Religious Right: Stop Co-Opting the UN Commission on the Status of Women

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Anti-LGBTIQ hate around the world is widespread and it is being exacerbated by the exportation of religious-based homophobia and transphobia by powerful U.S.-based organizations across the Global South. Large well-funded organizations such as the Alliance Defending Freedom, Center for Family and Human Rights (C-Fam), and the World Congress of Families are working everyday to undermine the international human rights system, particularly targeting the human rights of LGBTI people in the name of protecting religious freedom and their so-called traditional values.

These, as well as other groups and individuals, have been successful in influencing the creation of laws and policies that attack LGBTQ equality and reproductive justice, promoting false and dangerous information about homosexuality and transgender identity, and pushing an agenda of hate and intolerance.

Not only are these groups attacking the rights of LGBTIQ people and women at the national level, but they have taken their anti-LGBTIQ strategy to the world stage – the United Nations.

Right wing opposition is clearly visible at the Commission on the Status of Women, the largest annual convening of governments, UN agencies, and civil society on gender based justice globally. A space built to advocate for the plurality of women’s rights is instead becoming increasingly hostile and unsafe for people whose identities and principles do not align with an extremist, Judeo-Christian, heteronormative framework.

Last year, emboldened and enabled by the Trump administration, right-wing opposition was seen in full force. In an assault to the rights and dignity of LGBTIQ and all women, the Trump administration appointed two right-wing groups to the United States’ official CSW delegation: C-Fam, an organization the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has declared an anti-LGBTIQ hate group since 2014, and the Heritage Foundation, which has proposed cutting funding for programs combating violence against women. Their inclusion gave both organizations direct access to engage with UN Member States as part of the US delegation in meeting rooms that were closed off to other civil society organizations that did not belong to a country delegation.

This allowed the groups to push their fundamentalist priorities and influence decision-making at the highest levels. Women’s and LGBTIQ rights organizations came out publicly against the appointment of these groups to the US delegation, pointing out that the United States had an obligation to further anti-discrimination policies, rather than promote an agenda of prejudice.

Further, an anti-trans hate bus was parked outside the UN premises last year, emblazoned with the message, “It’s Biology: Boys are boys…and always will be. Girls are girls…and always will be. You can’t change sex. Respect all.” The bus was co-sponsored by National Organization for Marriage, Citizen Go (founded in Spain, and also known as, and the International Organization for the Family, also on the list of anti-LGBTIQ hate groups by the SPLC. These ostentatious measures are all part of a wider strategy to take up space, intimidate, and undermine the UN headquarters and surrounding areas during CSW.

Other tactics used by right-wing fundamentalist groups over the years include the recruitment and training of young people from the Global South to attend CSW. These young individuals are thought to have been recruited from high school and national level debate teams, among other avenues, and brought to the CSW. They have been known to disrupt events, accost UN delegates to promote their anti-LGBTIQ, pro-life, anti-women messages, distribute and spread false information, and capture photographs, take down the contact information of, and harass representatives of progressive groups. The sheer number of young conservatives coordinated to engage at CSW is overwhelming – their presence, a show of intimidation.

This year, right wing groups are already planning to oppose any progress on sexual and reproductive health and rights as well as on comprehensive sexual education, as expressed in a joint statement submitted by C-Fam, CitizenGo, among other groups, to the UN. “CitizenGo has also started a petition online titled, “Delete abortion from the United Nations agenda #CSW62,” asking their constituents to, “Sign our petition to stop the United Nations from using our taxpayers’ dollars towards the killing of unborn babies and a comprehensive sexuality education curriculum designed to teach three-year-old girls how to masturbate and to explore their sexuality.” They have made clear in their petition that they will be attending CSW to participate in negotiations.

These groups are co-opting a narrative on religion that is oppressive and misguided. They veil their objectives under arguments of “religious freedom,” “cultural values,” and “morality,” while promoting discrimination. Tolerance and diversity are fundamental to many interpretations of religion; those that are advocating differently, are abusing their power and manipulating religious values. Those who oppose LGBTI rights sometimes claim it is a Western agenda that is being imposed on other countries. To the contrary, we see evidence that it is homophobia, transphobia and misogyny that is exported by these conservative groups.

The CSW was created to be a space that fosters meaningful exchange between stakeholders, cultivates action towards ending gender based violence, and working towards gender equality – principles that should never be undermined. While right-wing opposition groups are becoming more organized and strategic, so too are women’s rights, LGBTIQ rights, and progressive faith-based groups. We have built greater solidarity, work in more inclusive coalitions, and are better informed and equipped with ways to push against conservative backlash. Armed with rights-based arguments, rooted in international norms, we will continue to advocate for equality and commitments by States and other UN agencies to ensure the protection of all women and LGBTIQ people at the CSW and beyond.

The 62nd Commission on the Status of Women begins on the 12th of March, 2017.

Rashima Katra serves a the Communications Officer at OutRight Action International.



  • Gregory Mertz

    CitizenGO is not on the SPLC Hate List. Nor is HazteOir. Over the last 5-years, CitizenGO and HazteOir (longer) has successfully built a coalition of partners, including NGOs, Member States, and women and girls in need, to deal with the most important issues women and girls and all human-beings face, no matter their background, as targeted in the SDGs — such as advocating for cleaning water, eradicating poverty and hunger, meeting (and increasing) the education need of our children, and to reduce maternal mortality rates through increasing and bettering maternal health policies. I’m sorry that these important projects do not fit into your “framework.”