CSW 65: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

We report to you on the outcome of the 65th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW65) which ended last Friday. This year due to the pandemic, almost all meetings of the Commission were held in a virtual format including the closed-door negotiations between Member States.


There was much that was good, much that was bad, and, as usual, too much that was ugly.


During the two weeks of the Commission, over 100 virtual Side Events were sponsored by countries, and 700 Parallel Events were organized by NGOs. All events were supposed to advance the CSW65 theme of “Women’s full and effective participation and decision-making in public life, as well as the elimination of violence, for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls.”


As is typical at CSW, extreme agendas were pushed during a number of these events.


Family Watch enlisted the help of 163 virtual volunteers located in 23 countries who officially registered for the Commission. After participating in Family Watch’s training, these dedicated representatives were kept busy watching and reporting on many virtual events, posting pro-life and pro-family comments in chat lines, and literally being the eyes and ears of our organization. We cannot thank them enough for their work and the generous gift of their time.


Meanwhile, Family Watch experts focused their attention on the highly contentious negotiations of the outcome document of CSW65.


This document, commonly referred to as “Agreed Conclusions” began with an initial five-page “zero draft” that quickly grew to 65 pages with the addition of proposals by UN member States. The final adopted version of Agreed Conclusions was 21 pages.


Click here to see our analysis of the 65-page version of the document with a count of all the controversial terms found therein. Click here to see the final Agreed Conclusions document as adopted by the Commission.


From our perspective, no major setbacks occurred on issues of life and family at CSW65—meaning not much was worse than previous CSW outcome documents.


We look at this as an important victory especially since pro-life and pro-family advocates were facing a new U.S. administration very keen on rejoining the pro-abortion and sexual-rights camp.


Multiple nations stood strong through grueling late-night and sometimes even all-night negotiations, opposing abortion references often hiding under the banner of “sexual and reproductive health and rights” language as well as references to comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) and much more while pushing for positive provisions on the family, motherhood, fatherhood, and respect for religious and cultural values and national sovereignty.


Below is our assessment of the good, the bad and the ugly at CSW65.


The Good


  • After much debate, a highly contested reference to “safe abortion” was deleted.
  • Multiple references to “sexual and reproductive health and rights” were deleted.
  • References to “sexual orientation and gender identity” were deleted.
  • Multiple proposed references to women and girls “in all their diversity” (a euphemism that has been used to recognize transgender males who identify as women) were removed.
  • A positive reference (while falling short of calling women mothers) recognizes that “women and men make a significant contribution to the welfare of their family, and that, in particular, women’s contribution to the home, including unpaid care and domestic work, which is still not adequately recognized, generates human and social capital that is essential for social and economic development.”
  • The text acknowledges “the benefit of implementing family-oriented policies” but also qualifies it to be only policies “aimed at, inter alia, achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls.” It also recognized “the self-sufficiency of the family unit.”
  • The text calls on governments to enact “laws and frameworks that prohibit discrimination based on pregnancy, motherhood” and to enact educational policies that will allow young and single moms to have “access to health care and social services and support, including childcare and breastfeeding facilities.”
  • The text asserts that “motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance.”
  • Parents are mentioned twice in the sex education paragraph (see more below).
  • Paragraph 12 calls for “respecting each country’s policy space and leadership” but was qualified with “while remaining consistent with relevant international rules and commitments.”


During the closing session of CSW65, several strong statements were made by countries that commented on the text and called out the abuses and controversial tactics used to pressure them to agree to controversial provisions. States also entered reservations on certain provisions contained in the adopted document. Click here to see summaries of some of these statements. Or to see a recording of the statements in their entirety, the full closing session of CSW65 can be viewed here.


The Bad


  • Over 100 side events (government sponsored) and parallel events (NGO sponsored) were held on topics including comprehensive sexuality education, sex-worker rights, abortion rights and LGBT rights as part of rights for women and girls.
  • Two references to “multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination,” a highly contested, controversial phrase used to advance LGBT issues remained in the final text.
  • A highly contested reference to “women human rights defenders,” which is intended to encompass defenders of abortion, prostitution and LGBT rights, also remained in the final text.


The Ugly


  • The following controversial phrase was adopted calling on States to “Ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights, in accordance with the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development and the Beijing Platform for Action and the outcome documents of their review conferences.” This is one of the most contentious phrases in many UN negotiations as “sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights” is a term used to promote abortion and controversial “sexual rights.”
  • Multiple references to review “outcome documents,” “follow-up,” and “conferences and summits” of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action Beijing and International Conference on Population and Development and its Programme of Action remained in the final text despite widespread calls for their removal. These references are dangerous because many of these review documents advance everything we oppose. See our report here illustrating many of these controversial excerpts. While a number of nations called for these references to be caveated by “adopted by the UN General Assembly” to ensure only the outcome documents negotiated and adopted by all States were endorsed, this much-needed caveat was traded away in the negotiations.
  • The final text calls for “universal access to sexual and reproductive health-care services including for family planning, information and education” which is a term intended to encompass comprehensive sexuality education without mentioning it directly.
  • Unfortunately, a reference was also adopted stating that the “rights of women include their right to have control over and decide freely and responsibly on all matters related to their sexuality, including sexual and reproductive health,” a phrase often interpreted to encompass abortion, LGBT and prostitution rights.
  • The phrase “Scientifically accurate and age-appropriate comprehensive education” including “information on sexual and reproductive health and HIV prevention” was included in the text. This phrase is also highly problematic because CSE advocates are now renaming their radical CSE programs “comprehensive sexual and reproductive health education” programs to get away from the stigma now associated with the label “comprehensive sexuality education.”


And while the paragraph has a number of alleged good caveats such as the education needing to be “relevant to cultural contexts” and “with appropriate direction and guidance from parents and legal guardians” these caveats are counteracted by secondary caveats such as “appropriate” and “consistent with their evolving capacities,” and “with the best interests of the child as their basic concern”—phrases intended to limit parental oversight. And although parents are also mentioned a second time at the end of the paragraph, they are relegated to be “in full partnership” on the same footing as “young persons,” “caregivers,” “educators,” and “health-care providers.”


  • Multiple references to “gender” or gender-based terms (94 in total) remained in the document without gender being defined as male and female only. This can come back to bite countries in the future as UN treaty bodies, special procedures, UN agencies, and EU countries are now interpreting “gender” to encompass transgender issues and not just male and female. So now “gender equality” is being used to advance “LGBT equality.”For example, the “Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity” recently put out a call for input on State adoption of “legislation or jurisprudence, working definitions of gender and related concepts (for example gender theory, gender-based approaches, gender perspective, gender mainstreaming) aiming to address violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.” (See here.)


Gender terms that remained in the text include:


“gender equality”
“gender inequality”
“gender balance”
“gender-sensitive policies”
“gender responsive”
“gender mainstreaming”
“gender stereotypes “gender statistics”
“gender perspective”
“gender disparities”


  • While, as noted in “The Good” section above, there were some positive references to “country’s policy space” the all-important paragraph below reaffirming “the sovereign right of each country” and calling for “respect for the various religious and ethical values, and cultural backgrounds,” was deleted due to aggressive opposition from the U.S. and the EU. This was a 180-degree change for the U.S. delegation, which, under Trump, championed respect for national sovereignty. This was likely traded away as a compromise for the removal of phrases like “safe abortion,” “sexual and reproductive health and rights,” CSE, and women and girls “in all their diversity.”


Deleted Paragraph:


The Commission reaffirms that the sovereign right of each country to implement the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, and the recommendations in these Agreed Conclusions, including through national laws and the formulation of strategies, policies, programmed and development priorities, is the sovereign responsibility of each State, in conformity with all human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the significance of and with full respect for the various religious and ethical values, and cultural backgrounds of its people, and in conformity with universally recognized international human rights and philosophical convictions of individuals and their communities should contribute to the full enjoyment by women of their human rights in order.”


There is no way to know yet if future CSW meetings will be held virtually or in person, but one thing is for sure, Family Watch will be there working to protect life and promote the family as the fundamental unit of society.