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A view from the outside

zohra moosa
25 February 2008

The last time I was at a UN conference was in 2001 when I attended the World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa as an NGO delegate. I found it overly bureaucratic and seemingly designed to confuse. I learned that force of will was the best way to navigate the system and keep frustration to a minimum.

Seven years later I'm pleased to report the lesson has been successfully re-applied: despite being incorrectly directed to three wrong queues, I managed to arrive at my target 11 am session a full 30 minutes early largely thanks to my unwillingness to follow instructions that seem counter productive or inefficient. My secret weapon? Fluency in English. Turns out that even at UN headquarters, an ability to speak English can still trump expertise and credentials (not to imply that I lack either). If nothing else, it gave me the confidence to challenge when I was instructed to do one thing, and the sign clearly said something else.

I'm very sad to inform that others were therefore not able to speed their way through the red tape as many were obviously speakers of other languages. NGO delegates faced hour-long queues just to get through the first level of security. Hazel Reeves, who is Manager of BRIDGE and who I met in this queue (the first of my three faulty queue decisions), mentioned that the wait to register for NGO conference passes once past security was three hours.

As I moaned about what a waste of time and resources this was we began speaking about how difficult it is more generally for women's NGOs around the world, most of whom are under-resourced, to make interventions or influence global gender policy making precisely because the UN is confusing. The gender machinery alone is overwhelming, as this interview with Charlotte Bunch, Executive Director of the Centre for Women's Global Leadership explains. Evaluating the impact that a CSW can have on individual women's lives is similarly made difficult because there are multiple international gender policy fora that an NGO could potential aim to influence, including the annual review of CEDAW.

Having decided to invest in the CSW, it would seem that NGOs would be well advised to strategise about how they should target their limited capacity to maximum effect during the conference while they wait outside for permission to enter the building.

Update: Just ran into Zarin Hainsworth from UNIFEM UK who informed me that after queuing most of yesterday morning for her temporary pass, she then had to stand in a queue from 1 pm the very same afternoon to secure her permanent pass - and only received it at 5:50 pm!

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