Supporting feminist-led advocacy at CSW65

This year marked the 65th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW65), which took place from 15-26 March, in a mostly virtual format. CSW is the main international body dedicated to agreeing global commitments and policies for gender equality and women’s rights. For MenEngage Alliance it is a crucial space where we work together and in solidarity with feminist movements calling for transformative change.

During these two weeks, MenEngage Alliance – with its members and partners, worked jointly to advocate, mobilize and support the CSW65 activities and related advocacy efforts both in our home countries and internationally.

A look at CSW65

This year’s 65th session of the Commission on the Status of Women saw more than 25,000 members of civil society registered to participate virtually, in comparison with 4000 activists who usually join in person each year in New York, USA. There were over 200 side events led by UN Member States and more than 700 events by civil society (NGOs) representatives.

The virtual platform set up due to the restrictions imposed due to COVID-19 in turn provided both opportunities and challenges to feminist advocates during the session.

Each year there is a priority theme, plus a theme that is reviewed from a previous session:

Priority theme

Women’s full and effective participation and decision-making in public life, as well as the elimination of violence, for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls;

Review theme

Women’s empowerment and the link to sustainable development (Agreed Conclusions of the sixtieth session)

What were the negotiations and outcomes between governments?

Advocacy centered around the need to ensure feminist leadership, dismantle ongoing power imbalances and gender injustices between men, women and people of diverse gender identities in public and political spheres, as well as addressing the escalating violence against women and girls in the digital sphere.

The session yielded an outcome document – the Agreed Conclusions, although Member States carried out a tense negotiation until the last moment, with the final 3rd revision of the document being presented and adopted hours before the closing of the session.

  • The negotiations were contentious around the inclusion of language on:
  • Women human rights defenders
  • Intimate partner violence (IPV)
  • Reproductive and sexual health and rights
  • LGBTQIA+ peoples and trans rights
  • Gender-transformative
  • References to ILO190 on eliminating violence and harassment in the world of work
  • The critical role of feminist organizations and civil society
  • Absence on a just recovery in climate related language leading into next year’s priority theme with a climate focus
  • Labor rights
  • Inclusion and acknowledgement of girls

What did feminist advocates and analysts make of the negotiations?

The Women’s Rights Caucus (WRC), a global coalition of over 200 feminist advocates, hosted a press conference on the Friday of the closing of the session, as the outcomes of the negotiations were still up in the air. They stated: “Russia has been very vocal and on the front lines” in pushing “for language that is often regressing and that seeks to deny women and girls … their rights.”

The WRC noted the support for these positions by the Holy See, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Kingdom of Bahrain, Republic of Cuba and People’s Republic of China. WRC also noted “very strong leadership” from some Latin American and Pacific island countries and the “really strong and vital return of the United States as a prominent supporter of sexual and reproductive health and rights, gender equality and women’s rights more broadly during the CSW.”

MenEngage Alliance, represented via the global secretariat, worked alongside the WRC to advocate for a progressive outcome to the Agreed Conclusions.

Many Member States called attention to the increasing backlash at the UN, with the European Union spokesperson stating that “the systematic attempts by some delegations to derail the process and question international commitments and obligations on gender equality show that the pushback against women’s rights continues.”

The WRC also noted decreased access to the negotiations because of virtual platforms being the norm this year. Feminist advocates launched the #UNmuteCSW65 campaign using social media to call on governments and UN Women to support better access to #CSW65 for civil society groups, especially noting that digital platforms are likely to become the norm moving forward because of the ongoing pandemic.

Flyer for the 'UNmute Civil Society at CSW65' campaign

Monitoring of anti-rights groups and narratives at CSW

Feminist advocates continue to monitor the procedings of CSW spaces for anti-rights and anti-feminist narratives. They “expressed concerns of increasing challenges to civil society participation in the CSW and other UN spaces, amplified by COVID-19 restrictions, anti-rights organizations and groups focused on increasing online activity through petitions, digital invasion of side events, chat functions, and social media targeting”.

Particularly worrisome this year is the increased anti-trans rhetoric amidst many spaces, including the rise of “anti-trans feminism” and the promotion of a Declaration of Women Sex Based Rights which included a mix of vitriolic messages related to “gender and transgender ideology” and positioning “transgender ideology” as a threat against women and girls’s rights.

Our advocacy as MenEngage Alliance, however, was guided by our Core Principles and affirmation of our commitment to advocate against, question and seek to overcome, sexism, social exclusion, homophobia, racism or any form of discriminatory behavior against women or gay/bisexual/transgender men and women, or on any other basis.

As such, we are firmly in solidarity with the LGBTIQA+ rights and Trans Rights activists and movements in this space.

Other news during CSW: Turkey withdraws from the Istanbul Convention

On March 20th, the government of Turkey announced that it was withdrawing from a key human rights treaty known as the Istanbul Convention. The convention criminalizes gender-based violence and other forms of violence and discrimination against women. It was notable for the country to make this move, particularly amidst the most critical annual UN conference on women’s rights.

Engaging Men & Boys in Transforming Patriarchal Masculinities at CSW65

MenEngage Alliance, together with the members and partners, advocated for an intersectional feminist political agenda through the Women’s Rights Caucus. This included sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), women, peace and security (WPS), women human rights defenders, and LGBTQIA+ rights.

MenEngage Alliance provided expertise inputs on ‘men and masculinities’ language and framework for transforming patriarchal masculinities for women’s rights. The final Agreed Conclusions reflected consistent language on the ongoing need to work with men and boys towards gender justice. Yet it fell short of the progressive language advocated by MenEngage Alliance. Click here for useful resources on advocating for progressive policy language around engaging men and boys.

What do the Agreed Conclusions say about engaging men & boys and transforming masculinities?

Click here for the Agreed Conclusions (in all UN languages). The Agreed Conclusions are a critical tool that can be used in national advocacy to hold your government to account for international commitments they have agreed to within United Nations multilateral negotiations.

The following paragraphs of CSW65’s Agreed Conclusions reference men and boys:

  • 57. The Commission recognizes the important role of women in the prevention and resolution of armed conflicts and in peacebuilding and, in this regard, stresses the importance of the full, effective and meaningful participation of women, including by increasing their role in peace processes, as well as in decision-making in efforts for the maintenance and promotion of peace and security, and reiterates the importance of engaging men and boys as partners in promoting such participation.
  • 60. The Commission also 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 promotion of women’s full and effective participation and decision-making in public life as well as the elimination of violence and in the achievement of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls.
  • tt. Fully engage men and boys as agents and beneficiaries of change, and as strategic partners and allies in: promoting women’s and girls’ access to social protection systems, public services and sustainable infrastructure; eliminating all forms of violence and discrimination against women and girls, in both public and private spheres, by understanding and addressing the root causes of gender inequality, such as unequal power relations, gender stereotypes and practices that perpetuate discrimination against women and girls; designing and implementing national policies and programmes that address the roles and responsibilities of men and boys, including the equal sharing of responsibilities between women and men in care and domestic work; ensuring the enforcement of child support laws; and transforming, with the aim of eliminating, negative social norms that condone violence against women and girls and attitudes by which women and girls are regarded as subordinate to men and boys;


MenEngage Alliance Oral Statement

MenEngage Alliance, Let’s Breakthrough Inc., Rutgers and Sonke Gender Justice (member organizations with ECOSOC status to the UN) developed an oral statement for the CSW General Discussion. The statement, delivered by Let’s Breakthrough Inc on behalf of the coalition, highlighted the imperative to continue elevating and advocating for transformative feminist leadership at all levels, from feminist civil society movements to the highest levels of political office; and to hold governments to account for meeting the demands of feminist visions for systems change. It was shared during the official session Introduction, action, conclusion and opening of the 66th session on 26 Mar 2021 – under the Follow-up to the Economic and Social Council resolutions and decisions (Item 5) – introduction and discussion:

Click here to watch the video of oral statement delivered by Let’s Breakthrough Inc (the statement is 1 hour 50 minutes into the recording)

MenEngage Alliance Side & Parallel Events

The following parallel events by MenEngage members and partners can be accessed through NGO CSW65 portal for those who registered for CSW, through the course of the year until CSW66.

Men, Power and Politics

The National Democratic Institute (NDI), the Government of Sweden, CREA and MenEngage Alliance – through the Ubuntu Symposium – organized a panel and facilitated a workshop on NDI’s ‘Men, Power and Politics’ approach.

The session aimed to support shifting gender norms and working with male political leaders alongside feminist leaders, as agents of transformational change for gender equality. Participants in the event experienced the ‘Men, Power and Politics’ approach, learning about critical and transformative reflections on the ways in which patriarchal norms and unconscious gender bias affects every aspect of their personal and professional lives.

Click here to watch the recording (accessible to registered CSW65 participants)

The following sessions were organized by MenEngage Alliance members

Bystander intervention in public acts of gender-based violence

Addressing Violence Against Women and Girls through challenging militarized masculinities and advocacy
Sonke Gender Justice

Prevention+ Uganda – Coalition building to reduce GBV
Sonke Gender Justice

Youth Engagement for Social Change

Work-Life Balance of Careers and The Corona Pandemic
Reform – Resource Centre for Men, Norway