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The Contestation of Gender and Sexuality in International Organizations

Participation
International relations
VIR20
Martijn Mos
Departments of Political Science and Public Administration, Universiteit Leiden
Jelena Cupać
WZB Berlin Social Science Center

Gender and sexuality scholars have long studied the spread of human rights norms. However, developments in recent years have shown that the diffusion of these norms is neither uncontested nor irreversible. Gender equality and LGBTI rights face a global backlash. Not only have conservative actors actively mobilized against gender norms, but they are increasingly winning policy battles in places as far apart as Ghana, Hungary, El Salvador, and Texas. In other words, anti-gender politics has emerged from the margins to become a global phenomenon. However, we still know surprisingly little about the international context and transnational nature of this backlash. Backlash politics denotes a concerted effort to recover the past by challenging dominant scripts (Alter & Zürn 2020). For anti-gender actors, gender ideology is one such script, and they see it as being promoted by international organizations alongside a transnational lobby of feminists and homosexuals. Recovering the past, in this case, entails ridding their respective societies of these progressive and alien notions of gender and sexuality. If international organizations (IOs) feature so prominently in the work of anti-gender actors, we believe scholars should also pay attention to these arenas. The workshop therefore aims to unpack the role that IOs play in the backlash to gender equality and LGBTI rights. We suggest that anti-gender actors see IOs as both a threat and an opportunity. The workshop is organized accordingly. First, anti-gender actors mobilize against IOs because they see them as a threat to their core values. This part of the workshop looks at the response to these threats. How are IOs constructed in anti-gender discourse? What arguments are used to challenge international gender and sexuality norms? What steps do anti-gender actors take to undermine IOs? Ironically, anti-gender actors also mobilize against IOs from within. The second part of the workshop therefore examines IOs as opportunity structures. What litigation strategies do anti-gender actors use at the international level? How do they lobby states and international bureaucrats? How do anti-gender actors work together to challenge the policy output of IOs? Recent scholarship touches on some of these questions. We thus know that anti-gender actors in Europe often depict “gender ideology” as a threat originating from the European Union (Korolczuk & Graff 2018; Mos 2020; Rawłuszko 2019). We also know that the “unholy” alliance of conservative NGOs and states promotes their agendas within different organs of the United Nations (Buss & Herman 2003; Cupać & Ebetürk 2020, 2021; Sanders 2018; Symons & Altman 2015; Voss 2018). There are also references to IOs in country-level case studies of the anti-gender movement (Kuhar & Paternotte 2017). The workshop contributes to this nascent literature in two ways. First, it provides a unique and comparative overview of anti-gender politics across different IOs. The workshop thus departs from the current focus on a single country or a specific IO. Second, this overview provides the basis for a systematic comparison of the types of actors engaging in anti-gender backlash, the different issues they politicize, and the various tactics they employ.

The workshop suggests that anti-gender actors see international organizations as both a threat and opportunity: although the embrace of gender equality and LGBTI rights by IOs threatens their core values, these actors simultaneously treat IOs as an opportunity structure for counteracting the threat. Accordingly, the workshop contributions are expected to touch on at least one of the dimensions of threat and opportunity. The workshop aims to capture variation in how these threats and opportunities manifest themselves. In particular, the workshop explores four types of variation. First, we welcome papers that touch on the contestation of various issues related to gender equality and LGBTI rights. Among others, suitable topics include sexual and reproductive health and rights; the recognition of gender reassignment and self-identification; gender mainstreaming; same-sex unions; and anti-discrimination initiatives, including hate crime and hate speech. The workshop also aims to address different types of actors who contest gender norms, ranging from government representatives and the state-based groups in which they are active to faith-based NGOs and from conservative media outlets to grassroots movements. Third, the workshop will examine the different tactics that anti-gender actors employ. Examples include framing strategies, litigation, petitions, legislation, and the obstruction of negotiations. Lastly, our comparative perspective calls for papers on a range of international organizations. The organizers welcome papers on the European Union and the United Nations but particularly encourage contributions on organizations that have received comparatively little scholarly attention. Examples of the latter include the World Health Organization, the Council of Europe, and the Organization of American States. We invite papers that address the connection between anti-gender politics and international organizations from different disciplinary and methodological perspectives. The workshop should appeal especially to scholars of international norms, global governance and social movements, but we also welcome contributions from other disciplines, including sociology, international law, and comparative politics. The workshop aims to bring together early-career scholars, including doctoral students, and more senior researchers. We will disseminate the call for papers through personal and publicly available networks, including the ECPR Standing Group on Gender and Politics; the International Studies Association’s sections on Feminist Theory and Gender Studies, Human Rights, and Religion and International Relations; the sections on Women, Gender and Politics Research and Sexuality and Politics, as well as the LGBTQ Caucus, of the American Political Science Association; and the Gender and Sexuality Research Network of the Council for European Studies. The organizers intend to use the workshop as a springboard for two special issues in highly-ranked journals. The two special issues will reflect the structure of the workshop: they will respectively focus on international organizations as threats to and opportunities for anti-gender actors and their values. The proposals for these special issues are currently in the draft stage.