The Trump Administration Wants to Reverse the UN’s Work for Women

The U.S. Department of State, under the leadership of Trump administration officials and through the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, is actively working to roll back progress made by the global body towards gender equality.

Two women take a photo outside of United Nations headquarters during the 63rd Commission on the Status of Women. (Amanda Voisard for UN Women)

Today marks the end of the UN’s 63rd Annual Commission on the Status of Women (CSW 63), defined by a theme of social protections, public services and infrastructure. The event will wrap with the finalization of the UN’s Agreed Conclusions—and the Trump administration is using negotiations on the document to reverse the historic agreements made almost 25 years ago to advance women’s rights worldwide.

The 1995 Beijing Conference was the UN’s fourth, and last to date, World Conference on Women. The event, defined in modern memory by then-First Lady Hillary Clinton’s declaration that “human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights,” ultimately produced the landmark Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.

The initial draft of the Agreed Conclusions for CSW63, proposed by the current CSW Bureau, began the way most UN documents do: by recalling and reaffirming previous agreements. What is referred to as the “zero draft” of this year’s Conclusions stated that “the Commission on the Status of Women reaffirms the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, the outcome documents of the twenty-third special session of the General Assembly and the declarations adopted by the Commission on the occasion of the tenth, fifteenth and twentieth anniversaries of the Fourth World Conference on Women.” 

This should be, and normally would be, the most uncontroversial way to start a set of Agreed Conclusions—but the U.S. wants to rewrite that sentence. “The Commission on the Status of Women,” their draft reads, merely “takes note of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.” Aligning itself often throughout the document with Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, the U.S. has also asked to remove the terms “reproductive health” and “gender equality” from the document to limit reproductive rights and end protections for transgender people. 

It’s been 25 years since the global community agreed to the commitments made in Beijing. This attempt to rewrite, and in many ways erase, that history, represents a huge step backward—and the U.S. should be ashamed.

The U.S. has always had room to grow in the fight for global women’s rights. To this day, it is the only country to have never ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child and one of only seven countries that have not ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women—aligning with Iran, Somalia, Sudan, Palau, Tonga and the Holy See, the governing body of Catholic Church’s Vatican City headed by the Pope.

I was at the UN just last week with a coalition of high school feminists from Girls Learn International (GLI), the Feminist Majority Foundation program of which I serve as Director. Each year, we organize a delegation of students across genders to participate in the CSW, because we believe that young people should have the opportunity to participate in the decisions that affect their lives.

Our students and their allies advocated while they were in New York to advance gender equality, demanding that our representatives stand behind the commitments made at, and since, Beijing. We’ll find out whether the U.S. succeeded in rolling back women’s progress worldwide when the Agreed Conclusions are finalized, possibly late in the evening tonight, and released, likely early next week. 

It’s unfortunate that in this political climate, the leadership Bureau of the CSW failing to issue Agreed Conclusions would be seen as a victory march for us.


Ashley Steimer-King is program director at Girls Learn International, a program of the Feminist Majority Foundation.