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ENGAGE Fellowship: CEDAW in Geneva, Switzerland

March 03, 2023

ENGAGE fellowships support law students seeking to take part in internationally focused research projects, conferences, or fact-finding missions under the guidance of Penn Carey Law faculty (professors, lecturers, or adjuncts).

By Chayla Sherrod L’23

The CEDAW 84th Session changed my life.

As a student in the Legislative Clinic at the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School, I have had the privilege of working as an intern under Professor Rangita de Silva de Alwis, Senior Adjunct Professor of Global Leadership at Penn Carey Law, Hillary Rodham Clinton Distinguished Fellow on Global Gender Equity, and member of and treaty body expert for the United Nations Committee on the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). With Professor de Silva de Alwis’s guidance, I have researched the contours of international women’s human rights issues from an intersectional perspective.

CEDAW—often termed the “women’s bill of rights”—is the only international treaty that focuses solely CEDAW  on the protection of the rights of women. The CEDAW Committee drafts general recommendations addressing “any issue affecting women to which it believes the State parties should devote more attention.”

I was honored, then, to be invited to join Professor de Silva de Alwis at the 84th Session of the CEDAW Committee in Geneva, Switzerland, giving me a chance to build upon my legal research and to get a closer look at the inner workings of CEDAW. My travel to the 84th Session, held in mid-February 2023, was supported by an ENGAGE Fellowship from the Penn Carey Law Office of International Affairs.

The foundation for my interest in global politics, international human rights, and the intersectional challenges in the push for universal equality and equity was laid prior to law school. In 2018, I embarked on a yearlong research fellowship as a U.S. Fulbright Scholar in Namibia. My goal there was to examine the complexities of anthropogenic behavior on the environment, through the lens and lives of the country’s rural conservancy communities. Among the initiatives that emerged from that experience were programs for rural Namibian women to earn money for their handmade products and to travel to the booming cities to cultivate their education.

At the CEDAW Committee’s 84th Session, by contrast, I was given a global view of policymaking in action. I witnessed the intricate work of the treaty body’s engagement with the delegations and government representatives. On my first day attending the Session, I observed as committee members met with delegates and posed questions to determine whether their countries were complying with CEDAW articles and provisions. The committee members then came together privately to debrief about what had been shared during the delegate discussions. Following the debriefs, the committee considered recommendations for each country, dependent on its reported compliance.

This experience was an up-close-and-personal look at policymaking. I took notes on what was discussed, conducted research based upon delegate responses, and collaborated with other interns about our takeaways for that day’s session.

My time at the CEDAW Committee’s 84th Session provided me with the opportunity to work with other international women’s human rights scholars and to expand on the policy work I have been doing at Penn Carey Law. I’ve developed a deeper understanding of the function of the CEDAW Committee and its role in shaping the domestic legislation of each state that is party to the CEDAW treaty. I’ve also expanded my research and drafting skills to address other—sometimes forgotten—topics within the realm of women’s human rights, such as abusive work environments, women’s economic empowerment, and adolescent girl marriage laws. As I share my research findings in these crucial areas with Professor de Silva de Alwis, she can then share them with the treaty body.

As I continue my policy work with Professor de Silva de Alwis, I hope to further develop my knowledge and CEDAW_2 understanding of the intersectional complexities of advancing women’s rights issues on a global scale. Although I am starting my legal career at a big law firm, I have immense interest in working in global policy, international law and governance, and international women’s human rights in my post–law school career. It is my goal to be a global ambassador for Penn Carey Law, and to maintain the connections I’ve built with the advocates with whom I engaged closely at the CEDAW Committee’s 84th Session.

The CEDAW opportunity was a unique, transformational capstone for my law school experience, and with International Women’s Day right around the corner, there is no better time to shed light on the significance of advancing women’s rights on a global scale.