INGOs Under Lockdown: (Dis)advantages of Remote Advocacy for Feminists and Conservatives


In early March, everything was ready for the 64th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW64), an annual UN gathering dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women. The session’s theme was the review of the implementation of the 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. It was supposed to be a special moment for feminists. The Beijing Declaration is their brainchild. It was a result of their unprecedented advocacy, and it served as a blueprint for women’s empowerment ever since.

The main thing feminists feared ahead of the CSW64 was the conservative pushback. In the past decade, a strong conservative block has emerged in the UN. Often referred to as the “Unholy Alliance,” the block includes many post-Soviet, Catholic, and Islamic states, the US, and the Vatican, along with many conservative INGOs. Its members are making UN negotiations on women’s rights increasingly more difficult as they seek, among other things, to eliminate such concepts as “sexual and reproductive health and rights” from UN documents.

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Norms of gender equality and the backlash against Istanbul Convention

Image from Wikimedia Commons, Zagreb March 2018
Banner says “Stop Istanbul (Convention) for Sovereign Croatia”

During the first couple of months of 2018, several countries in Europe witnessed a backlash against the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, widely known as the Istanbul Convention. In February 2018, Bulgarian government decided against the ratification of the Convention pointing out to the lack of popular support. At the same time, the Bulgarian Orthodox Church declared that the Convention opens the door to “moral decay” with its “gender ideology,” which is considered “alien” to Bulgarian society. The governing coalition (GERB) decided to withdraw the Convention from the parliament when faced by the opposition from both its coalition partner and the socialists.

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