Established in the 1946 charter of the United Nations, the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) holds one of the largest, most important yearly events addressing progress in women’s equality on an international scale. The meetings are attended by thousands of representatives of member states, non-member states (such as Taiwan), and non-governmental organizations—some of whom travel with their countries’ official delegations.
The CSW’s 61st meeting got underway in New York on March 13 and runs through March 24. The theme of this year’s gathering is “women’s economic empowerment in the changing world of work,” a topic that the US government has chosen to address with an official delegation led by US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley and her deputy, and consisting of “technical experts” from various federal agencies. Missing are high-ranking federal officials who oversee policies at a national level, a group represented on the delegation in years past.
Even more unusual is the choice of civil society organizations selected to join the official 2017 delegation: the Heritage Society, a conservative think tank where recent work has focused on anti-LGBT positions, and the Center for Family and Human Rights (C-FAM), a “family values” lobbying concern which also takes strong anti-LGBT positions and has been accused of being a hate group. Both organizations are against women’s reproductive rights, and neither has done significant (if any) work specifically focused on women’s economic advancement.
In 2015, the US delegation included senior officials from the State Department and the Department of Health and Human Services. Six civil-society representatives, from organizations focused on gender equality and women’s empowerment (including the Girl Scouts and the Guttmacher Institute), were part of the delegation, too. Similarly, in 2014, there were both more high-level government delegates and NGOs with a clearer focus on women and gender.
While representatives of other organizations are allowed to attend some of the collateral events, they are not there in an official capacity, and do not receive the same level of access as members of the official delegation. “Ideally we should see [as part of the US delegation] organizations with economic empowerment expertise—access to labor market, removal of cultural barriers, access to training,” Jessica Stern, executive director of LGBT rights organization OutRight Action International, told Quartz.
The civil society groups represented on the delegation are chosen by the White House. Their representatives may accompany government officials in meetings, but they do not speak on behalf of the US. The State Department says that “the US seeks to include individuals with different viewpoints” in the delegation. We’ve reached out to both C-FAM and the Heritage Foundation for more information on their agenda for the summit, but neither has supplied details.