Fights Over Women's and LGBTQI+ Rights at the United Nations

PeopleDiplomats ♦ Published: July 7, 2024; 14:55 ♦ (Vindobona)

The UN Human Rights Council is currently engaged in heated discussions over the formulation of resolutions concerning the protection of women and LGBTQI+ persons. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and Austrian, Volker Türk, expressed his deep concern that established rights are increasingly being called into question.

As UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk expressed grave concern that established women's and LGTBQ+ rights are being questioned more and more. / Picture: © UN Geneva / UN photo by Violaine Martin / Flickr Attribution (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 GENERIC DEED, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/)

"What we have seen over the years is a sophisticated, very strategic, unholy alliance of different groups. For example, religious fundamentalists of all kinds, populists, and those who stir up fear and division," said the Austrian UN diplomat Türk, as reported by ORF. He also criticized patriarchal and misogynistic attitudes that fuel these discussions.

Negotiations in the Human Rights Council often last late into the night, with arguments raging over every formulation with a gender reference. Gender references here include the special protection of women and the recognition of people's gender identity. Negotiators report intense disputes that show how polarized the discussions have become.

The driving forces behind these discussions are countries of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), in particular Pakistan and Egypt. Representatives of some African countries are also vehemently opposed to gender issues and accuse Western countries of trying to impose their values on them.

These night-long debates illustrate the deep rifts between the different positions within the UN. Despite the resistance, it remains crucial that the protection of women and LGBTQI+ people is not weakened. "We must take decisive action against these steps backward," Türk demanded, as reported by ORF., emphasizing the need to defend the fundamental principles of equality and human dignity.

The German ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Katharina Stasch, expressed her deep concern about these developments. "The attacks by authoritarian states and religious fundamentalist actors on the hard-won human rights standards for women and LGBTQI+ people are alarming," said Stasch, as reported by ORF. She emphasized the need to take decisive action against these regressions to uphold the basic principles of equality and human dignity.

According to her, the discussions also concern documents that have been accepted for years without any problems, such as budget and personnel documents. Ambassador Stasch and more than 20 colleagues protested to the Director-General of the International Labor Organization (ILO), Gilbert Houngbo when the reference to LGBTI rights in the workplace was removed from a document.

Volker Türk also expressed, as reported by Zeit Online, his concern about populist tendencies worldwide, particularly in Europe, the USA, and India. In election campaigns, hate speech is often used to denigrate others. "We must ring the alarm bell," he said and called on voters to check election programs to see whether they respect human rights.

At a time when populist and authoritarian currents are gaining influence worldwide, defending these human rights is more important than ever. The negotiations in the UN Human Rights Council will show whether it is possible to continue to protect and strengthen the hard-won rights of women and LGBTQI+ people.