Humanity Beyond Borders
Red Cross Tiffany Circle Society of Women Leaders
International Forum, Geneva 17-19 June, 2018
By SWL’s Kerry-Anne Johnston, Maryjane Crabtree, Tania Harris
In the foothills of the Swiss Alps with the snow-capped Mont Blanc standing over us as guardian, 112 delegates from five global chapters of the Tiffany Circle Society of Women Leaders gathered in Geneva for the Humanity Beyond Borders 2018 International Forum.
Nine delegates from Australia were honoured to join fellow members from Canada, the Netherlands, UK and USA in the city where the Red Cross and Red Crescent movement was birthed 150 years ago. Under the leadership of SWL Chair and Founding Member, Anita Pahor we arrived with great enthusiasm and clear instruction to meet as many fellow members as possible and find out as much as we could about how the other countries run their circle of giving. From Melbourne Founding Member, Maryjane Crabtree, her sister and Member, Patti Tinson as well as Maryjane’s son, Will. From Sydney, NSW Events Chair and Founding Member, Kerry-Anne Johnston, Members Pamela Robertson-Gregg and Belinda Singh and Student Member, Tania Harris and from Red Cross, Director Engagement and Support, Belinda Dimovski.
The forum began with a stirring presentation by the Secretary General of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). Mr Elhadj As Sy outlined the current landscape of the world’s humanitarian challenges, including the rising problem of displaced peoples and showed how the IFRC works to meet a wide range of needs through 191 national societies (a local Red Cross is called a national society). Mr Sy reiterated the seven fundamental principles that have shaped the movement - humanity, independence, impartiality, neutrality, unity, universality and voluntary service - and reminded us that we are needed more now than ever before; “We ARE the jewel of humanitarian action.”
This was followed by sessions by IFRC leaders Julie Lyn Hall, Chief of Staff and Special Adviser on Health and Jagan Chapagain, Under Secretary General for Programs and Operations on how the Red Cross works to meet the needs of women and girls in vulnerable situations, always aiming to reach the “last mile” where most agencies are unable to go. A brainstorming session was then held to consider how the movement could respond to future issues such as global warming, cyber-warfare and geopolitical power shifts.
In the evening we attended a cocktail and dinner event where delegates could show a bit a glamour (us Australians tried to showcase some home grown designs) to meet other members of our international circle and to celebrate our achievements to date of a global circle of giving.
On Day 2, we were transported into the world of an ICRC aid worker preparing for her first mission in the war stricken nation of Iraq. A tantalizing array of music, scents and Middle Eastern delights greeted us at morning tea before our entry into the conference room where a Red Cross vehiclel awaited. As ‘delegates to be deployed’, we were able to handle and feel the weight of bullet-proof vests, gas masks, bombs and land mine protective gear. With a backdrop of images from decimated cities on the screens, the Deputy Director-General of ICRC Balthasar Staehelin, covered the protocols for achieving the mission while minimizing risk. “The Red Cross” he said, “is without fear or favour... Neutrality must be held. It is like swimming in politics, but we are not allowed to drink.”
Afterwards, Australia’s own Helen Durham, Director of International Law and Policy, based in Geneva, addressed us on the role that lawyers skilled in International Humanitarian Law (IHL) play in supporting the principles of the Red Cross Red Crescent movement. Armed with a hefty copy of the Geneva Conventions, Helen passionately advocated for the role of IHL and its far-reaching effectiveness in saving lives. Weapons clearance experts may be able to render war zones safe from unexploded ordinance, but making mines unlawful has dramatically reduced their use over the last two decades, saving thousands more lives. Similarly, rape as a weapon of war has now been engrained into law, allowing for prosecution and reducing the devastating effect sexual assault has on individuals, their families and communities. In the language of the Inter-parliamentary Union, 90th Conference 1993; “By preserving a sphere of humanity in the very heart of armed conflict, IHL keeps open the path to reconciliation and contributes not only to restoring peace among the belligerents but to restoring harmony among peoples.”
After our ‘deployment’, delegates spent the afternoon at the Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum with a private tour that took us on an incredible journey through the 155-year history of the Red Cross. Our 2-day conference concluded with final words from ICRC President Peter Maurer at a reception generously hosted by the ICRC.
It is difficult to capture the impact of the forum on the group. Each one of us was inspired, humbled and challenged by the experience, and are returning home more determined to play our part in advocating for the Red Cross and supporting global initiatives. As one of our delegates Belinda Singh reflects: “Whilst we will always be faced with the frustration of impossibilities and a sense of we need to do more, I am reminded again of the power of the individual. Whilst alone, we might seemingly not be able to do much, collectively our contribution becomes far more powerful. We may not all be called to be on the ground in those dire locations, but our role is equally significant when we understand the power of working together to be part of something greater.”