30 November 2010

How can international lobbying the UN have a place in tackling tough issues?

I recently had a meeting at FORWARD with UNIFEM, the UN’s women’s issues department. In the UK, they spend time leading school assemblies and education awareness days to help combat FGM in the UK. With a month of international travel myself, I considered how can lobbying internatinoally raise awareness of key issues?

My month started with a talk on ‘Campaigning Against the Cutting Culture’ to a group of doctors at the Medical Society in London. These members of the Instititute of Psychosexual Medicine are familiar with the medical issues of FGM, but dedicated their Autumn Clinical meeting to Sex, Culture & Religion – so my talk opened the day. I covered the history and geographic presence of FGM; case studies from Somalia, Pakistan and Nigeria; and then strategies to change society & stand against FGM. The other talks covered ‘Sexuality & Religion’ and ‘Semen & Dhat Syndrome’ – so the audience were kept awake all day!

I also travelled to Perpingnon, France where there were road blockades standing against changes in pension rights. I was there to set up a medical French placement next year, reading various anti-FGM reports on my flights. I wondered what it would take to get that much public opinion against FGM where half a million European women and girls are affected annually.

I spent two weeks in New York, where I spoke at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. I delivered a talk hosted by The Women’s Centre, founded in 1993 and seeking to address gender issues such as domestic violence, rape, HIV Aids, torture, assault, contraception and FGM. As a majority female college with 62% Latino students entering male-dominated professions (criminal justice; CSI/forensic science; fire/police services) these topics are important personal/professional development. The talk was well received and attended by students and an ex-circuit judge! I hope to recruit one student as an intern when he graduates in December – watch this space!

In my last week in New York I visited the UN, visiting its Access to Life Photography Exhibition. The UN Global Fund fights AIDS, TB and malaria and sponsored photographers to visit 9 countries to document the transformative effects of AIDS treatment on 33 individuals. It helped me appreciate the work of UN AID as we approach World Aids Day on 1st December. As I head off to Kenya and Ethiopia in December, I will be more aware of the role of the UN to affect global change, hoping to see its weight stand against FGM in my lifetime!