By Brittany Gallagher, MES 2013.
Last winter, Martha and Gail forwarded an email to the MES Listserv inviting students to apply to the United Nations Graduate Study Programme, the UN’s annual flagship educational experience held in Geneva, Switzerland. I was immediately intrigued by the opportunity and especially by this year’s theme, “Gender Equity and the Empowerment of Women.” I was delighted to be accepted and to receive support from Evergreen and MES via the Sustainability in Prisons Project, which helped me make the trip to Geneva for the two-week program in July.
It was inspiring to walk the same hallways and meet in the same rooms where world leaders have shaped international policy since the League of Nations was installed at Geneva’s Palais des Nations in 1936. I was very impressed by my classmates, more than sixty graduate students from six continents with remarkable experiences and a shared passion for human equality. We heard daily presentations from officials at many UN agencies, including the International Labour Organization, UN Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT), UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and UN Environment Programme. We visited offices around the Palais des Nations and Geneva, and learned what the various agencies were doing to advance gender equality in the field and within their organizations.
Most afternoons, we broke into smaller groups to work on an assignment – the annual GSP Report. This exercise was designed to give us the experience of researching a particular thematic humanitarian issue and designing an appropriate program to address it under the auspices of a given UN agency. I chose to work with the UN Population Fund (UNFPA). Along with colleagues from Germany, Uganda, Bolivia, France, Trinidad & Tobago, and others, we designed a country program addressing sexual and gender-based violence in camps for internally displaced people in Haiti. Our presentation and written work were well-received, and the larger report should be published later this year.
I strongly encourage any MESers interested in international civil service, development, or humanitarian issues to keep an eye out on the UNGSP webpage for information about next year’s GSP.