Interview of Maria Sjödin
by Patricia Curzi
What was the strategy behind RFSL applying for ECOSOC status?
The decision was actually made already in 2002 when ILGA was denied accreditation to the Durban conference on racism and related intolerance. However, it wasn’t until 2005 that we had the opportunity to get all the paperwork and translations ready for the actual application. For us, the decision came on the one hand from the frustration over the UN’s treatment of LGBT people in denying ILGA a voice at the UN, and on the other hand from a growing interest in international LGBT issues at RFSL over the last decade.
Why did you feel it was important to be physically present in New York to defend RFSL’s application and why did you need to send two people?
At first we didn’t think we would go there at all; but after discussing it and getting some advice from, among others, the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, we decided that we would take the opportunity to improve the odds by being present. We had already received several questions that we responded to in writing, and it was obvious that the opponents of our (LGBT people’s) rights were going to make it tough for us. We decided we could do a better job as a team, rather than sending just one representative; and, of course, it was then important for us to send representatives of different genders as well.
How did you feel in front of this rather hostile audience and what was the question you received that most surprised you?
We sat in the room of the NGO committee the entire week and were not questioned until after several days. So, we had a good chance to observe and also lobby with delegates before we had to get up on the podium to answer questions. We wanted to show them that we are a very serious organization and that we would not be intimidated by being at this committee.
They asked us some questions regarding very obscure events that have never even been publicized in Swedish national newspapers, let alone on the web. Obviously, our opponents in Sweden, Egypt and other places cooperate and share information quite efficiently. The question was on the misappropriation from a local branch that took place some years ago. We had no problems responding that, of course, we as an organization can never accept mismanagement of money; but there is no way to completely protect an organization from individuals – except to report to the police as soon as it becomes known. We also got a question on our position on the United Nations Convention against Corruption. They asked a few questions related to our activities in schools – Egypt claimed that, since research shows that young boys’ psychological development can be damaged by hearing about these issues (as in hearing about sexual orientation other than heterosexual) – how did we justify our activities in schools. They also wanted to know that we don’t carry out activities in countries where homosexuality is illegal. Some of the questions gave the impression that they were more interested in our activities with boys – it may actually have been an advantage that there were two of us present, one of whom is a woman.
What will be the impact of the ECOSOC status on the Women’s Secretariat of ILGA?
Due to our ECOSOC status, RFSL has had the chance to accredit participants to one of the UN’s largest events – the Commission on Status of Women (CSW). In 2008 two members of RFSL took part in the event; but we also accredited Gloria Careaga, current Co-Secretary General of ILGA, on our status, allowing to network and increase lesbians’ issues visibility. In 2009, we again participated and organized the only side-event that explicitly named lesbian and bisexual women: “The rights of invisible women – the human rights of lesbian and bisexual women”. The purpose was to carry out a constructive discussion on the challenges and opportunities of raising lesbian and bisexual women’s concerns and issues within the UN and the global human rights discourse. The event was successful: so, we are now aiming to get the Swedish government to sponsor a side-event for 2010 on violence directed towards women due to their sexual orientation, gender expression or gender identity, actual or perceived. Even though we registered the event in due time, at first we were not included nor given a time slot for the event. Only after contacting the organizers did we get it, and then we were not in the schedule accessible from the UN web site. Maybe it was a genuine mistake or someone thought the title was controversial – but it was great to have so many people show up in the audience who had managed to get ahold of our flyers or see us in the day programme. It certainly goes to show that there is a demand for events naming and addressing lesbian and bisexual women’s issues!
What did you learn from this whole process that might be valuable for other LGBT organizations?
We certainly learned that our opponents are very well organized and really collaborate among each other. The level of detailed knowledge and translated material that they had was quite surprising. In a way this is empowering – knowing that the opponents of human rights for LGBT people are so afraid of us that they will take great measures to keep us out makes me feel that they know that when we (as in the entire LGBT movement) are present, we can and will change the ways of the world.
For us it was important to be present and to engage with the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs so that they could advocate on our behalf. The whole ECOSOC process and our presence and involvement at the CSW are also very positive – we can claim our voice and organize presence.
It is the responsibility of the ILGA Women’s Secretariat to:
a) Collect and coordinate information/visibility worldwide on lesbians and bisexual women, in close cooperation with the Executive Board;
b) Initiate articles worldwide on women’s issues for ILGA publications;
c) Attend relevant conferences within and outside ILGA and make policy inputs to international organizations and agencies;
d) Cooperate with other international women’s organizations;
e) Coordinate and arrange women’s caucuses and workshops in cooperation with the group planning for a World Conference;
f) Carry out tasks allocated to it by ILGA World Conferences.
From ILGA’s Constitution as of November 2008
The ECOSOC Status
The first way by which non-governmental organizations played a role in formal UN deliberations was through the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). Forty-one NGOs were granted consultative status by the Council in 1946. Today about 3,187 organizations have obtained the status. This accreditation allows NGOs to enter the United Nations and speak in their own name, enabling them to make oral interventions in the plenary sessions as well as organize panels on various subjects.
Consultative status is granted by ECOSOC upon recommendation of the ECOSOC Committee on NGOs, which is made of nineteen Member States.
For more information, see
From ILGA’s publication “Lesbian Movements: Ruptures & Alliances”