How do we fight anti-rights fundamentalism at the United Nations?


Map anti-rights actors and their connections. Infographic: OURs Initiative.

The trend is undeniable and deeply alarming: in international human rights spaces, religious fundamentalists are now operating with increased impact, frequency, coordination, resources and support.

The global rise of religious fundamentalist actors does not take place in a vacuum. This growing phenomenon is inextricably linked with geopolitics, systemic and growing inequalities and economic disparities, conflicts, militarism and other political, social and economic factors. In turn, these factors push religious fundamentalists to regional and international political spaces in search of greater impact. Our ongoing analysis of religious fundamentalisms and fundamentalist discourses and strategies underpins our understanding of the forces currently at play in the United Nations. Religious fundamentalisms relate to the strategic use and abuse of religion by particular state and non-state actors to gain power and control. They concern the authoritarian manipulation of religion, as well as references to culture and tradition, rhetoric related to sovereignty and the use of patriarchal and absolutist interpretations of religion to gain political, social and / or power. economic. Across regions and religious contexts, fundamentalisms seek to use references to religion, culture and tradition to justify violence and discrimination. A common theme among conservative and anti-rights actors is their fixation on gender and sexuality. Gender justice is greatly undermined by the strategies of religious fundamentalisms, which use the bodies of women, girls and individuals with gender identities or nonconforming sexual orientations as a battleground in their struggles to appropriate and maintain institutional and social power. Time and time again, across regions and levels, women are transformed into symbols of community, embodiments of the nation’s “culture and tradition” and its future reproduction. Women and nonconforming bodies and sexualities become key sites of religio-political concern and control, as they are seen as the custodians of family norms and honor.

… women are transformed into symbols of the community, embodiments of the “culture and tradition” of the nation …

Unsurprisingly, in a recent study on the organization of young feminists around the world, a significant percentage of the 1,400 survey participants described fundamentalisms as a major challenge to their work and a significant threat to their security. In a previous survey of more than 1,600 women human rights defenders around the world, activists listed the main negative impacts of religious fundamentalists as follows: limited health rights and reduced realization of reproductive rights; less autonomy for women; increase in gender-based violence; restrictions on sexual rights; and the reduction of women’s rights in the public sphere.

We are now seeing these fundamentalist strategies and concerns manifest at the international human rights level. The United Nations has become another space in which organs and autonomy are used as pawns in a struggle to appropriate institutional power. But here, the impact of religious fundamentalisms is not to directly violate our rights, but to erode the very basis on which we can make claims. If, according to their arguments, we have no rights to violate, then there will be no basis for claiming rights or holding our governments accountable. Anti-rights actors undermine the content and very structure of our human rights …

Anti-rights actors undermine the very content and structure of our human rights concepts, institutions and protections, with dire consequences for human rights and gender justice. These manifest themselves in sexual rights, including the rights to bodily integrity, the right to choose one’s partner and the right to decide on sexual relations; rights related to sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI); reproductive rights and health, including access to comprehensive sexuality education (CSE), contraception and safe abortion; equal rights of property and inheritance; equal rights in all aspects of family law, including marriage, divorce and child custody; freedom of expression, belief, assembly and opinion; the right to claim, reaffirm and participate in all aspects of religious and cultural life; the right to live free from gender-based violence; and full equality for women.

The anti-rights mobilization at the international level is a response to the important feminist and progressive organization and its impact over the past three decades. It also represents the new engagement of ultraconservative actors in multilateral processes as a space of influence. Today we are witnessing a set of interrelated factors that paint a troubling picture of our under attack human rights system: increased coordination of religious fundamentalists across regional, institutional and religious lines in human rights spaces, and undermining it. and strategic co-optation of our human rights framework.

Main anti-rights strategies

Main anti-rights strategies. Infographic: OURs Initiative.

Although fundamentalisms are often fashioned in opposition to globalization, they also embrace the international realm as a site for fostering conservative social change. Likewise, if their message is often in opposition to modernity, they are both a product of modernity and happy to fight with “modern” tools. Fundamentalist discourses are strongly focused on the primacy of “state sovereignty” and question the very legitimacy of international standards and their universal application to all. Their engagement on the international stage works like a Trojan horse intended to undermine the goals and functioning of human rights systems, transform the human rights framework and transmit new norms of rights imbued with their rights. values ​​and their messages.

In international human rights spaces, anti-rights actors abuse religion, as well as arguments based on culture, tradition and national sovereignty, to erode and undermine the universality of human rights. Common themes emerge in their advocacy: emphasis on ‘traditional family’, ‘morality’, protection and fixed gender roles; emotional and divisive language; deceptive and reclaimed speech and disinformation; accusations of elitism; and arguments based on ideas of moral superiority and cultural “authenticity”.

Although fundamentalisms are often fashioned in opposition to globalization, they also embrace the international realm as a site for fostering conservative social change.

Feminists and other progressive activists have worked hard to maintain our ground and push back against these hostile initiatives to protect and promote our rights. We now need to better understand these trends, including the key players, rhetoric and their current impact, in order to continue to counter them. Based on this knowledge, we must organize ourselves collectively and creatively to maintain and continue to develop human rights standards to claim our rights, protect universality, and hold governments accountable for their rights violations.

The Universality of Rights Observatory (OUR) is a new collaborative initiative to monitor, analyze and share information on anti-rights initiatives. The focus of his first report is the international human rights sphere. It includes information on anti-rights actors, their discourse, their strategies and their significant impacts in 2015 and 2016.

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