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Dame Nita lecturer calls for action, accountability in human rights


By Sabrina Persaud

November 11, 2011


2011 Dame Nita Barrow Lecture Angela Miles, Angela Lytle, Shanti Dairiam, Roxana Ng

From left to right: Angela Miles, Angela Lytle, Shanthi Dairiam, Roxana Ng


The 2011 Annual Dame Nita Barrow Distinguished Visitor, Shanthi Dairiam, Founder and First Executive Director of Women’s Human Rights Action Watch Asia-Pacific, and expert member of the UN Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women Committee (CEDAW; 2005-2008), delivered a thought-provoking and inspiring lecture, Women's Human Rights: The Promise and the Reality, a world view from women's global and local organizing, to an overflow audience of feminists, activists and academics at the George Ignatieff Theatre on November 10. Shanthi’s persistence and dedication to women’s human rights was in evidence throughout the lecture.

CEDAW (the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women) stands out as the primary international legal instrument on which women can draw for the realization of their human rights. However, its impact as a treaty can be maximized only with the active involvement and advocacy of women as rights holders.

Drawing on her own extensive experience and research Shanthi Dairiam presented an overview of conceptual and contextual barriers to women’s equality, women’s groundbreaking organizing and education around CEDAW, nationally and at the United Nations; and trends in the changes achieved around the world. She examined the roles of the governments and not-for-profit groups in those countries that experience implementation at the ground level, emphasizing how essential feedback from  governments and not-for profit groups is in providing the ability to hold governments accountable for their promises on women's human rights.

Shanthi Dairiam is an internationally renowned expert and activist in women’s human rights, a former CEDAW committee member (2005-2008), and has served as a women’s rights expert for key UN agencies such as UNDP, The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, UNIFEM, and UNICEF. She has provided technical services to governments in the Asia Pacific Region, Africa and Latin America, assisting them to build capacity for the implementation of CEDAW.

In 1993 Shanthi founded the International Women’s Rights Action Watch Asia Pacific, a regional and international independent, non-profit global NGO based in Malaysia, which monitors and facilitates the implementation of the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against (CEDAW). She engages in women’s human rights education and training around the world, and is an instructor for the Women’s Human rights Education Institutes (WHRI), CEDAW for Change One-Week Institute, at the Centre for Women’s Studies in Education (CWSE).

This unique opportunity was made possible by the Centre for Women Studies in Education, a research centre at OISE that focuses on feminist-only research. CWSE has been sustained by the efforts of many hard working members, especially through the tireless efforts of Angela Miles and Paula Bourne, amongst many others.

The Dame Nita visitor has always brought inspiration and opportunity to students at OISE.  Angela Lytle, Executive Director of Women’s Human Rights Education Institutes, and also Associate Researcher at the Centre for Women’s Studies in Education said she was inspired by past visitors, and through taking their classes, was exposed to opportunities where she could challenge herself and contribute to the world, leading to more opportunities, more recently in Costa Rica and work at the United Nations for Lytle.

Attendees Audrey Batterham and Andrea Weerdenburg, both master's students at OISE, captured some of the thoughts that inspired them at the lecture. “One important thing she discussed tonight was the need for all countries to do work on gender equity, even the highest ranking countries. Another great point was the idea that NGOs can be  catalysts for change,” said Andrea.