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  • Writer's pictureSarah Taal

IWRAW invite to UN Geneva

In Jan 2019 we recieved an unexpected email, after IWRAW spotted our recent report into asylum accommodation standards, which invited us to engage with the UK’s state response to convention to eliminate violence against women, alongside other NGOs across the UK.

It’s been a exciting and exhaustive journey. Baobab women met, and decided to highlight not only the asylum accommodation standards, but the root cause of women’s suffering which is the poor immigration decision making that results in them being made destitute and has serious affects on there mental health.

Within 2 weeks we conducted interviews among our group, relating lived experiences of women. We invited other West Midlands based NGO’s to contribute and received detailed information from Coventry Refugee Asylum Activism Project (CARAG), and a Coventry Migrant Women’s Houses (CMWH). We also asked women’s support workers and solicitors to comment, incorporating their issues and concerns. Authors from Baobab penned before we further edited our report with TRP solicitor Jeni and Refugee Rights Europe Marta.

We sent the report to the UN secretariat to be informed it was over the allowed word count. Marta at Refugee Rights did some tough cuts and we resubmitted. Marta and Rakinder from Baobab made the full text into a shiny photo laiden report which we aimed to publicise to highlight our issues as far and wide as we could.

We ran a workshop with the Women with Hope Group and consulted with MEENA centre on the report, and they added their additional parts. Hope Women particularly wanted focus on destitution, and how they are not allowed to work to survive, they are forced into precarious situations that often result in violence. The decision making of the Home Office may be the driver, but it’s the effects that hurt them the most. No home, no money, no access to benefits, difficulties with healthcare.

Having been invited to IWARW’s pre session training I arrived in Geneva last week. My roommate a young trans women activist representing Transgender NI engaged my previously focused brain on wider issues. The training expanded on this- with NGOS from UK, Serbia and Botswana representing sex worker rights, LBTQI+, austerity & military budget issues. We had a crash course on UN machinery including, councils and conventions, how the structure worked, how and who we could focus on from the CEDAW committee to lobby on our particular points.

Our NGO group from the UK had met in London to decide how to present our joint 10 minute oral statement to the CEDAW committee- not an easy task with 40+ different organisations, with intersecting but different and extensive womens interests. We learnt of the date a day before the meeting and couldn’t attend. It was hard to see a statement that had no mention of our groups issues. There was mention of all women, but nothing specific about there discrimination. Other issues were also not prioritised- it made for some lively email discussions. IWARW helped us focus on the lunch briefing and questions that committee members would ask- we role played scenarios to help our arguments flow like experts.

The IWARW NGO meeting on Sunday morning was attended by less than half our coalition- meeting face to face is super important, and discussing issues with the NI sections statement writer helped us suggest ways that we could contribute to the committee lunch briefing and understand other points of view.

In the afternoon I got a quick Twitter course and flicked through the media pack already circulated. Tweet as an add on to the thread, and follow the hashtag #cedaw72. Had an informal meeting with other groups with a refugee and NRPF focus, it was good to hear their experiences and know they were supportive of raising our important issues.

The morning we printed one page summery briefings for CEDAW committee members and grouped into main themes making 1 minute summaries for the oral statement, to be presented by one of our group members- it was good. Over lunch I learned about constitutional law and CEDAW and the Istanbul convention. With so much on my brain, it is hard to be focused like the representatives there. It made me think about vicarious trauma and whether it was time for a stint on the beach.

The statement to the CEDAW committee was good. I froze a bit in the questions, there were one or two that seemed directly relevent to asylum and no recourse issues, and the trick is to answer issues presented and make them relevent to what we needed to highlight. Rosie from the Angelou Centre did a fantastic job raising destitution, and homelessness, and some asylum issues. It was very hard with the time we had.

Overnight we pulled togeather a joint respoinse to the CEDAW member questions on a shared google doc- something suggested in the IWARW training. It grew from 2/3 pages to 24 in about 6 hours. I sent that to the secratariat at 9am on the day of the state review, after getting all the NGO’s to agree it was ready!!

The State review was ok, im no fan of bureaucracy and there was a lot of what seemed to me to be political waffle without much substance. There were some positive points my favourite were:

Lets see what the concluding recommendations are and see whether they mean anything to the women we see day to day.

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