May 14, 2020

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SIPA’s Gitelson Award Winners
SIPA’s Gitelson Award Winners

SIPA’s Capstone workshops are consulting projects in which students are matched with external clients for which they provide policy analysis and recommendations. As a pillar of the School’s core curriculum, Capstones give us an opportunity to apply practical learning from the classroom to real-world challenges. And, since most students complete the workshops in their last semester, it represents for many of us a grand finale to our MIA or MPA studies — a final opportunity to draw on our cumulative coursework.

This semester I had the privilege to work on a Capstone workshop devoted to “Universal Periodic Review and Advocacy in Myanmar” along with Samara Sattar Ahmed MIA ’20, Amna Akhtar MPA ’20, Kaitlin Hansen MPA ’20, Cecilie Kern MIA ’20, and Jorja Ma MPA ’20. With the support of our advisers, Kristina Eberbach and Ben Fleming, our task was to support human rights advocacy in Myanmar.

We were matched with Equality Myanmar (EQMM), a grassroots nonprofit organization based in Yangon that promotes human-rights education and advocacy. Our Capstone team collaborated with EQMM to support their campaign around Myanmar’s third Universal Periodic Review (UPR), conducted under the auspices of the UN Human Rights Council, and develop supporting advocacy materials.

Myanmar is home to the longest ongoing civil war and one of the greatest humanitarian crises in the world today. As Myanmar transitions toward democracy after 75 years of isolation, the UPR serves as an important mechanism to promote accountability for human-rights violations and push for lasting solutions.

Daren Moon, EQMM’s deputy director, thanked our Capstone team for producing a high-quality report and advocacy materials.

“These are invaluable resources,” Moon wrote, “that will be used by our advocacy team and other local civil-society organizations to raise awareness about human-rights violations and lobby delegates to Myanmar's UPR. Without a doubt, their efforts will have an impact in our field of work.”

Though our in-person advocacy skills workshop for local organizations in Yangon was cancelled due to COVID-19, we worked harder to equip EQMM with resources to grow the capacity of advocates locally and virtually. Amidst the COVID-19 crisis, we were delighted to learn that EQMM began redirecting its work to support citizens and activists within Myanmar facing hardships during the uncertain time.

To start, EQMM purchased personal protective equipment (PPE) and produced digital resources on COVID-19 that are being distributed to individuals throughout the country. The organization is also working hard to address issues related to discrimination of citizens and the distribution of supplies during lockdown, and is also fundamental to the development of a new online complaint mechanism and the creation of a long-term committee to address issues related to COVID-19.

As we concluded work on our Capstone workshop, our team was thrilled to be honored by SIPA as recipients of the Gitelson Award for Human Values in International Affairs. Having received a monetary donation alongside the award, we have opted to donate the money to organizations working to further human-rights advocacy and efforts to respond to COVID-19 in Southeast Asia, especially pertaining to the Rohingya refugees.

As a team, we understand the importance of civil-society organizations in mobilizing movements and the support they need to convene stakeholders, attend advocacy meetings, and access resources. An organization like EQMM often faces more difficulty than most in obtaining such support. During the holy month of Ramadan, we couldn’t think of a better time to honor the continuous commitment organizations like EQMM have made to elevating the voices of marginalized groups, tackling critical issues, and strengthening the capacity of local advocates.

⁠— Amira Dhalla MPA ’20