Conference / Meeting

Anti-Feminist Backlash in the United Nations: The Transnational Mobilization of the Conservative NGOs

Guest Lecture Series
14 November 2023
Start time 
2:15 pm
Palazzo Paolo Prodi - Via Tommaso Gar 14, Trento
Room 007
School of International Studies
Target audience: 


Over the past two decades, the gradual but steady advancement of gender equality and women's rights at the UN has come under intense scrutiny from conservative NGOs. These organizations, growing more keen on mobilization within international bodies, have launched concerted attacks against these progressive agendas. A notable fallout of this confrontation is the emergence of two adversarial NGO networks within the UN, each holding divergent stances on gender equality and women's rights issues. One network consists of progressive and feminist NGOs championing women's rights and gender equality, encompassing reproductive rights and a stand against all forms of violence and discrimination. In contrast, the opposing network of conservative NGOs advocates for traditional gender roles and family values, identified as "the natural family," vehemently opposing women's reproductive rights, with abortion rights being a principal point of contention. Using the concepts of backlash advocacy and competitive mimicry, the presentation will delve into the mobilization strategies this group has employed within the UN in recent years, along with the progress they have achieved in such UN fora as the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) and Human Rights Council (HRC). Drawing from a recent study that analyzed several thousand public communication documents, the talk will also shed light on how the conservative NGO's evolving perception of the UN facilitated their mobilization.


Jelena Cupac - WZB-Berlin Social Science Center


Jelena Cupać is a post-doctoral research fellow in the Global Governance Unit of the WZB Berlin Social Science Center. In addition, she has worked as a lecturer at Potsdam University and Free University. She holds a Ph.D. from the European University Institute in Florence and an MA from the Central European University in Budapest. In her research, she has explored a variety of topics: democratic backsliding in the Western Balkan countries, the post-Cold War evolution of international security organizations (NATO, the OSCE, and the UN), global governance of artificial intelligence (AI), and, most recently, the global backlash against women's rights, with particular focus on the contestation unfolding in the UN. Her work has appeared in International Affairs, The British Journal of Politics and International Relations, Journal of Regional Security, and Global Constitutionalism. Her article "Backlash Advocacy and NGO Polarization over Women's rights in the United Nations" is the winner of the 2022 International Affairs Early Career Prize.