Canberra Wrap Up - May 9-11, 2017

By Sophie Levy, UNSW Coop Scholar

A group of six OECD delegates, two Y20 delegates, two Defence delegates and four Global Voices staff met in Canberra for a pre-departure briefing where we met with diplomats and politicians in order to gain different perspectives on global trade relations and Australia’s strategic place in the world and to prepare us for some discussion topics that we will likely encounter on our international delegations.

We began day one with a visit to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), where DFAT officers Christine Schafer, Benjamin Lavis and Daniel Millis provided an overview of the current architecture of international trade and relations.

Y20 and OECD delegates at the department of foreign affairs and trade

Y20 and OECD delegates at the department of foreign affairs and trade

Christine explored Australia’s current trade relations and values, discussing the changing nature of global trade and we examined potential impacts of recent global changes on Australia’s trade relations and foreign policies. Ben discussed his role in MIKTA, a multilateral trading group including Mexico, Indonesia, South Korea, Turkey and Australia. This unique, non-regional partnership unites five diverse cultures and regions in order to discuss ways in which they can maintain stability and prosperity in areas of finance, economics, security, the environment and sustainable development. It was fascinating to learn about the benefits of bringing together these diverse countries and the similarities that these countries share in their objectives amidst a rapidly changing world.

We then raced over to the US Embassy where James Shea, the Unit Chief for Energy and Environment, gave us a valuable insight into the relationship between the US and Australia and their shared interests. We discussed the way in which the US and Australia interact to reach mutually beneficial goals for both countries and discussed some of the challenges that the US embassy faces in Australia.

For our final meeting of the day we had the privilege of meeting with members of the G20 team at the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

Dr. Gruen, Australia’s G20 Sherpa, provided us with an interesting and detailed overview of how this year’s G20 will possibly play out and gave us an insight into the issues that the G20 aims to address. We talked through the challenges of globalisation, free trade, technology, cyber security and more. Dr. Gruen even gave some advice to the Y20 delegates in their negotiation strategies and the way in which Australia positions itself in the G20 forum. We were all incredibly grateful for this opportunity, considering Dr. Gruen’s reputation as one of Australia’s most respected economists.

On day two, we woke up excited for the day ahead, anticipating the incredible insight into foreign policy that we were expecting to receive from diplomats and politicians throughout the day.

First stop: InnovationXchange (Ixc). Established by DFAT to support innovation across the Australian Aid Program, IxC collaborates with partners such as Google and Atlassian with the aim of encouraging fresh thinking to provide innovative solutions that are ‘cheaper, faster and more effective’.

We had the privilege of sitting down with Matthew Steine, Cassie Cohen (a Global Voices alumni) and a few other members of IxC. The group focused on the importance of collaboration, in particular with their partner organisations, in developing innovative and thoughtful solutions to global issues. It was particularly interesting to hear from Matthew, the current Innovation Director, who previously worked in the telecommunications industry and then went on to develop social enterprises in telecommunications. We all gained an insight into current foreign aid challenges, specifically within the Pacific region, and took away a lesson in new and exciting methods that governmental departments can achieve desired outcomes.

Our next stop was a visit to the Australia Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), where we shared in a roundtable discussion with a panel of eight experts with varied knowledge, from international relations to physics, to middle eastern studies and specialties in the Chinese market.

Australian strategic policy institute roundtable

Australian strategic policy institute roundtable

As a commerce student with little knowledge of defence strategy, this fascinating panel provided me with a new understanding of the complexity of defence and security and it has certainly sparked my interest in the effects of the current economic situation on our defence strategy. We discussed the impact of recent economic changes and the constantly evolving global environment, with a focus on the US, China and Russia. This conversation led us into many perspectives on Australia’s possible future global challenges. I found it particularly interesting to learn more about counter-terrorism strategies being used in Australia on a community level and gain an insight into IT security from a government perspective.

After a short walk through Canberra, we found ourselves at the beautiful Australian Parliament House. Surprised by the perfect layout of the premises and the extremely well kept exterior, I was excited for our tour with Harry Jenkins, AO, to begin.

Harry Jenkins, the Global Voices Chairperson and former Speaker of the house of Representatives, gave us an ‘insider’ tour of Parliament House, providing us access to areas of the building that were off limits to the general public. It was an honour to be guided by such a well-respected and well-liked politician who has an incredible knowledge of Australian politics, policies and the history of Australian Parliament House.

We were fortunate enough to have a brief meeting with Tanya Plibersek, deputy leader of the Opposition. We discussed the importance of women’s economic empowerment, specifically within the Pacific region. She focused on the role of women in promoting global economic growth and we discussed the importance of foreign aid in supporting women in developing countries.

discussing women's economic empowerment with tanya pliberseck and Harry Jenkins AO at Parliament House

discussing women's economic empowerment with tanya pliberseck and Harry Jenkins AO at Parliament House

A visit to Parliament House would be remiss without a pit stop at Question Time. Having never observed the Senate Question Time in real life, I was surprised to experience the ‘Question Time culture’ and found it extremely interesting to observe the ways in which the senators interacted and responded during this event. Attending Question Time two days after the 2017 budget release provided us with a unique experience as we heard different views of policies such as the bank levy, education and taxes.

Our meeting began with two of Senator Penny Wong’s advisers, Allan Behm and Nina Dynon, who commenced the discussion by asking – ‘Do you believe that the current world can cope with disruption?’ What a big question! We discussed global disruption and debated the true meaning of the phrase and went onto discuss the importance of Australian values – distinct from Australian interests –  in establishing ourselves and ultimately in establishing our policies.

This conversation was then joined by the hon. Senator, Penny Wong, who discussed our foreign trade policies and added to our previous discussion on disruption and values. Senator Wong spoke movingly about her personal connection to Australia and how honesty and equity are crucial Australian values and assets in how we conduct ourselves as a nation, both bilaterally and multilaterally, in a changing world.

Meeting the hon. senator Penny wong

Meeting the hon. senator Penny wong

Just as we were finishing up our day at parliament house, and we thought the day couldn’t get any better, Harry Jenkins spotted Julie Bishop, our Minister for Foreign Affairs. She paused her conversation and lunch with her colleagues to provide us with a few words of wisdom as we embark on our journey to the G20 or the OECD. It was an honour to meet her.

Travelling to Canberra as a Global Voices Delegate was a remarkable, inspiring and insightful experience! It was an absolute privilege to speak with so many respected, intelligent and high-level individuals who could share their varied perspectives on so many issues. If this is an indicator of the Global Voices experience, I can’t wait to see what’s in store for us at the OECD Forum in Paris!

global voices staff and delegates with australia's minister for foreign affairs, the hon. julie bishop 

global voices staff and delegates with australia's minister for foreign affairs, the hon. julie bishop 

Habitat III Delegate Cassandra Cohen featured in Quarterly Access Journal

Cassandra attended the 2016 Habitat III Conference in Quito, representing RMIT University. You can read her policy paper here or by copying the following URL into your browser: 

UNCSW61 Final Wrap Up

By Natasha O'Farrell, University of Sydney

On Friday March 17, the first week of CSW61 drew to a close. The official negotiations were underway in one of the conference rooms at UN Headquarters, with supporting members of delegations camped outside ready to give advice and show support as needed.  Our day started with a Townhall event run by the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres and the UN Under Secretary General and Executive Director of UN Women, Dr. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. The Townhall provided Civil Society organisations with an opportunity to engage and share concerns with the Secretary General and his senior staff. The event was the first of its kind and a historic moment for Civil Society at CSW. Given that Secretary General Guterres is new to his post and, admittedly, a large proportion of civil society in attendance were rather disappointed that the new Secretary General was not a woman, the Secretary made a great effort to demonstrate his passion and intention for the UN to facilitate the global achievement of gender justice for women and girls. Civil society asked whether the Secretary General had plans to achieve equality and parity for women within UN staff, and if a Civil Society Liaison would be appointed (as was the case during Kofi Annan’s leadership). The Secretary General confirmed his commitment to initiatives. Other questions included how negotiations will ensure the independent treatment of girls in the agreed conclusions. Specifically, warning against an ‘add girls and stir approach’ and instead encouraging governments to re-consider all factors from the lived experience of a young girl.

After the Townhall, I attended a session entitled, ‘Promoting Women’s Economic Participation through Addressing Unpaid Care and Domestic Work’. This event was run by the Islamic Development bank and involved speakers from UN Women, Oxfam and Islamic Relief Worldwide. This discussion focused on specific programs that the above organisations are running to address the unequal distribution of unpaid care work. The event focused on specific examples from the developing world where infrastructure is poor and unpaid care work takes up a considerable amount of time. If it takes two days to fetch water or three hours to cook a meal—and there are three meals a day to prepare, then very little time is left to pursue paid employment. Unsurprisingly, women are the people who are in this situation and hence are not financially independent or economically empowered.

I also attended a session run by the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions and the Asia Pacific Forum that sought to discuss the role of human rights institutions in promoting and protecting women’s economic participation in the changing world of work. Hosted by Australia, New Zealand and Germany, the presentations focused on the contributions National Human Rights Institutions make in championing the cause for equality. Presentations were made by representatives of these institutions in Chile, Costa Rica, Morocco, and the United Kingdom. The Australian representative the Hon. Dr. Sharman Stone MP, the Ambassador for Women and Girls, delivered introductory remarks and noted the incredible work of Australia’s independent human rights institutions. Immediately after this session the Global Voices delegates were fortunate enough to meet with Dr Stone and discuss our policy papers and more specifically, the lack of women in political spheres. She was both impassioned and inspiring, giving us a window into Australian gender politics both abroad and at home.

Delegates with Dr. Sharman Stone 

Delegates with Dr. Sharman Stone 

The afternoon left me some time to do some reflecting on the week as a whole. In my mind, three major conversations emerged from the conference this week. Note that this really is just my observations framed by the sessions I attended and the conversations that I had. These conversations were around the importance of prevention of violence against women and girls. Prevention meaning transforming culture, attitudes and education practices to create a new status quo that ensures that we do no harm to women and girls, and that we champion them. Another conversation was around indigenous rights and the multiple and intersecting experiences of discrimination that indigenous women endure. This conversation revealed to me that we simply do not do enough, we do not know enough and that perhaps we are not asking the right people and empowering indigenous people to make their own change. Indigenous women told me again and again this week that they want change, and they know how to do it, they just need a seat at the table.

The final conversation that I have observed or listened to was the importance of valuing unpaid labour. The work of women in performing care roles and domestic labour frees other people (predominantly men) up to spend time earning money. I learnt in a session that despite the fact that women enter and leave employment at different stages over their lifetime, on average, the amount of care and domestic duties they perform remains the same.

Perhaps what struck me the most this week was Australia’s position at the conference as an open contributor—as a nation that upholds best practice and speaks truth and practicality directly into complicated policy issues. The conference itself was both overwhelming and exhilarating. With so much potential for change and innovation, I was often frustrated at the deliberate pace at which business proceeded. However, I developed a better understanding of change, and good change as being incremental and generational.  What an awesome and humbling experience to be in the company of such talented and passionate people. 

UNCSW61 Wrap Up: Day 3

By Jessica Wescott, Victoria University

For the third day of the 61st Commission on the Status of Women, we trekked through the still snow-filled streets of Manhattan and entered Australia! Yes, that’s right, today we were based on Australian soil at the Australian Consulate-General in New York City; headquarters to the Australian Mission to the United Nations and the offices of the Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations, HE Ms. Gillian Bird.

First on our agenda was a CSW panel entitled, ‘Preventing violence against women and girls in the digital and technological age to facilitate increased participation in education and work’. Moderated by the Australian Minister for Women, Michaelia Cash, the panel featured former Senator Natasha Stott-Despoja, chair of OurWatch; chair of the Australian Women Against Violence Alliance and WESNET Australia Julie Oberin and the Executive Vice President of the National Network to End Domestic Violence Cindy Southworth. The message of the panel was clear: technology is being gravely misused to perpetuate violence against women and girls, through surveillance, abuse, unauthorised material distribution and more. Panellists discussed the importance of government funding to civil sector organisations that develop and implement training programs educating frontline workers and victims in protecting themselves online. Ms. Stott-Despoja additionally discussed the work of OurWatch in developing the online resource ‘The Line’, as well as specifically targeted advertising aimed at promoting the key theme, ‘you can’t undo violence,’ to young men.

Delegates then met with the Australian Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN, HE Caitlin Wilson, to discuss Australia’s role in multilateral organisations and the country’s areas of engagement for CSW. Ambassador Wilson provided key insights into the pillars that Australia operates on in their Mission to the United Nations, the operation of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, as well as our focus on obtaining a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council in 2018-2020. This was an invaluable opportunity to engage with a high-level diplomat versed in domestic, bilateral and multilateral issues.

Meeting with Australian Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN, HE Caitlin Wilson.

Meeting with Australian Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN, HE Caitlin Wilson.

After a quick jaunt to Starbucks (when in Rome…), delegates met with Amanda McIntyre, Head of the Office for Women in the Australian Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. As the top advisor to the Minister of Women and the head of the official government delegation to CSW, Ms. McIntyre discussed her role in government and at CSW.

The second panel held by the Mission was a conversation on increasing female participation in the workforce. Featuring Judith Van Unen of JERA International; the Fijian Minister for Women, Meresini Vuniwaqa; New Zealand powerhouse Helen Swales; and investor, female mentor and activist Hitha Palepu, the panel looked at the various structural barriers contributing to the workforce participation gap. This includes male-dominated employment, the lack of entitlements for women, stereotypes and the inflexibility of roles. The panellists discussed various solutions or frameworks being implemented in their organisations and countries in order to empower women in a quest to address the problem.

Continuing a jam-packed day, delegates attended a meeting with the Deputy Secretary for Social Policy in the Australian Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Lin Hatfield Dodds. Ms. Dodds spoke about leadership, participation and her own personal history as a successful NGO director, psychologist and government advisor with candour and frankness, entertaining us while also discussing difficult social policy issues.

We then ended our day at the conference with the Australian civil sector briefing held by our three CSO representatives of the official government delegation. This provided a prime opportunity for reflection and discussion amongst non-government delegates, as well as for official representatives to inform us of the nature of negotiations and how we can contribute to Australia achieving their objectives at CSW. 

Despite the hectic schedule, the day proved to be insightful and inspiring, as we met with incredibly influential women and continued to learn about the multiple problems and solutions being discussed on an international level. I look forward to continuing the conversation, and am confident that the thousands of women who have attended the Commission from all over the world will do so too.

UNCSW61 Wrap Up: Day 2

By Tara Liddy, Charles Darwin University

The United Nations Headquarters was closed on day two of the 61st Commission on the Status of Women due to inclement weather. With the postponement of official meetings for one day, many side and parallel events were cancelled all together. Disappointing as this was, we took the opportunity to take a “snow day” and check out Central Park in all its wintery goodness.

We then returned to official proceedings on Wednesday 15th March, meeting with Grace Hill, Fundraising & Programs Coordinator at UN Women National Committee Australia. Grace provided a comprehensive overview of the work that UN Women Australia do in terms of fundraising and program implementation and management and highlighted the objectives of UN Women globally and in Australia.

Shortly following this meeting I attended a session entitled, “A journey to strengthen cooperation between the international and regional human rights mechanisms on women's rights,” hosted by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights & the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women with the participation of representatives of regional mechanisms on women's rights.  Key learning’s from this session included the lack of ‘synergy’ between regional and global approaches to addressing human rights standards and the contradictory messages that are being conveyed by member states due to this fragmentation.  Interesting questions were asked by women from the Congo in regard to tools that can be provided by the United Nations to civil society to ensure that assaults on human rights are mitigated. 

The second session that I attended was hosted by Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the NSW Council of Social Service, entitled, “National action on Indigenous women's economic empowerment (Australia, Canada and New Zealand Perspectives)”.  The moderator for this event was our very own Senator, the Hon. Michaelia Cash, and included Australian Indigenous panellists Keira Jenkins and LiAnne Wilson. Both Keira and Leann provided real-life insight into both the challenges and achievements of Indigenous Australians while calling for greater national and international Indigenous representation and government accountability. All panelists agreed that the need to improve societal outcomes is imperative in the pursuit of a life of independence and choice for our nations’ First Peoples.

Later that evening, the delegation attended the daily Australian CSO briefing before wrapping up for the day. All in all, the day brought further insight into the work of the United Nations (and in particular, UN Women and UN Women Australia) and the ways in which member states can improve outcomes by promoting greater adherence to International human rights standards.