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‘Climate Change Is a Man-Made Problem with a Feminist Solution’

March 08, 2024

Group of Penn Carey Law students at the Alley of the Flags, Geneva, Switzerland
Group of Penn Carey Law students at the Alley of the Flags, Geneva, Switzerland

Hayley Fitzgerald-Smith L’24 and Dorothy Ayitey LLM’24 share their reflections on Rangita de Silva de Alwis’ remarks at the 87th session of the CEDAW.

By Hayley Fitzgerald-Smith L’24 and Dorothy Ayitey LLM’24

An atmosphere of profound silence and admiration filled the room as Rangita de Silva de Alwis, an expert to the UN Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against women (CEDAW), uttered these thought-provoking words: “Climate change is a man-made problem with a feminist solution.”

Her words conveyed the vital role that women must play in addressing the existential challenges facing humanity and underscored the critical importance of gender equality.

Hayley Fitzgerald-Smith L'24, Dorothy Ayitey LLM'24, and Rangita de Silva de Alwis Hayley Fitzgerald-Smith L’24, Dorothy Ayitey LLM’24, and Rangita de Silva de AlwisDespite comprising half of the world’s population, women continue to face significant barriers to their development potential due to pervasive gender discrimination. This inequality, deeply ingrained and persistent in both developing and developed economies, hinders women’s social, economic, and political advancement. And consequently, it undermines the global effort to achieve sustainable development goals.

We had the privilege of attending the 87th session of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), which took place in Geneva Switzerland, with Professor Rangita de Silva de Alwis, the country Rapporteur for Tajikistan. As the session unfolded, women took center stage, driving global efforts to promote gender equality. From esteemed committee experts to dedicated country delegates, women played a vital role at every stage, advocating passionately for policies to empower women from all walks of life. Additionally, among the NGO’s present, women stood out as key architects of change. Whether representing Tajikistan, Italy, or Turkmenistan, female led NGO’s brought to the forefront their firsthand experiences and unwavering commitment to women’s rights.

As young women, witnessing this dynamic display of female leadership, cannot be overstated. Seeing women in positions of influence and authority within the international forum served as a powerful reminder of what is possible. Such a display of leadership challenges societal norms and stereotypes that may seek to limit women’s potential and sends a clear message that women are not only capable but essential agents of progress in the fight for gender equality.

Furthermore, Professor De Silva’s statement that, “The independence of the judiciary and a strong legal profession are important pillars for access to justice for women,” spoke to the need for young women in the legal space. As young legal professionals, this resonated with us. It gave us a sense of hope that we are an essential mechanism by which change can be achieved.

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. Additionally, the dialogue with Italy highlighted the significance of legal reforms and support services in combating gender-based violence and discrimination. Turkmenistan’s participation centered on promoting women’s participation in decision-making processes and improving access to education and healthcare for women. Turkmenistan’s dedication to advancing women’s rights underscored the importance of international cooperation in achieving gender equality objectives.

It was awe-inspiring to witness the grace and delicacy with which the experts on the committee were able to interact with the state party delegations. They asked thought-provoking questions on marriage laws, employment pursuits, and women’s representation in government in ways that paid respect to the sovereignty of the nations they were engaging with while also holding those same nations to the promises they made by signing and ratifying the CEDAW.

As students of international women’s human rights, understanding the intricacies of global efforts to empower women is paramount. The 87th session of the CEDAW offered invaluable insights into the diplomatic process and underscored the significance of dialogues in laying the groundwork for women’s rights worldwide.

We are grateful to Professor Rangita de Silva de Alwis for this opportunity. Our time at the session was transformative as we got to witness a higher body call countries to account for their harmful practices that enable and sometimes promote inequality between men and women. Particularly, witnessing Professor de Silva speak truth to power, in such a graceful manner, was undoubtedly the highlight of our experience.

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