SENIOR ADVOCACY ADVISER | CENTER FOR REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS
What do you do as Senior Advocacy Advisor for the Center for Reproductive Rights?
My position mainly involves lobbying States and UN staff on resolutions and decisions adopted by the UN bodies in Geneva, in particular the Human Rights Council. The Center for Reproductive Rights’ mandate is to use the law to advance reproductive freedom of women as fundamental human rights. This includes advocacy towards the UN as a critical space for recognising and advancing progressive norms and policies. I also develop advocacy strategies to influence international human rights mechanisms to include the most progressive language towards the realisation of women’s human rights and reproductive rights and respond to growing conservative opposition to women’s human rights at the UN.
What is a typical day like?
It really depends of the UN agenda. During UN sessions, I spend very little time at the office. A typical workday at the UN would include attending conferences, meetings with diplomats or other NGO colleagues. You will find me attending side events over lunch, walking around to lobby diplomats, or sharing information about the last on-going negotiations with NGO colleagues. It is a great environment to build close ties with people you don’t see every day and to develop partnerships with key diplomatic missions.
A typical day spent in the office involves developing plans for organising advocacy campaigns, writing fact sheets, press releases or other advocacy materials. In between sessions, we also monitor decisions adopted by UN bodies related to women’s rights and actively advocate for progressive jurisprudence/decisions to be adopted by UN bodies.
You previously worked for the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH). What did that entail?
With FIDH I was also working as an advocate at the UN, but mostly on crisis and emergency situations that require urgent reaction from organisation. My responsibilities also involved working closely with activists and Human Rights Defenders to provide them with opportunities to directly engage in lobbying and advocacy activities at the UN level with the aim to effect change on the ground back home.
You studied Humanitarian and International Law in France. Is it a topic you would recommend, and why?
My law degree really developed my ability to think logically and analytically, which is really important when you have to develop advocacy materials in a way that provides convincing arguments for policy change. I would definitely recommend it if you’re thinking of working in human rights and/or humanitarian law as it really provides the basis for our work.
How do you use your academic training in your day-to-day work?
In general, writing and litigation skills are a positive asset for any advocacy related work.
Studying international human rights standards and instruments also provided me with a framework to use in my advocacy work. International Law is the fundamental basis for advocacy for human rights, and even more for women’s rights, since the level of polarisation is even higher in this field. States are more likely to change their policy if you can demonstrate that human rights standards does not apply equally to women and girls and that certain gender-specific rights like reproductive rights cannot be protected and respected in a discriminatory manner.
Why the interest in human rights?
The first time I heard about human rights was at school when I was around 9 or 10 years old and I met with a survivor of the Holocaust who was visiting to deliver his testimony. His personal account made an indelible impression on me. After my law degree, I was hesitating between becoming a lawyer or working in the human rights field... What really 'inspired' me to work in human rights was when I was in contact with undocumented migrants and refugees during my internship with Amnesty France and I witnessed police misconduct against some of them. That experience made my decision incredibly easy.
What is working in Geneva like?
I love Geneva for the multicultural environment. It’s one of the few towns in the world where foreigners are more represented than locals and it gives a very particular atmosphere to city.
What are the particular advantages and barriers a woman pursuing a career like yours might face?
The UN political bodies, like the Human Rights Council, are still heavily dominated by men. Women who manage to enter this male-dominated diplomatic world often face prejudice. I was not taken seriously by some diplomats simply because I was a woman.
One advantage as a woman is that men tend to play the diplomatic field like a game, and don’t expect women to have the same competitive behaviour. That means we can make it an asset. Of course, it's also very important to see more women pursuing women’s interests at the international diplomatic level and give to gender issues the attention they deserved and in an gender sensitive way that only women can bring.
What would you recommend to a young woman who would like to pursue a similar career?
Don’t let other people tell you who you are. You don’t need to 'gain' the same respect and rights – just you don’t need to 'prove' that you are capable of doing the job. You have the right to be there, to take the space, to influence the debate. Conducting advocacy campaigns or foreign policies in a diplomatic sphere is a representation of power and power feels actually good so just enjoy yourself and don’t take it too seriously – that’s the most important.
What was your first job and what did you learn doing it you still use nowadays?
My first job was at the French Foreign Ministry in their Legal Department and I learned how diplomacy works from the inside. It still helps me to tailor and frame my arguments, to acknowledge points of agreements and find a balance in the discussion when I lobby diplomats.
What are the most and least rewarding aspects of your career so far?
The most and least rewarding aspects of my job are – paradoxically – the same for me. When you reach your objective (for example, you get a resolution or a positive outcome following a campaign) the impact you have in the field is very small, sometimes non-existent. It’s really difficult to assess the impact of human rights work so you need to constantly renew yourself and set new goals. That's very inspiring, but sometimes it's hard to tell if your work has real impact.
What are the key skills that make you good at what you do? How did you gain them?
I can adapt myself to various situations, environments and persons. My adaptability is one of my strong points. Having spent more than seven years in a multilateral environment, I've 'incorporated' the influences, practices, and values of diverse work cultures, not just the dominant one, meaning I know how to approach a range of situations in a creative manner.
What is the toughest lesson you have learnt?
Diplomacy, including in the human rights field, is more about promoting states’ interests rather than human rights, which means political agenda and power relations in the UN system too often fail the victims.
What has been your biggest challenge and how did you tackle it?
My biggest challenge was to recognise the 'politics' around human rights without legitimising them. Politics in foreign policy is a factor you have to take into account, but it should not influence too many decisions. As a human rights advocate you have to stay in line with your organisation’s vision and ethics and try to overcome it by building coalitions amongst states, rather than allowing bilateral interests to prevail.
What achievements are you most proud of?
I am proud to have had the opportunity to meet and work with prominent human rights activists like Nabeel Rajab, Raji Sourani or Ales Bialiatski. Ales was recently released by the Belarusian authorities, but Nabeel is still under arrest in Bahrein.
Do you have a role model and, if so, who and why?
I have no role model per se, but I’ll be forever grateful to my first boss at the French Foreign Ministry. She was the Head of the Legal Department but, despite her senior position, she helped me to gain the confidence I was missing at that time by trusting me and giving me important tasks in spite of my junior role. The fact that a woman with such an impressive career was paying attention to me really helped me to feel stronger. Without her trust I don’t think I would have achieved so much.
Julie Gromellon | Senior Advocacy Adviser | Center for Reproductive Rights | Geneva
Eight years' experience
CV in brief:
Inspired by Julie's career? Take a look at these career opportunities: at the Center for Reproductive Rights | Internship at the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) | French Ministry of Foreign Affairs | Amnesty International France
"The Center for Reproductive Rights’ mandate is to use the law to advance reproductive freedom of women as fundamental human rights. This includes advocacy towards the UN as a critical space for recognising and advancing progressive norms and policies."
"As a human rights advocate you have to stay in line with your organisation’s vision and ethics and try to overcome it by building coalitions amongst states, rather than allowing bilateral interests to prevail."