My Journey in Geneva at the 69th CEDAW Review Session
In February 2018, I represented the Malaysian coalition of civil society as part of a team of 5 representatives, to engage and inform the CEDAW committee in Geneva on the state of women’s rights in Malaysia.
Malaysia has signed the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1995, but has only been reviewed twice by the committee – once in 2006 and in 2018. Signing on to CEDAW means that the government has to be reviewed by the committee every 4.5 years, but the government has only participated in its second review in 2018 after a 12 year gap.
During the 69th CEDAW session, NGOs play a vital role in informing the committee of on-the-ground realities of the state of women’s rights in Malaysia. On the first day, there were two sessions in which we had to brief the committee – the informal lunch briefing session and the formal public Oral Intervention session. During these sessions, we presented critical issues affecting women in Malaysia as well as answer any questions that the committee posed to us. All these sessions were held at the Palais des Nations, United Nations Office at Geneva (UNOG).
The second day was the government’s review session, in which no further formal interventions by civil society was allowed. Our role then, would be to monitor the dialogue between the committee and the government, and be on alert in case of any misinformation presented. Throughout the entire two-day session, we had a dedicated team back home on Malaysian soil on stand-by to provide us with any critical information that we needed as well as to cheer us on.
The two-day review session in Geneva took many months of work and consultations with different stakeholders, finally leading to the big event. This review was a reporting of Malaysia’s progress on women’s rights in the last 12 years – it is the culmination of the hard work of many who work tirelessly to uplift women’s rights in this country across all fields, be it in addressing discrimination against women in laws and policies, Islamic Family Laws, to Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH), access to lands and services for rural women, and rights of trafficked victims and refugees among many others.
The entire experience has been quite a challenging but rewarding journey for me. The stress and pressure is inevitable – the thought of your performance in Geneva contributing to the future policy directions of the country was definitely sufficient to rattle some nerves. Nevertheless, I will always be grateful for this opportunity to represent the voices of Malaysians, and to fight for a better and more equal Malaysia.
Stella Tan, Research and Advocacy Officer, Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO)
Master of Public Health, Class of 2015/2016