How ‘engaging men and boys’ is framed in the Agreed Conclusions of CSW67 (and where to go next in our collective advocacy)

MenEngage Alliance supported feminists making bold and progressive steps for women’s rights and gender justice at this year’s Commission on the Status of Women (CSW67). The agreements that came out of the session included concrete recommendations around men and masculinities – which you can read about in more detail below.

The Agreed Conclusions are the subject of official negotiations taking place at CSW. Once agreed by UN Member States, they set the commitments and recommendations for policy internationally. This makes them a powerful and important advocacy mechanism, alongside other key international frameworks.

Each year’s Agreed Conclusions includes a focus on the CSW theme. This year, that meant the Agreed Conclusions includes concrete recommendations around innovation and technology.

For various reasons, CSW does not always result in the successful adoption of Agreed Conclusions. This year, discussions continued until 4:00am on the final day before the Agreed Conclusions were formally adopted.

Advocating for women’s rights and gender justice

Working alongside the Women’s Rights Caucus, MenEngage Alliance advocated for strong and progressive language in the Agreed Conclusions, towards bold and progressive steps for women’s rights and gender justice.

The Women’s Rights Caucus is a global intersectional and inclusive coalition of more than 200 feminist organizations, networks, and collectives that advocates for women’s rights and gender equality at the United Nations. The Women’s Rights Caucus welcomed increased participation and engagement of young feminists in this year’s CSW, including through the important work of the Young Feminist Caucus and their contributions in this year’s negotiations.

In a Women’s Rights Caucus press statement, the group noted the language wins in this year’s outcome document. This included the need for a human rights-based approach in all phases of the design, development and regulation of technologies, as well the call for policy actions for the elimination and prevention of all forms of violence, including gender-based violence that occurs through or is amplified by the use of technologies.

The ‘double bind’ of technology

The document noted the double bind of technology, as both an amplifier to promote women’s and girl’s human rights, as well as a tool which perpetuates gender stereotypes and negative social norms.

Notably, the Agreed Conclusions centered several references on adolescent girls who are part of the most digitally connected generation in history and can therefore be disproportionately affected by online digital discrimination and violence. The text included an acknowledgement that multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination and marginalization are also experienced by women, girls and gender nonconforming people within the digital spheres.

Challenges to human rights

Amidst some progress in the agreed language this year, the Women’s Rights Caucus noted some fundamental challenges in the recognition of Member States of key human rights issues, including:

  • The protection of the human rights of LGBTQI people
  • The importance of technology for expanding access to comprehensive sexuality education
  • The interlinkages between digital transformation and climate change were left out of the document

Many regressive Governments, including Saudi Arabia, Russia, Guatemala, Ethiopia, Mali, El Salvador and the Vatican as a permanent observer (also known as the Holy See) continued to obstruct progress in the negotiations. Employing disruptive tactics, they coordinated efforts to oppose specific themes, particularly against language regarding comprehensive sexuality education and sexual and reproductive health and rights.

The anti-rights voices within the negotiations worked to advance ‘parental rights’, parental control, and curtailing young people’s autonomy to choose the digital content they consume. raising of feminist agendas as a vehicle for bypassing traditional, cultural, and religious values, anti-trans narratives and calls for sovereignism as a means to escape responsibilities for upholding human rights.

Men and Masculinities Language

MenEngage Alliance members and partners sought to add value to the Women’s Rights Caucus advocacy by providing technical inputs on the men and masculinities language within the Agreed Conclusions. These efforts aimed to provide nuanced political language on the need to transform patriarchal masculinities and work with men and boys for gender and social justice—online, offline and in-between.

More than 50 members took part in preparing technical inputs and in advocating to governments. This included direct lobbying efforts with delegations of Rwanda, Botswana, Zambia, Germany, South Africa, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Norway, Sweden, the Netherlands, Morocco, Mexico, Bangladesh. These efforts took place across four rounds of negotiations, from the first draft (known as the ‘Zero Draft’) up to the final adopted document (the Agreed Conclusions).

The final document included substantive language on men and masculinities, including:

  • 89. The Commission recognizes the importance of the full engagement of men and boys as agents and beneficiaries of change, and as strategic partners and allies in the achievement of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls in the context of innovation and technological change, and education in the digital age in order to combat and eliminate the gender stereotypes, sexism and negative social norms that fuel discrimination and all forms of violence, including sexual and gender-based violence, and undermine gender equality, while noting the ongoing need to educate children from a young age regarding the importance of gender equality, human rights, treating all people with dignity and respect and promoting a culture of peace, non-violent behaviour and respectful relationships.
  • (qq). [  ]… to eliminate negative social norms and gender stereotypes and bias from digital and other educational resources found in curricula and educators’ behaviours and attitudes, as well as through initiatives aimed at engaging men and boys and long-term awareness-raising initiatives in communities, in the media and online; 
  • (rr). [  ]… engage, educate, encourage and support men and boys to be positive role models, allies and agents of change for gender equality, promote respectful relationships, and refrain from and condemn all forms of violence against all women and girls in the digital spheres, while ensuring that they take responsibility and are held accountable for their behaviour online and offline, including for behaviour that perpetuates gender stereotypes and negative social norms
  • (zz). Take all appropriate measures to recognize, reduce and redistribute women’s and girls’ disproportionate share of unpaid care and domestic work by promoting work-life balance, the equal sharing of responsibilities between women and men within households and men’s and boys’ equitable sharing of responsibilities with respect to care and household work, including men’s responsibilities as fathers and caregivers, through flexibility in working arrangements, without reductions in labour and social protections,…[  ].

Increasing uptake of ‘engaging men and boys’ in international human rights instruments

In recent years, there has been a steady uptake of language on engaging men and boys towards advancing  women’s  and  girls’  human  rights  and  fundamental  freedoms. As well as in CSW Agreed Conclusions, this trend is visible in other instruments such as the CEDAW General Recommendations, Human Rights Council Resolutions, and United Nations General Assembly Resolutions.

Commitments within such frameworks are showing an increasingly deepened and nuanced discourse on engaging men and boys. They are going beyond the need to merely ‘engage’ this critical constituency. They are establishing the parameters for how to do so in a way that challenges and eliminates harmful social norms, practices, stereotypes, and dismantles patriarchal power inequalities as impediments to the realization of the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all women, girls and LGBTIQ people.

As MenEngage Alliance, we welcome this deepening global normative framework—although more work is needed.

Despite the inclusion of substantive language on men and masculinities in this year’s resolution, many of the critical political nuances advocated for by the members and partners of MenEngage Alliance, did not make it into the final outcome document. These included:

  • The naming of online misogyny and misogynistic groups and men’s discrimination and violence against all women, girls and gender non-conforming people in the digital spheres.
  • Ensuring that all policies and programmes engaging men and boys towards preventing and ending violence against all women and girls promote accountability—and are designed and promoted with the ultimate objective of ensuring that the concerns of all women and girls, their rights, their empowerment, their safety and their full, equal and meaningful participation in decision-making, their voices and political agendas at all levels are prioritized
  • The need to combat and eliminate the gender stereotypes, unequal power relations, and negative social norms, such as patriarchal masculinities, sexism and misogyny online and offline, including how sexual and gender-based violence can undermine the fundamental human rights of women, girls and LGBTIQ individuals; 
  • Noting that this violence is rooted in the ideology of men’s entitlement and privilege over women, the need to assert male control or power, leading to the justification, normalization, condonement and perpetuation of systemic violence and stigmatization of victims and survivors

An increase in men and boys’ understanding of the harmful effects of violence for the victim/survivor and society as a whole

Looking ahead: CSW67

At CSW68, MenEngage Alliance will continue to advocate for the following political recommendations towards an intersectional feminist framework to transform patriarchal masculinities.

We will recommend the inclusion of language that goes beyond discussing ‘men and boys’ as a constituency group, but seeks to address the social-cultural norms and systems that need to be transformed. Namely, patriarchal masculinities and patriarchal systems, and how work with men and boys can support this aim. This includes addressing violence in and through institutions, as part of a systems transformation approach.

We will continue to centering accountability in work on men and masculinities. This includes calling for initiatives working with men and boys for the prevention and elimination of violence against women and girls to prioritize the concerns of all women and girls and gender non-conforming individuals (their rights, their empowerment, their safety, their equal and meaningful participation in decision-making, their voices, and political agendas at all levels).

Together with members of MenEngage Alliance, we will recommend the inclusion of language that moves beyond the frame of men and boys merely as beneficiaries of gender equality.

We will support language on the roles and responsibilities of men and boys as agents of change in dismantling patriarchal power, alongside women, girls and gender non-confirming individuals, including through:

  • Condemning all forms of discrimination and violence against all women, girls and gender non-confirming individuals.
  • Increasing men and boys’ understandings of the harmful effects of patriarchal violence and their role in violence prevention and response.
  • Taking responsibility and being held accountable for harmful behaviour, including behaviour that perpetuates gender stereotypes and harmful social norms, including misconceptions about patriarchal masculinities that underlie discrimination and violence against women, girls, and gender non-conformming individuals.
  • Ensuring men and boys take responsibility for their sexual and reproductive behaviour and for equal responsibility of unpaid care and domestic work.
  • Committing to work jointly in partnership with women, girls and gender non-conforming individuals at all levels.

Photo Credit: UN Women/Ryan Brown and 

26 April 2023