30 CSOs? Who was going to speak? How would we represent all our key issues? In the end, after discussions, we agreed that we would develop one major CSO statement for Kenya that highlighted some of the core issues. More than 40 organizations endorsed this common CSO statement.
I was elated to be chosen as one of the three speakers on behalf of the Kenya based CSOs.
NGO Lunch Briefing
The Lunch Briefing is another great opportunity for advocacy. It’s a more interactive dialogue between the committee and the civil society organizations. Again, the importance of consensus as a country cannot be emphasized enough here. We agreed to select a team among the civil society organizations present to moderate the conversation. We also decided together to use this space to answer the questions raised by the committee during the oral statement and to provide more information on the issues that had not been highlighted enough.
Constructive Dialogue with the State
And then it’s time for the actual dialogue with the state. Although there’s CSO’s can’t participate, we were elated to see that our earlier engagements with the committee had been fruitful and that some of the questions and recommendations that we had proposed had been posed to the Kenya delegation. During our time in Geneva, it increasingly dawned on our team of CSO’s that we were all united under the black, white, red and green of Kenya.
The Long Wait
Unlike other conferences and events, the Committee’s concluding observations aren’t immediate.
This means we had to do some waiting.
But it was definitely worth it.
The Fruits & Follow Up
In the end, the Committee accepted several questions and recommendations from our different shadow reports, the joint Kenya oral statement and the different briefings that we had done. A huge win! However, this doesn’t mean the work is over: the focus now shifts to utilizing the concluding observations for national level advocacy. Now it was up to us to meet back in Kenya and to chart a way forward together: making sure we popularize the concluding observations with government agencies and other key stakeholders such as our partners and media. We have enough work to be done, but we can proudly look back together on a successful advocacy effort at the CEDAW Committee.
Written by Robert Aseda from NAYA.
NAYA is one of our partner organizations. Together with others, CHOICE helps young people to become meaningfully engaged in decision making processes that affect their lives. Want to know how you can get involved with UN-processes and how to go about it? Read more about UN-processes in our resources.