Scenes from the closing of the 62nd Session of the Commission on the Status of Women, held at UN Headquarters in New York on 23 March 2018. Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown

How The Fight for Women’s Rights Became So Polarized at the United Nations

At the United Nations debates over gender equality, reproductive health and women’s rights were not always as polarized as they are today. When I started covering the United Nations as a journalist in the early 2000s the feminist movement (broadly speaking) was in ascendence and very much driving discussions around gender issues at the UN. To be sure, when certain debates arose more traditionally conservative or religiously oriented members of the United Nations would insert themselves — but the momentum was clearly not in their favor.

This is not as much the case today. According to my guest today, Jelena Cupac, that is because of the ascendence of a transnational network of conservative anti-feminist NGOs operating at the United Nations.  Jelena Cupac is a PHD with the Berlin Social Science Center. She is the co-author with Irem Ebeturk of an article in the academic journal International Affairs  “Backlash advocacy and NGO polarization over women’s rights in the United Nations” which examines how this network of conservative NGOs has been able to influence debates over women’s rights at the United Nations.

In this conversation Jelena Cupac, explains how and why conservative anti-feminist organizations began to organize at the United Nations and what impact their unique style of advocacy has had on on progress towards gender equality, reproductive health and LGBT rights at the United Nations.

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