Leading up to International Women’s Day on March 8, WILPF will be publishing a series of articles spotlighting some of the efforts of WILPF and our members to create a more sustainable, peaceful future for women around the world. Follow these publications and support International Women’s Day by sharing with the hashtag #IWD2018.

©Irina Popa

In a submission to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) of October 2017, WILPF highlights various challenges faced by women civil society organisations when participating in multilateral institutions.

This submission, which was filed for a report on “Civil society in multilateral institutions” that OHCHR will present to the Human Rights Council in June 2018, notably draws from the findings of a three-day Convening organised by WILPF in April 2017 during which more than 150 women’s rights and peace activists from 40 countries gathered to discuss how to make the UN more inclusive and help it live up to the founding principles of its Charter.

©Irina Popa

WILPF identifies restrictions faced by women activists both at the national and international level and provides several recommendations to address them. In particular, WILPF recommends the adoption of a more comprehensive notion of indispensable pre-conditions necessary for an enabling environment, specifically for women civil society actors, to meaningfully participate in multilateral institutions. It highlights arms proliferation, militarisation of society and austerity measures, lack of sustained and flexible core funding, and stigmatisation of peace activists among the obstacles to women civil society actors’ meaningful participation in decision-making and in multilateral processes and institutions. The report states these factors should be considered in a more comprehensive definition of a “safe and enabling environment.”

The shrinking funding of women’s organisations and the persistent underfunding of grassroots women organisations creates significant barriers to their work. The conditionalities contingent on austerity measures imposed by international financial institutions also have a devastating impact on the economic and social rights of women, which in turn limits women’s participation in public life and decision-making processes. The proliferation of arms is correlated with an increased culture of violence, especially of violence against women. Peace activists are labelled as traitors and enemies of the state, and become subject to smear campaigns.

©Irina Popa

At the international level, restrictions to access of information and to physical presence to multilateral fora constitute additional hurdles to women activists’ participation. Among those are: the lack of consistency of accreditation policies and guidelines; visa denial, such as those resulting from the US administration’s travel ban imposed in 2017 that prevented participation of women from countries subject to the ban in the Commission on the Status of Women 61st session; restrictions around children’s access to UN premises.

WILPF also highlights that the lack of recognition of women’s expertise is a major issue at both the international and national level. For instance, when women from grassroots organisations participate in multilateral fora, they are often not meaningfully included as knowledge providers or experts. Their inclusion in peace and mediation processes and post-conflict reconstruction efforts often remains tokenistic. Finally, women’s expertise in areas which are not traditionally recognised as women issues, such as in the disarmament or security realms, is often not recognised.


WILPF made this submission in response to a call for contribution by OHCHR for its report on “Civil society space in multilateral institutions” that will be presented to the 38th session of the UN Human Rights Council (June 2018). The report was requested by the Council with resolution 32/31.

Read the submission in attached PDF: Submission to the High Commissioner’s call for inputs on ‘Civil society space in multilateral institutions’