© Richard Maciver
On Wednesday December 2nd, over two hundred people filled Room II of the International Labour Organization (ILO) to capacity. The event had been heavily marketed, via broadcast emails and a two-week flyering campaign in the cafeterias of the numerous international organizations with a presence in Geneva, and any doubts that staff members might not pass the word onto their spouses/partners were proved wrong.
The podium was occupied by M. Christian Dunant (former Swiss Ambassador and Director, Geneva Welcome Centre), Ms. Jan Beagle (Deputy Executive Director, UNAIDS) and Ms. Telma Viale (Director of Human Resources, ILO), an illustrious group of people. But the strength of the LESA initiative lies in its “grassroots” approach, so the large number of spouses/partners who attended were both audience and guests of honour.
After a warm welcome from the ILO Director of Human Resources, Ms Telma Viale, Ambassador Dunant expressed his support for the Geneva LESA, a much appreciated complement to the range of services offered by “Geneve Internationale”. As a key figure in the establishment of the Swiss (“Ci”) work permit for spouses/partners of diplomatic and international organization staff, M. Dunant underlined the increasing recognition given to spousal employment by both host countries and international organizations and diplomatic services.
Deputy Executive Director of UNAIDS Ms. Jan Beagle signalled strong backing for the initiative from the highest echelons of the UN system management, saying that “the LESA is a tangible example of the organizations recognizing and valuing the contribution of spouses and families to a staff member’s career. As such it increases a staff member’s identification and engagement with his or her organization. This is a sound return on investment”. Furthermore Ms. Beagle noted the large proportion of gentlemen in the audience, a sign of increasing gender balance in the UN system and of the need to support female staff members by supporting accompanying male husbands and partners, who are statistically more likely to seek employment. The full text of Ms. Beagle’s speech is available by visiting the “Switzerland” pages of the programme global website http://www.unstaffmobility.org
Chairperson of the ILO Staff Union Committee and President of the Coordinating Committee for International Staff Unions and Associations (CCISUA) Mr. Chris Land- Kazlauskas reminded the audience that increased mobility requirements should go hand-in-hand with increased support for mobility, the Geneva LESA being an excellent example of the latter. Chris received the loudest applause of the evening for his idea to provide on-site childcare for the event, an initiative which allowed for the attendance of those with childcare responsibilities and was much appreciated.
The speech which attracted much interest was that of Ms. Elodie Cantier-Aristide, spouse of an UNHCR staff member and a member of the Geneva LESA initiative committee, a group of spouses/partners who are setting up the LESA with the logistical support of the UN Dual Career and Staff Mobility programme. Elodie spoke for many spouses/partners when she said: “we do not expect jobs in the UN, but are motivated by the legitimate desire and need to fulfill ourselves and continue growing professionally, no matter what our field of expertise and experience”. Elodie proposed a plan of activities for the Geneva LESA in 2010, which can be read and discussed by accessing the “Switzerland” pages of the programme global website http://www.unstaffmobility.org
A short (some say too short) panel discussion took place with representatives of the Geneva LESA initiative committee, DC&SM staff, Staff Unions and the Geneva University allowed for interaction with the audience and generated a lively debate on employment and support in the Geneva area. This was followed by a drinks reception, where your author (also a panellist and DC&SM staff member) was surprised at the number of questions on work and residence permits: an indication that there is further work to do in this area, and of the incredible feedback potential of the Geneva LESA!
To read the latest on the Geneva LESA, including listings of upcoming events, please see the “Switzerland” pages of the programme global website http://www.unstaffmobility.org