UN New Yorker: OutRight at CSW

8th Edition
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Commission on the Status of Women

The 63rd session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) took place on March 11-22 at the United Nations (UN) in New York. The CSW is the UN’s largest annual multilateral meeting on women's rights and gender justice bringing together hundreds of world leaders and ministerial delegations, as well as over 9,000 non-governmental organizations. This year’s CSW theme focused on social protection systems, access to public services and sustainable infrastructure for gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.


I. OutRight Delegation

OutRight has a permanent presence at the UN and the OutRight UN Program team is dedicated to working with every UN body that can contribute to a more inclusive and nuanced understanding of gender in UN policies, practices and mind-set. The CSW provides key insight into the current sentiment within the UN and international diplomatic circles in regards to advancement of human rights for LBTI people. It presents an opportunity for civil society to come together to discuss and convert concerns into strategies and advocacy for influencing states, policies, protocols, and the principal output of the CSW - the Agreed Conclusions, a document which sets out recommendations to be implemented by states and intergovernmental organizations in the following year. As such, the CSW is an important platform for OutRight to advocate for inclusivity and advancement of the human rights of LBTI people.

This year OutRight’s delegation to the CSW included staff from the New York office and the Asia Program, and OutRight Religion Fellows from both the 2018 and 2019 programs.

The LBTI Caucus meeting with UN Women’s Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. (Photo credit: OutRight)

II. The CSW Agreed Conclusions Text

As in previous years, OutRight heavily engaged in the multilateral negotiations for the Agreed Conclusions, the principal output of the CSW, throughout the process. Starting in late January, and through until adoption of the final text at the end of the CSW, OutRight’s UN Program encouraged and coordinated civil society input and contributions to the various revisions of the text at national and regional levels. UN Member States negotiate their positions on the Agreed Conclusions either in their national capacity, through established regional blocks, or a combination of both. The active regional blocks this year included the European Union (EU) consisting of all EU Member States; the Mountain States including Australia, Canada, Iceland, Liechtenstein, New Zealand, Norway and Switzerland; the Buenos Aires Group made up of Latin American and Caribbean States; the African Group; and the Arab Group. Specific states that also contributed in their national capacity included the United States, Russia, Indonesia, China and the observer state of the Holy See. Engagement with those dedicated to promotion and protection of the human rights of LBTI people was crucial to ensuring an inclusive outcome.

During this year’s Agreed Conclusions negotiations we saw an increased and emboldened opposition presence, including fundamentalist civil society organizations such as C-Fam and Heritage Foundation, who fought against inclusivity and diversity in the text. However, despite the increased polarization, civil society and like-minded states were able to hold the line on a number of areas including language on multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination, diversity, women human rights defenders, and the definition of family. For more information and examples on the text of the agreed conclusions please see the OutRight Press Statement as well as the Women’s Rights Caucus Statement.

The Agreed Conclusions could have more inclusive language and reflect more diverse policies. Three countries that pointed this out at the closing forum of the CSW were Argentina, Tunisia and Lebanon.

Below are some notable statements delivered after the adoption of agreed conclusions:

“The group proposes to include the principle of non-regression in the text in order to acknowledge this adverse trend...In order to build consensus and support during the negotiations, our group had to forego several essential references of our regional topics that our delegations consider to be intimately linked to the priority theme. We will not seize in our efforts to protect and respect the human rights of women in all their diversity.”
- Argentina

“We need to think about what messages we need this commission to send, the United Nations to send, to all the women and girls all around the world...when we don’t want to provide sexual and reproductive health services to women and girls, victims of violence including rapes...when we do not want to acknowledge multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination exist and when they do, women and girls are further left behind.”
- Tunisia

The formal adoption of the CSW Agreed Conclusions. (Photo Credit: OutRight)

III. Civil Society Coordination

OutRight continued our co-leadership of the CSW LBTI Caucus and the Women’s Rights Caucus (WRC). Both are informal groups of civil society organizations that work together to identify areas of concern and coordinate advocacy strategies to ensure progress at the CSW. In both spaces we facilitated representation of international LGBTIQ voices. In the LBTI Caucus we worked with partners to convene preparatory meetings to coordinate advocacy strategy, inform the group of updates ahead of and during the CSW, and helped organize statements advocating for LBTI inclusivity in regards to the priority theme delivered during the formal sessions of the CSW program. As a co-convener of the WRC we worked to ensure that LGBTIQ concerns were woven into its overall strategy and connected LGBTIQ civil society members to members of the WRC.

WRC members at the closing session of the CSW. (Photo Credit: OutRight)

IV. Resource Creation

To better prepare, equip and inform activists, organizations and advocates for engagement at the CSW, we revamped our civil society toolkit - the ‘CSO CSW Primer’.

V. OutRight Religion Fellows

For the second year running, with support from the Global Faith and Equality Fund of the Horizons Foundations, we recruited four activists from a pool of over 400 applicants to engage in a year long Religion Fellowship Program. This year’s fellows are Lua Da Mota Stabile from Brazil, Yvonne Oduor from Kenya, Katlego Kai Kolanyane-Kesupile from Botswana, and Ifáṣínà Efunyemi from Belize. You can read more about the fellows here.

The fellowship is designed to support existing national-level work for the human rights of LGBTIQ people in the Caribbean, Africa and Latin America, and to link national-level work to the international arena, more specifically the UN in New York. The program invests in local movement building and global south participation in international advocacy by providing activists the support needed to attend major UN Conferences and events. The CSW was the first event that the new fellows attended. You can learn more about their expectations, experiences and engagement over the two weeks by watching this short video.

OutRight’s 2019 and 2018 Religion Fellows during their pre-CSW advocacy training. (Photo credit: OutRight)

VI. Side Events

Transgender & Gender Non-conforming People and Access to Services

On March 14, OutRight, Haus of Khameleon and the Permanent Missions of Argentina, Malta and the European Union, held an event titled “Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming People and Access to Public Services: Challenges and Best Practices.” The event was moderated by OutRight's Executive Director Jessica Stern and heard contributions from the co-sponsoring Member States, as well as OutRight fellows Lua Da Mota Stabile and Katlego Kai Kolanyane-Kesupile, and Haus of Khameleon Creative Director Miki Wali. This was a notable occasion, as it marked the first time a state-sponsored event at the CSW focused exclusively on trans and gender non-conforming people's lives.

Transgender & Gender Nonconforming People and Access to Services side event during CSW. (Photo credit: Brad Hamilton)

LBTI Access to Social Protection Systems, Public Services, and Sustainable Infrastructure

On March 14, OutRight co-sponsored a civil society side event with COC Netherlands and RFSL Sweden. OutRight's Global Public Service Fellow Hoping Hou moderated a panel of civil society experts and government officials in a discussion about the challenges LBTI women face when accessing social protection systems, public services, and sustainable infrastructure. Panelists included OutRight fellow Yvonne Oduor, Subha Wijesiriwardena from the Women and Media Collective in Sri Lanka, Nada Chaiyajit from Transpiration in Thailand, and the New York City Commissioner for Human Rights Carmelyn Malalis. The panellists shared civil society and local government perspectives on successes and best practices in addressing barriers to access.

OutRight, COC Netherlands and RFSL sponsored a side event during CSW discussing LBTI access to services, social protection systems, and sustainable infrastructure. (Photo Credit: OutRight)

In addition to the OutRight sponsored events, OutRight’s 2018 and 2019 Religion fellows were involved as speakers in a number of other CSW side events. On March 11, 2019 Religion Fellow Yvonne Oduor spoke at the side event entitled “Strategic Communications for Powerful Movements” and discussed how communications are used in LGBTI advocacy in Kenya. On March 12, 2018 Religion Fellow Xeenarh Mohammed moderated a state sponsored CSW side event hosted by the United Kingdom and Canada highlighting LBTI people's access to public services.  Best practices were shared by the states, including Canada’s recent announcement of 30 million Canadian dollars in funding for promotion of the human rights of LGBTI people. 2019 Religion Fellow Ifáṣínà Efunyemi spoke on a panel sponsored by Tunisia, Sweden, UN Women, and UNDP on March 14 discussing the Tunis Forum on Gender Equality and the need to include LGBTI and youth representatives in discussions around the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration. Also on March 14, 2018 Religion Fellow Kim Windvogel spoke during a Youth Breakfast hosted by the Youth Representative of Switzerland to the UN and the Permanent Mission of Switzerland to discuss the role culture plays in shaping gender equality.

2018 Religion Fellow Xeenarh Mohammed moderating an event in UNHQ sponsored by the United Kingdom and Canada on LBTI access to services. (Photo Credit: OutRight)

VI. Anti-Gender Movement at Work

An increasingly polarized environment over issues relating to gender, and strong pressure against inclusivity and diversity were palpable during the 63rd session of the the CSW. Statements from the United Arab Emirates, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Comoros advocated for exclusion of certain groups of women, and against sexual and reproductive health and rights. These states pointed to the sovereignty of countries over any international law, stating that they were not obliged to abide by the Agreed Conclusions, thus questioning and undermining their implementation. Africa, the Arab group and Sudan affirmed specifically their reservations regarding “controversial phrases such as sexual and reproductive health and rights”, “multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination” included in the Agreed Conclusions. Furthermore, Comoros delivered a joint statement on behalf of Bahrain, Belarus, Libya, Comoros, Djibouti, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Gambia, Malaysia, Mauritania, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Russian Federation, Sudan, Zambia and  Zimbabwe, emphasizing opposition to the inclusive definition of family used in the Agreed Conclusions.

Saudi Arabia and Bahrain delivered similar statements:

“There were multiple references to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights, promotion of sexual rights and related issues, that had never got consensus, refusal to recognize parental right language, refusal to recognize the family as the natural and fundamental group unit of society, failure to fully reflect the role of the family in protecting women and girls, promotion of sexuality education for children despite its relevance to the theme, focus on ambiguous terms such as multiple and intersecting discrimination...”
- Saudi Arabia and Bahrain

Right wing civil society organizations and conservative Member States also held side events to deliver their position on issues around gender. Civil society organizations C-Fam, Campaign Life Coalition and the Heritage Foundation, and the UN Observer State of the Holy See sponsored events like “Protecting Femininity and Human dignity in Women's empowerment and gender equality policies” and “Women's Empowerment Through Health Promotion” which argued against abortion rights and the use of contraceptives by women, and echoed traditional gender roles which have prevented women's empowerment. The organization Citizengo called for the need for good education and good hospitals as an alternative to access to abortion and contraception for girls.

The Holy See and The Heritage Foundation organized the following events designed to exclude trans people from gender equality discourse: “Gender Equality and Gender Ideology: Protecting Women and Girls” and “Biology Isn't Bigotry: Why Sex Matters to Women and Girls in the Age of Gender Identity.” The main messages of the events were a rejection of gender as the self-expression of identity, and the claim that “real” women are being displaced by trans women. During one of the events, the representative from the Holy See stated that the understanding of the meaning of the word “woman” is being eroded by the idea of gender identity and gender ideology, mentioning specifically that LGBT groups like OutRight are working on this by supporting women irrespective of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

VIII. LBTI General Debate Oral Statement

On March 18, OutRight 2019 religion fellow Ifáṣínà Efunyemi from Belize made an oral statement on behalf of OutRight, COC Netherlands, RSFL, ILGA World, and ARC International during the CSW General Discussion. The statement highlighted the daily violence and structural discrimination LBTI women and gender non-conforming youth face, and how this blocks their access to social protection systems, public services and sustainable infrastructure. The statement called on UN Member States to commit to ending all violence and discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression and sex characteristics, and to clearly reflect this commitment in the Agreed Conclusions. The full recorded statement can be found here (starting from 1:15:35 to 1:19:00).

2019 Religion Fellow Ifáṣínà Efunyemi delivering an oral statement during the CSW general debate. (Photo credit: OutRight )

IX. The CSW Town Hall Meeting with UN Secretary General

On March 12, the LBTI Caucus attended the third annual CSW Town hall meeting between the UN Secretary-General António Guterres and civil society. In advance of this meeting the Caucus prepared a question for the Secretary-General asking to outline how he, UN Women and all UN Agencies will ensure LGBTI inclusion at the UN on every level and in every agency. The Secretary General noted that the human rights of LGBTI people are of great interest to his office and that they are working both internally and externally to address continued acts of violence and discrimination against LGBTI people.

ARC International’s Mariana Winocur delivering the LBTI Caucus question during the Town hall with the Secretary General and civil society. (Photo Credit: OutRight)

X. The UN LGBTI Core Group at CSW

On March 11 the UN LGBTI Core Group, an informal group of UN Member States working on the human rights of LGBTI people, delivered its first CSW statement during the High Level Ministerial General debate. The statement was delivered by the Permanent Representative of Norway, Mona Juul, and highlighted challenges faced by LGBTI individuals in accessing social protection systems, public services, and sustainable infrastructure. The full statement can be found here.

On March 12 the UN LGBTI Core Group held a ministerial-level lunch, moderated by OutRight’s Executive Director Jessica Stern, to discuss the Core Group´s commitment to protecting and promoting the human rights of LGBTI people in the UN in New York. During this lunch the Core Group welcomed two new additional members, Luxembourg and Cape Verde, bringing the total number of members to 28.

UN LGBTI Core Group Chairs, the Netherlands and Argentina, welcome Luxembourg and Cape Verde to the UN LGBTI Core Group. (Photo credit: OutRight)



Celebration of Courage


IDAHOTB - Event at UN Headquarters


High Level Political Forum


UN General Assembly High Level Week