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Lessons on Diplomacy

April 28, 2023

After spending a semester studying women’s international human rights, Penn Carey Law students visited the UN Headquarters in New York.

After spending a semester deeply engaged in conversations about gender equity around the world, students in Associate Dean of International Affairs and Senior Adjunct Professor of Global Leadership Rangita de Silva de Alwis’s “International Women’s Human Rights” class visited the United Nations headquarters in New York.

An Impactful Semester

De Silva de Alwis, who also serves as an independent expert on the UN Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) for the 2023-2026 term and the Rapporteur on Women, Peace and Security on the CEDAW, leads dynamic classes that bridge trailblazing academic research with real-world advocacy. Throughout their semesters, students both learn about essential women’s human rights issues around the world and work to produce collaborative research aimed at advancing gender justice.

Periodically, distinguished guests occupying leadership positions in industries and governments visit “International Women’s Human Rights” to discuss some of the most pressing contemporary gender justice issues. Among this semester’s guests were former Vice President of Afghanistan Dr. Sima Samar, former French Minister of Parity Hon. Nicole Ameline; Fawzia Koofi of Afghanistan; and Gissou Nia of Iran.

Global Engagement

As a culmination to the semester, students visited the UN Headquarters in New York, where they met with international leaders in diplomacy, including Ambassador Sergiy Kyslytysa of Ukraine to the UN and Secretary of the UN-Women Executive Board Jean-Luc Bories.

Regarding the meeting, the class reflected on the 1945 Yalta Conference, wherein World War II allies met following the war to discuss steps forward, which included, among other items, the formation of the UN.

Through an informed historical and legal lens, students conversed with international leaders on how lessons from the Yalta Conference may be applied to issues such as the impact and legal implications of the war in Ukraine on women and girls, women’s leadership and gender quotas, and LGBTQ rights.

Prof. Rangita de Silva de Alwis led a discussion with Ambassador Kyslytsya, Ambassador of Ukraine to the UN and Chair of the UN Women Execut

For many students, the experience of visiting and engaging with an international governing body as influential as the UN underscored the gravity of the material they had spent the past semester studying.

“It was truly a life-changing experience and was the perfect way to cap off our class,” said Schuyler La Barge L’24.

La Barge noted that, for her, visiting the UN was a unique opportunity to apply a semester of classroom learning in women’s human rights to current issues and to learn how UN Women contributes to the vital goals of gender justice.

Other students shared similar takeaways, including: “we are United Nations not uniform nations;” “countries are united in their diversity;” and “we must build coalitions around issues of humankind.”

* This article was written by Blanche Helbling L’21, an alum of “International Women’s Human Rights.”

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