Young Women's Alliance News and Events

Human Rights Council – Youth Delegate testimonials

In June 2018, 15 students flew to the United Nations in Geneva to attend the 38th Human Rights Council as part of the NAWO Young Women’s Alliance.

Katherine Ainsworth

“I feel incredibly fortunate to have been able to attend and participate in the Human Rights Council, and I have NAWO to thank for their kind invitation and dedication to giving us the best possible support and advice during the entire process.

Throughout the week, I enjoyed attending side events, my favourite of which was entitled ‘Enforced Disappearances in Sri Lanka’. I also had the privilege to observe the drafting of resolutions in the Human Rights Chamber, which has allowed me to develop a heightened awareness of the political system of many different countries. Three words which I would use to describe my experience are moving, eye-opening and inspiring.

Firstly, meeting individuals such as the FGMC survivors and the victims of enforced disappearances allowed me to view certain issues through a different lens. Their extremely moving speeches inspired me to push harder for change, and to ensure that my voice is heard.

Secondly, the experience opened my eyes to current issues being experienced by many different cultures, genders and age groups, which I had not even considered before. I believe that viewing and being aware of a wider range of concerns has allowed me to become a more well-rounded and considerate person.

Lastly, the experience was beyond inspiring, and I have left with a new sense of confidence and assertiveness, which I believe will be an asset to my future study and potential career, as well as my personal life. NAWO provided me with an opportunity which is only available to a very small minority of students across the world, and I would like to thank them for the entire experience.”

Kathrine Williams

“At first, I was reluctant to apply for the trip to the United Nations in Geneva. I was an external student and therefore still very ‘new’ to Stroud High. I only had a few friends and was worried about going on a somewhat lengthy trip with people I still didn’t know. However, I applied and was accepted onto this life-changing trip and I have become closer with my best friend and become friends with all the other students on the trip, that I would not have otherwise spoken to.

Again, I had countless doubts about whether or not I was ‘worthy’ enough to go on such a trip like this. I considered myself to come from a relatively rough school in comparison to my new environment at Stroud High. Opportunities had to be begged for and were rare. I didn’t think that I could pull off sophisticated language and interaction or act formal or adult enough to be in such an important environment. I thought there was no way I could fit in. I was very much mistaken by this upon my arrival at the UN. I felt so powerful and confident to be able to say that, from the school I went to for Secondary School, I can be formal, sophisticated, respectable and proud. I cannot express how grateful I am to have gone on this trip.

Self pride is something I could never really get my head around. I was regularly restricted and limited to what I could do and where I could aim to go and I was never satisfied with what I achieved. I had always been confined to restrict myself. Although, having been on this trip, I have become so enlightened. I am powerful, I can make a difference, I can help others and I can achieve and aim higher, I can be validated in myself and I can explore everything above and beyond my own comprehension.

This is something that I want to bring back to all the people around me in my community. I wish I had this confidence earlier in my life. Never have I ever realised how successful I am and can be or how grateful I should be. I have learnt so much about the world and people’s lives that are complete alternatives to mine that I cannot even begin to reiterate.

Networking. Let’s just say, I got progressively better at it. I felt like I could talk to almost anybody – but I am extremely reserved. I cannot stress enough how much I hated networking at the beginning. I understood the importance and its worth… I just couldn’t do it; I didn’t know how. After receiving advice from our leaders and the other youth delegates, I realised I just needed to relax and truly believe I was valued and worthy to be in their presence. I could not have done that with NAWO. Long story short: I can now confidently communicate with all types of people. I have met a broad range  incredible people and I now have connections with so many, I cannot begin to describe how insane it is to me that I met so many crucially important people. Not only has networking helped me learn to come out of my bubble. Regarding my hope for a future career in Law, I have so many contacts that can give me advice and opportunities.

Moreover, I have had long-term issues with my mental health and as a result have felt so unmotivated and cautious. Going to the UN made me realise that it is okay not to be okay all the time, but, I should be so, so, so grateful for everything that I have, had and will have. During my time there, I realised I just simply didn’t have the time to feel lousy or sorry for myself. Nothing can describe how thankful I am for this. Though I still have my problems, I know now that I can manage myself effectively and in a healthy way. I could not have made this personal progress without being a Youth Delegate with NAWO organised by Serene..

I will never forget this trip and all that it has taught me. Without it, I would not be at all confident, I would not be able to talk to strangers on my own, I would not be brave enough to aim for higher careers and statuses.

Thank you so much for this opportunity!!!”

Annabel Hosking

“I would like to take this opportunity to thank NAWO for the amazing opportunity they gave me to travel to Geneva and participate at the UN; it was truly life changing. Not often can I say that I feel such inspiration simply from simply my surroundings. Every gender, every race, ever culture all contributing together for the greater good of the world was truly beautiful to see.

A key moment within my time in Geneva, that stood out for me, was when I had the opportunity to hear first-hand stories from FGM survivors. Their stories were heart-breaking, eye-opening and overwhelmingly moving. I learnt how truly privileged I am to live where I live, have the family I have and have the opportunities I am given, something I would never have realised so deeply if I had not been given the chance to come on this trip. As such an invaluable experience into both character development and self-realisation. These women have been through so much in their lives, beginning from their cuttings at the age of 8, to now fighting through the continual pain of recounting their traumatic experiences to finally educate others. The bravery they have showed has inspired me to take action as soon as I return hope to do all I can to help innocent girls living in fear and with FGM. I will do all I can to keep the conversation going, raise money and raise awareness to people ignorant to these poor girl’s trauma.

I found the opportunities to network incredibly valuable, for example, meeting the minster of economics for China and the UK human rights mission. These contacts have enabled me to start a conversation with so many amazing, influential people who I have already made plans to meet with upon returning home. The best part of this was that we were on equal footing with these phenomenal people. We weren’t just students, as an NGO we had just as much of a right to be there as everyone else.

Being given the opportunity to present a speech on a subject of my choice allowed me to demonstrate my passion of human rights, while synonymously encouraging me to work with those around me – developing both my confidence and knowledge of the subject. Furthermore, it gave me the chance to speak in front of a noble crowd – many of whom later approached me to ask for my contact details! This opportunity would never have been made possible without the selfless work of both Zarin and Soroush, with their dedication to making people’s voices heard continually inspiring me.

I would like to thank NAWO for this life changing opportunity, before leaving I had little idea of where I wanted to go in life, with no contacts or work opportunities. Now, I am returning with global contacts, and future prospects of work and employment, I have truly been inspired.”

Grace Spencer

“Visiting the Human Rights Council in Geneva as a delegate of NAWO impacted me profoundly, and I am so grateful to the Young Women’s Alliance for allowing me to take part in such an enriching experience. I felt that this trip changed me, and my fellow delegates, in so many ways – our worldview was expanded, our understanding of international relations was furthered, and our skills in presenting, communicating, and conducting ourselves were improved. I also had loads of fun, and made some great friends along the way!

Not only did we have the chance to sit in on the Human Rights Council and CEDAW while they were in action, which were brilliant and stimulating on their own, but we were able to engage with top members of the Council through NAWO-organised meetings. These were really valuable to us as curious young people, as we were able to get an insight into what goes on behind the scenes in an organisation as huge as the UN. On one occasion, we met with the Permanent Mission for the UK, which was fascinating – they responded really well and informatively to our questions. One aspect which I found personally very interesting was the relationship between the Mission and the UK Government. Learning that the Mission is completely under the control of the Government’s wishes, and must carry out and campaign for the issues which are of concern to it, made me consider the nature of the UN – that all parties are acting on a pre-agreed course of action, and not necessarily on their own conscience or ideals. This is just one example of the kinds of thought-provoking discussions which went on throughout the week, all of which I felt really lucky to be a part of.

Another element of the trip, and perhaps the most keenly-anticipated one on our behalf, was the opportunity to make speeches on topics which we were passionate about. The fact that we were present at the UN not just as viewers or tourists, but as active members of an NGO, made the whole experience so much more valuable and genuine – I felt as if I was doing all I could to make a real difference in the world. I was able to be part of a panel of speakers at an event on FGM, which was educational and incredibly moving, in equal measures. Researching, writing, and finalising my speech enabled me both to see what it is like to be part of a body like the UN and get your voice heard, but also to gain a more in-depth knowledge of the topic. It was brilliant to hear the stories of the two survivors, which broke myself and the other students out of our little Gloucestershire bubbles completely; we felt privileged to be present and to hear these stories from the most arresting and reliable source there is. The fact that NAWO organised the event, with Zarin chairing and facilitating discussions, was appreciated both by myself – I would never have had such an enriching opportunity if it wasn’t for the organisation – and by the attendees at the event, all of which were very inspired.

Throughout the trip, it was wonderful to experience such a welcoming attitude towards us as young people; this came from both non-UN organisations, such as the Impact Hub, and also delegates from the Human Rights Council. Whenever I spoke to someone who I thought would brush me off as unimportant, I was met with a completely open mind, and someone who was ready to answer all my questions and engage with me. We were constantly assured that as young people, we were valued highly and respected, as the generation who will soon be building the future. This was all due to the work of NAWO in getting us our UN passes, which enabled us to access anywhere we wanted to go, and positioned us equally to everyone else there.

Overall, the visit really encouraged me to take action in my own community around the issues I heard and learnt about. I met so many interesting people who I am still in contact with, and will definitely carry those relationships forwards so that I can continue this work. This is the beauty of an experience which is as interactive and immersive as this one – it makes you see the world in a different way, formed of hundreds of interconnected entities, each equally important in building towards positive change. I came away not feeling small compared to the grand scale of things, as I’d anticipated, but with a sense of power.”

Imogen Smith

“Geneva was an experience I will never forget. My keen interest in human rights and hope to pursue a career specializing in this are meant this was an opportunity I couldn’t refuse.

My time at the United Nations has taught me many things; it has taught me of the importance of education and awareness, it has shown me the need for an international community where countries work together to help each other, it has taught me many life skills including networking, time keeping and organisation, it has increased my confidence and most importantly it has made me aware. It’s made me aware of my privileged position in the world and the effect that I, even as an individual, can have. It’s opened my eyes to practices, beliefs and traditions all over the world, some which should be celebrated and others which should not. I have learnt more about situations that I used to disregard, thinking that ‘it doesn’t affect me’ or ‘it doesn’t happen in the UK’, but it does and we are some of the very few that can have an effect in changing this. The three most shocking cases included FGM, enforce disappearances and the Rohingya crisis.

One of the most memorable experiences of our trip to Geneva was meeting the members of the FGM panel. Experts, survivors, advisors, doctors and film-makers came to share their story of FGM, one of the most powerful and moving events we attended. They were so open in sharing their story and keen to inspire change, it was such an honour to be able to be a part of this.

Travelling as a youth delegate representing NAWO, an official NGO was a huge privilege. We gained access to places and given opportunities that we wouldn’t have without NAWO. Two of the best examples of this was being allowed into the Human Rights Chamber and being able to give a speech inside the United Nations building. I must thank NAWO greatly for this incredible opportunity.”

Alicja Rutkowska

First and foremost, I would like to thank NAWO for accrediting me. Additionally, a special thanks to Zarin Hainssworth and Soroush Fadaei for being incredible guides through the fantastic experience.

During my time in Geneva, I grew so much as an individual. The experience enabled me to find my voice and voice my opinions. The prior mentoring and guidance on behalf of Zarin and Soroush made the public speaking element that much more comfortable for myself and everyone else on the trip. Gaining so much knowledge on the important issues covered during the trip proved to be incredibly beneficial even as I returned to my community and shared my knowledge with others who were interested. Specifically, the emotional and captivating event on Female Genital Mutilation was eye-opening on so many different levels and I couldn’t be more grateful to NAWO, Zarin Hainssworth and Soroush Fadaei for providing me with the wonderful opportunity to be a part of it. I became so inspired and empowered after meeting members of the Human Rights Council. Meeting the representative of Poland was most memorable for me personally due to my Polish origin, as well as the representative of Samoa due to my huge interest in the culture.

I wouldn’t have been able to accomplish what I did on a personal, social and community level without the contribution of everyone involved in the trip. I would like to extend my thanks to everyone involved.

Emilia Thomas

On the 29th June at 4am, 12 Stroud High and 3 Marling students flew to the United Nations in Geneva to attend the 38th Human Rights Council as part of the NAWO Young Women’s Alliance. We were addressing and talking about a wide range of issues: 2 girls spoke on a FGM panels along with survivors, 2 girls gave speeches on child widows and the associated lack of data, 4 delegates spoke about the Sustainable Development Goals. The talks ranged from the impact of climate change on women, how menstruation can act as a barrier to education and empowerment, the crucial importance of gender equality as a way out of global poverty. Finally, 4 delegates spoke up about economic empowerment – this ranged from how to break the glass ceiling and why aren’t women getting the top jobs.

We all had the freedom to choose to attend a various range of events being hosted by other NGOS as well as the exciting and dynamic chamber where there was a constant discussion. We attended so many eye opening and inspiring events. Some of the most interesting events included violence against women in Mexico, religious freedom, enforced disappearances in Sri Lanka, human rights in the Middle East and environmental human rights.

We returned on the 7th July with plans to raise awareness and share the things we had learnt in our own communities in order to make a change. I would like to thank NAWO for accrediting me in this wonderful opportunity which was both inspiring and life-changing.

Isadora Bursey

I attended the 38th Human Rights Council at the United Nations in Geneva as a member of the NAWO Young Women’s Alliance. I would like to take this opportunity to thank NAWO for giving me the chance to attend this event accredited as part of the Young Women’s Alliance, as it provided me with a life changing experience that opened my eyes to a vast range of issues and ideas that I would never have had access to elsewhere.

Although we had the great community and shared experience of attending the Human Rights Council with other NAWO members and YWA delegates, the freedom we had to attend events suited to our interests throughout our time in the United Nations. I attended a range of events including those on violence against women in Mexico, religious freedom, enforced disappearances in Sri Lanka and the implementation of the 2030 agenda. I learned so much and had my mind opened to a breadth of different ideas and experiences.

We were also given the chance to speak in the UN about a range of serious topics, supported by NAWO at different side events alongside an amazing range on panel speakers who were experts in their field. The events were very successful and it was great to see the other YWA delegates speaking so fluently on serious issues such as child widows and FGM.

The experience NAWO gave me by accrediting me to the 38th HRC was incredible, and I am so grateful to them. On our return to the UK, we were motivated to continue striving for equality and human rights, and events such as the mini-CSW in which some other YWA delegates and I ran a workshop about the SDGs, an on-going theme throughout all the work the UN and HRC do, was an example of this motivation. I hope I can continue raising awareness and making positive change in my community thanks to the skills and knowledge this trip gave me, and I would like to thank NAWO again for making any of this possible.

Megan Wheatley

I was lucky enough to travel to the United Nations in Geneva with NAWO as a youth delegate in July 2018. I was accompanied by school peers and friends who all were picked to speak at different events both within the UN and other spots around Geneva. I was proud to be chosen to speak at a side event within the UN about FGM, something I have always deemed to be a taboo subject within Britain and yet something that needs to be worked on to create a safer environment for women at risk in the UK. NAWO was extremely kind to give me, a 17-year-old girl, the chance to speak in such a prestigious venue and with such esteemed guests. The organisation supported me in writing my speech, as well as rehearsing the presentation and delivery of it, which was extremely useful when it came to the actual presentation at the side event. I spoke alongside a peer from school, as well as two incredibly brave survivors of FGM who spoke out against those who had caused them such long-term physical and psychological damage; an incredibly brave feat which only encouraged and drove my passion to want to make a change. Other guests that I was lucky enough to speak next to where; Bethel Tadesse (Founder of the Hidden Scars project), Sean Callaghan (28 too many), Dr Adebisi Adebayo (Geneva Liason Office) and Caroline Ouaffo Watang (Adviser on Women’s Rights OHCHR). To be able to speak about my own country and the further work that they must do to protect young girls and women from being at risk from FGM, and potentially what they can do to prevent further damage once FGM had already taken place, was a great privilege and something I am extremely grateful to NAWO for allowing me to do.

Henry Snowball

I would like to begin by thanking NAWO for this incredibly unique opportunity to visit the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva as well being able to present a speech as part of a side event on Child Widows.

The thing that most surprised me about the trip was the exclusivity. I would see people my age on tours around the building who weren’t allowed into any of the actual rooms whereas, through my status granted to me by NAWO as an NGO delegate, I was allowed into all the areas and even sit in on the Human Rights Council itself, an opportunity not allowed by anyone other than the politicians themselves, fellow NGO delegations, and press. To that effect, I saw no other 16-17-year olds in the Human Rights Council or side events barring my peers who I had been brought with by NAWO. Simply being able to flash my UN pass to a security guard and being allowed into a room felt surreal as we were not simply tourists or kids on a school trip. This status was also respected by Diplomats, politicians, other NGO’s etc. and I found myself engaging in intellectual conversations with remarkable people in the corridors and hallways of the UN.

It is only once you arrive at the UN and start walking around and talking to people that you really gauge the gravity and magnitude of this opportunity, for example, I was waiting for an UNCTAD meeting to begin when a woman started a friendly conversation with me. Then once the meeting started it turned out she was Director, Division on Technology and Logistics (DTL), UNCTAD. This is just one example of many.

NAWO also arranged for us to meet with 4 senior figures of the UK permanent mission to the UNHRC, including Matthew Forman who I bumped into a couple of times in the corridors of the UN and spoke about a speech he did that day or questioned him on the UK’s, motivations for voting a certain way in a resolution.

Another great part of the opportunity was being able to speak on a panel as part of a side event on Child widows, I was sat next to the head of child marriage in the World Health Organisation along with other prestigious speakers which was obviously daunting, but I had faith in my speech after all the support and feedback given to me by Zarin and Soroush. This chance I was given to speak in front of 44 politicians, NGO delegates, and press was once in a life time and I will not only always remember it, but I will be able to use it for CV’s and personal statements, as well as using the connections I made from this experience as I handed out and received many business cards for potential future work experience/internship opportunities.

Thank you very much NAWO.

Sophia Macadam

I would like to thank NAWO for facilitating my visit to the 38th session of the Human Rights Council at the UN in Geneva. The week was truly eye-opening, engaging and educational week.

As soon as we arrived in Geneva on the Friday morning, we headed straight to Palais des Nations, the UN headquarters in Geneva. We attended a private meeting with members of the UK permanent mission where they discussed their role in international diplomacy and the UK’s position on many current human rights issues.

Over the weekend we were able to spend a lot of time sightseeing in Geneva. This included visiting the botanic gardens, walking along the shoreline of Lake Geneva and visiting the cathedral. We also visited CERN on Wednesday.

On Sunday we held an event at the Impact Hub with Ethical Business Building the Future and I was given the amazing opportunity to share a speech I had researched on ‘The importance of education for women and girls in sustainable development’

We spent Monday to Friday at Palais des Nations. I thoroughly enjoyed being able to witness the human rights council in progress from inside the chamber. I liked seeing states sharing their positions on the many current issues that were discussed during the week I was there. I learnt a lot about the process of the council and how resolutions were debated and reformed.

I was also able to attend many side events run by NGOs. Events I found particularly interesting included those on human rights issues in Sri lanka, Saudi Arabia and Mexico. As NAWO youth delegates, we were able to be a part of our own NGO side events where some of us spoke. I thought our events on Child Widows and FGM were very successful and discussed some very important issues.

Participating in this week allowed me to deepen my understanding of international diplomacy and the UN. As well as this, I heard so many people’s stories from across the world and it really opened my eyes to the issues being faced in the world today and what is being done about them. It was great seeing so much international collaboration to combat these issues. I also felt I was able to development my public speaking and confidence when speaking to and networking with new people.

Will Watts

I would like to begin by thanking NAWO for this incredibly unique opportunity to visit the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva as well being able to present a speech as part of a side event on the economic empowerment of women.

As a delegate of an NGO in the United Nations, I was surprised at how exclusive our presence was seen. Compared against other children our age who were restricted to guided tours, we had the rare insight into the mechanisms of international politics. We were allowed into all the areas, including being able to sit at the human rights council itself, an opportunity not permitted to anyone other than politicians and high-ranking officials. Being able to skip a huge queue leading up to the entrance from the type of pass we were granted was also a massive bonus, not to mention surreal. Our role in NAWO meant that connections to diplomats, politicians, other NGO’s and business leaders were handed to us, leading us to engage in remarkable conversations with those at the top of their field. This interaction wasn’t limited to formal congregations either; simply walking through the impressive corridors of the ‘Palace of Nations’ also led to similar discussion.

It was when I was able to converse with the Chinese Minister of Africa Affairs in French that I realised the complete mix of cultures that can occur in one space, a refreshing apprehension that excites me for, hopefully, a global career.

Having done a speech on how women in poorer countries can be more acutely affected by climate change, expressing points that one would not have usually considered, it broadened my horizons, not just intellectually, but socially as I was able to discuss the arguments I had made with an international lawyer. He furthered my interest in international law, something I wish to pursue at a later date, and inspired writing material I would include in my personal statement. The trip I did with NAWO was a huge help in jump-starting and strengthening my university application and will serve to expand my studies at one of my top choices of institution.

Again, thank you NAWO.