Reclaiming Space for Civil Society at the United Nations

Blog by Maria Fornella-Oehninger, SI United Nations Representative in New York and Co-chair of the NGO Committee on Social Development. 

“Amid insistent calls by UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, for a New Networked Multilateralism and a New Inclusive Social Contract, the opposite seems to be taking place: the space for civil society is systemically being reduced at the United Nations main fora.

Despite their increased visibility, the effectiveness of their input and their assistance in implementation and monitoring of social policies, for the most part NGOs are given less and less time for interventions and questions, are called last in the general debate, and do not have a voice in negotiations.

This was clearly apparent, for example, at the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW65) this year, where the final document (agreed conclusion) did not include an important civil society call for member states to sign and ratify the ILO Convention C-190, which establishes a new global standard aimed at ending violence and harassment in the workplace.

The NGO coalition to support its ratification, an initiative of the chairs of four substantive committees with consultative status with the UN, had issued a strong statement of support at the end of last year that has been signed by 1100 NGOs from around the world, and the process of ratification by member states is progressing.

Still, a group of governments led by Russia threatened not to sign the final document of the CSW if the reference to ILO Convention C-190 was included. This is more than unfortunate; it is another example of the backlash against gender equality and of backsliding in gender policies.

Nevertheless, the Convention has received enough ratifications and will enter into force on June 25 of this year.

On the other hand, there are many member states that are vocally supportive of Women’s Rights and the eradication of all kinds of gender-based violence, and they work hard to see implementation everywhere in the world. For example, Uruguay and Fiji were the first two countries to sign and ratify the ILO C-190 Convention, and many have followed. Fiji has emerged as an important leader in the process and has engaged with the NGO coalition promotion of its ratification.

Another example of support is the EU-UN Spotlight Initiative, which calls on governments to approve laws and policies aimed at gender equality, prevent gender-based violence and discrimination, and address impunity. It aims at strengthening and empowering civil society and an autonomous Women’s Movement by providing groups with technical assistance, advocacy training and capacity building. It supports processes that foster change in social norms and attitudes.

In our advocacy work, now more than ever, it is important to remain positive in our outlook, strong in our convictions, and think strategically, for instance, by identifying strategic state and non-state partners and regional champions that respect our efforts, support our values, and will help amplify our voices in leading the way to a more just, peaceful, and inclusive society.”

1 comment

  1. Mariet Verhoef-Cohen 3 weeks ago 27th May 2021

    Thanks Maria for a wonderful blog. We will fight on for gender equality and stay positive. After Covid better times come.


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