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ENGAGE Fellowship: 87th Session of CEDAW

April 09, 2024

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 Dorothy Ayitey LLM’24

As I sat through the 87th session of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the lyrics of Beyoncé’s song “Run the World (Girls)” echoed in my mind: Who run the world? Girls! Girls! In that moment it was more than a catchy tune; it encapsulated a profound truth eloquently articulated by the late Kofi Annan, former Secretary-General of the United Nations: “There is no tool for development more effective than the empowerment of women.”

Coming from a continent where women often face systemic discrimination and are relegated to second-class status, these words carried immense weight. In a world often perceived as dominated by men, the idea that women might truly run the show felt revolutionary. Reflecting on this, I couldn’t shake the feeling that we stood on the brink of a transformative shift.

My journey to this realization has been deeply personal. Growing up in Ghana, I witnessed firsthand the hardships endured by women in my community. Their resilience in the face of adversity, juxtaposed with the systemic discrimination they faced, ignited a fervent passion within me. Thus, I embarked on my academic pursuit at Penn with a single goal: to deepen my understanding of women’s rights.

It was therefore a privilege to receive an invitation to join Professor Rangita de Silva de Alwis at the 87th Session of the CEDAW Committee in Geneva, Switzerland—an opportunity to further enrich my knowledge of women’s rights and gain invaluable insights into the inner workings of CEDAW. My travel to Geneva was made possible through the support of an ENGAGE Fellowship from the Penn Carey Law Office of International Affairs.

Dorothy Ayitey L'24, Hayley Smith L'24, and Professor Rangita de Silva de Alwis Dorothy Ayitey L'24, Hayley Smith L'24, and Professor Rangita de Silva de Alwis My time at the 87th Session was nothing short of transformative. Witnessing women from diverse backgrounds take center stage in global efforts to promote gender equality was inspiring. From committee experts to grassroots activists, each played a crucial role in advocating for policies to empower women worldwide. On my first day attending the 87 th Session, I had the privilege to observe committee members engaging with state party delegates to assess their countries’ compliance with CEDAW articles and provisions. These dialogues, marked by a graceful and delicate approach, delved into crucial issues such as marriage laws, employment opportunities, and women’s representation in government. The delicate balance between respect for national sovereignty and accountability to international commitments epitomized the very essence of the CEDAW framework.

Further, throughout the session, representatives from around the world came together to discuss strategies and initiatives aimed at advancing women’s empowerment. Among the participating nations were Tajikistan, Italy, and Turkmenistan, each contributing unique perspectives and experiences to the dialogue. Tajikistan, for instance, highlighted its efforts to address gender disparities in education, employment, and political representation. Italy, on the other hand, emphasized its commitment to women’s economic empowerment, showcasing initiatives to support female entrepreneurship and workforce participation. The dialogue with Italy additionally stressed the significance of legal reforms and support services in combating gender-based violence and discrimination. Turkmenistan’s participation focused on promoting women’s involvement in decision-making processes and improving their access to education and healthcare. Turkmenistan’s dedication to advancing women’s rights underscored the importance of international cooperation in achieving gender equality objectives.

The insights I gained from the CEDAW session were invaluable. They underscored the vital role of international dialogues in shaping domestic legislation and laying the groundwork for women’s rights worldwide. Further, collaborating with fellow interns, conducting research, and engaging with delegates deepened my understanding of the complexities surrounding women’s rights advocacy on a global scale, reaffirming my belief in diplomacy and law as catalysts for change.

Reflecting on my time at the CEDAW, I am grateful to Professor de Silva de Alwis and to Penn Carey Law Office of International Affairs for this life-changing experience. It has ignited a renewed dedication to advance gender equality, and I am inspired to pursue a career in international women’s rights upon graduating from Penn. As we stand on the brink of a transformative shift, let us continue to combat harmful practices that perpetuate inequality between men and women. Together, we can build a world where every woman and girl has the opportunity to thrive, and where the lyrics of Beyoncé’s song ring true in every corner of the globe.