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Feminist groups demand action to ‘stop anti-rights infiltration’ at the UN

Global organisations call on UN agencies to ‘stop access to decision-making’ for opponents of women’s and LGBT rights and warn of dangers ahead

Tatev.jpg Claire Provost author pic
Tatev Hovhannisyan Claire Provost
17 June 2021, 8.00am
Former US president Donald Trump addresses the United Nations General Assembly, 2017
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White House Photo / Alamy Stock Photo. All rights reserved

A coalition of more than 20 global organisations are calling on UN agencies to “stop access to decision-making” for opponents of women’s and LGBT rights.

The Observatory on the Universality of Rights (OURs) – which brings together groups including feminist NGO the Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) and the Coaliton for Sexual and Bodily Rights in Muslim Societies (CSBR) – launched their ‘call to action’ today (17 June) alongside a report called 'Rights at Risk: Time for Action'.

“We can no longer afford to wait,” says OURs’ call to action, warning that “many of our human rights spaces and processes have already been undermined” by ultra-conservative groups that are increasingly active at the UN level.

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“Historically, the United Nations has been an important site for feminist and social movement gains,” it says. “We call for red lines and concrete action to stem the tide of anti-rights infiltration” – including limiting these groups’ access to UN officials.

The UN, it continues, should be “upholding rights related to gender and sexuality as universal and inalienable, indivisible, and interrelated to all other rights, and rejecting all attempts to put the rights of any one group against another”.

Umyra Ahmad from AWID said that attacks on women’s and LGBT rights at the UN are “alarmingly well-coordinated” and called on UN officials to “stop legitimising anti-rights actors and block their access to power”.

International Women’s Rights Action Watch Asia Pacific (IWRAW-AP) told openDemocracy that “much greater transparency” at the UN is also needed to ensure that marginalised groups’ rights “won't be bartered away at the international level”.

‘Many of our human rights spaces and processes have already been undermined’

The World Health Assembly recently passed a resolution led by Italy to grant the Vatican, which opposes sexual and reproductive rights, a formal role in UN health talks.

Last year, openDemocracy revealed that a US Christian Right group had trained African government officials to lobby against sex education that is LGBT-inclusive.

Today’s report identifies a range of ways in which anti-rights groups have “infiltrated the UN” – including such trainings to influence government delegates and campaigns to “water down” human rights agreements.

While some of these anti-rights groups “seek to infiltrate and shape the system to their aims […] others seek to undermine the system,” the report continues, noting that some have also campaigned to defund UN agencies including the World Health Organization.

NGOs can apply for ‘consultative status’ at the UN, which gives them access to meetings, state delegates and UN officials, and the ability to host side events. Progressive groups have used this status to advocate at the UN for years, but now a growing number of ultra-conservative organisations are adopting the same tactic.

Some governments – including the former Trump administration in the US – have also invited groups that oppose women’s and LGBT rights to join their official delegations.

Beyond the UN

“We face a global backlash,” warns the OURs report, “against the right of each and every person to live freely and safely in their body and identity.”

The report also details how ultra-conservative groups have sought to deepen their influence beyond the UN, in regional intergovernmental systems including in Europe.

For instance, it describes how some of these groups successfully campaigned at the European Parliament for a new special rapporteur to “protect Christians”.

Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a US-based Christian Right group, managed to secure NGO ‘participatory status’ at the Council of Europe, but lost it in 2020 following its extensive campaigning against the Istanbul Convention on gender-based violence.

ADF is one of the dozens of US Christian Right groups that openDemocracy revealed last year have spent millions of dollars around the world over the last decade.

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