The Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) is a group of 54 Member States that assist the General Assembly in promoting international economic and social co-operation and development, focusing on issues such as social development, environmental rights, human rights, drug prevention and sustainable development. All 54 members are elected for three-year terms by the General Assembly.
ECOSOC is made up of 14 specialized agencies, nine functional commissions, five regional commissions, three standing committees and some ad hoc committees and expert committees. ECOSOC further develops conventions on economic and social matters, which must be adopted by the General Assembly and ratified by Participating States.
ECOSOC holds regular sessions throughout the year. Its biggest gathering is in July, when it holds its annual, month-long Substantive Session, which includes the Annual Ministerial Review (AMR). The Session alternates between New York and Geneva each year. The AMR occurs during the high-level segment and is tasked with reviewing progress made on the MDGs and other goals and targets agreed at major UN conferences. The outcome of the AMR is a ministerial declaration that NGOs can affect by working with UN Member State representatives on language proposals.
NGOs can obtain consultative status with ECOSOC. Consultative status provides access to ECOSOC, its subsidiary bodies, the human rights mechanisms of the UN, as well as many other events. 41 NGOs were granted status by the Council in 1946 and today there are over 3,900 organizations in consultative status with ECOSOC.
How to Apply for ECOSOC Status
1. Submit an Application
Submit an application to the Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations – a standing committee of the Economic and Social Council –before 1 June of the year before the committee reviews the application. The Committee on NGOs reviews new applications for consultative status twice a year, in January and in May.
The application can be submitted either in English or French. It consists of an online form and supporting documentation including, 1) a copy of the organization’s charter, 2) a copy of the certificate of registration, 3) a copy of the most recent financial statement and annual report.
2. Gain Member States’ Support
It is important to encourage UN Member States on the Committee to support your application. The Committee consists of 19 members, which are UN Member States that are elected on the basis of equitable geographical representation for a fixed term.
If any Member State on the Committee poses a question regarding your application, your organization has the right to answer orally or in writing while the meeting is in session. If the question is not answered or if a Member State continues to object, your application will be deferred until the next session.
Roughly one-third of all new recommendations are recommended by the Committee immediately. Two-thirds are deferred to the next session of the Committee. Most applications get approved within two or three sessions of the Committee.
If you are not deferred, the Committee will make a recommendation on your status that is later approved by the ECOSOC High Level Committee in July. You will be granted roster, special, or general status, which correspond to increasing levels of privileges. For example, organizations with roster status cannot make oral and written statements. Most organizations are granted special status.
3. Maintain Your Status
Once you have consultative status, you can request UN badges at the Integrated Civil Society Organizations System. You can also pre-register for commissions and other events, in addition to submitting statements, at the ECOSOC Civil Society Network.
Every four years, organizations with special and general status are required to submit a quadrennial report with your financial information and a basic update of your activities relating to the UN. Failure to do so will result in suspension and loss of status.
There are nine ECOSOC Functional Commissions, each one focusing on a specific issue. The most relevant commissions are discussed below. As with the Human Rights Council, the resolutions adopted by these Commissions are used as testing grounds for language that may later be adopted by the more influential UN bodies such as the General Assembly or the Security Council.
The Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) was created in 1946 to prepare recommendations and reports to ECOSOC in the field of women’s rights. It is composed of 45 Member States based on geographical distribution and meets once per year for its main session in New York. The foundational document for the session is the Beijing Platform for Action, which is the 1995 document that outlines the UN’s approach to gender equality and advancing the status of women. At the end of its annual session, CSW provides recommendations for Governments and other bodies in the form of “agreed conclusions.”
The Commission on Population and Development (CPD) is composed of 47 Member States on the basis of geographic distribution and meets once per year for its main session in New York. The Members are elected by ECOSOC for a period of four years. The foundational document for the CPD is the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD)—the 1994 text that details the UN’s stance on a myriad of population issues ranging from migration to abortion. The ICPD, as it currently stands, is used by some pro-life advocates and Member States at the UN to make clear that it is governments — not the UN — that have the power to determine laws on abortion. In 2011, 2012, and 2013 pro-life advocates secured a significant victory at the CPD with the insertion of the “Sovereignty Clause.” This language, sourced from the ICPD, affirms that it is the sovereign right of each country to implement all proposals in the resolution consistent with its national laws and religious, ethical, and cultural values. Nicknamed the “Killer Amendment” by opposing Member States, the effect of the clause is to protect pro-life Member States from being pressured to implement anti-life language in the text.
Of the other seven commissions, the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) and the Commission for Social Development (CSOcD) are two further areas where abortion and references to homosexuality are raised and promoted as “human rights.” For example, the Commission for Social Development typically includes a resolution on the family, which can be a very useful vehicle for the promotion of positive family language, but also is vulnerable to the insertion of language on “alternative forms of the family.” Although the promotion of that kind of language is done to a lesser extent than at the CSW and CPD, both Commissions nevertheless need to be monitored and engaged.
NGOs that are in consultative status with ECOSOC may designate representatives to attend the annual sessions of the Commissions. NGOs that attend the sessions may provide written and oral statements (with the exception of roster status), attend the hearings and side events organized by the Permanent Missions and UN entities and organize their own side events, with the support of a Mission, or parallel events, typically hosted across the street from the UNHQ, on issues of their choosing. In recent years, entrance restrictions have been imposed on the CSW and CPD with the effect of allowing a limited number of individuals from a NGO to register, and only one person to be inside the UN at a time. For this reason, it is helpful to register under multiple NGOs if possible.
One of the best ways to engage within the UN system is to host events during the ECOSOC Commissions. For example, at the 57th Session of the CSW, Family Watch International partnered with Indonesia to host a pro-family side event on “Sexual Health through Education,” which exposed the problems inherent in “comprehensive sexuality education” and highlighted the rights of parents. At the same session, Planned Parenthood hosted a parallel event on “Violence Against Women: Sexual Rights and Inequality,” and the Center for Reproductive Rights organized an event that focused on “Violence Against Women in Institutions: Reproductive Rights Violations in Healthcare and Education”.
The United Nations has five regional commissions that all report to ECOSOC They are focused on Europe, Asia and the Pacific, Latin America, Africa and Western Asia. Their key objectives are to foster economic integration at the subregional and regional level, promote regional implementation of internationally agreed development goals and support regional sustainable development by bridging economic, social and environmental gaps among member countries and sub-regions. According to their website, their main areas of work are sustainable development, trade, population, transport, the Millennium Development Goals and the Sustainable Development Goals, gender and migration.
Based in Geneva, Switzerland, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE)was founded in 1946 and has 56 member countries in Europe and Central Asia, as well as Canada, the United States of America and Israel. It was created to encourage economic cooperation among member states but has expanded into other, social and sometimes controversial areas such as “sexual and reproductive health and rights.”
The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) was created in 1947 to encourage economic cooperation. Based in Bangkok, Thailand, this regional commission is the biggest of the five commissions in terms of population and area covered and comprises 53 member countries.
The United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) was founded in 1948 and as with the other regional commissions, it was established to encourage economic cooperation. Based in Santiago, Chile, the commission includes Latin American and Caribbean countries and has 44 members. This commission has 14 sub-programs which include issues such as social development and equality, gender, population and development and sustainable development.
The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) was founded in 1958 and comprised 53 member states. Based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, this commission was once again founded to encourage economic cooperation. It is structured into seven programs including sustainable development and gender and social development.
In October 2013, the commission reached the Addis Ababa Declaration on Population and Development, which, as with the other regional documents, contains language that promotes abortion. Providing abortion services is specified as one of the commitments and the Maputo Plan of Action on sexual and reproductive health and rights is reaffirmed within this document. The declaration also contains a commitment to implement comprehensive sexual education.
The last of the regional commissions to be formed, the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) was established in 1973 and comprises just 17 member states. Based in Beirut, Lebanon, this commission was established to promote economic and social development in Western Asia. It works with other specialized agencies on a regular basis such as the League of Arab States, the Gulf Cooperation Council and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. The commission’s focus areas include sustainable development and productivity and social development.
In June of 2013, the Cairo Declaration was reached as part of the regional conference on population and development in the Arab states. Amongst other things, the document calls on States “to amend or enact laws and policies in order to provide high quality sexual and reproductive health services and to protect the reproductive rights of all and enable all individuals to enjoy the highest level of reproductive health without discrimination.”
Thus, in 2013 each regional commission adopted a consensus document on population and development during high-level meetings in Geneva, Montevideo, Bali, Addis Ababa and Cairo. Each document contains highly controversial language on a range of issues that would be unlikely to be adopted at UNHQ in New York City, including language on abortion, homosexuality, euthanasia and sexuality education. These outcome documents will then be used to pressure UN Member States into adopting controversial texts that are of more legal weight at the UN in New York.
NGOs can engage with the regional commissions by providing language amendments to delegates that attend the meetings of the commission. However, this is often difficult to do as the meetings can take place at relatively short notice and often in places where NGOs may struggle to travel to.
ECOSOC also has nearly 20 specialized agencies – autonomous organizations that have their own budget, membership and secretariat and are established to deal with specific issues. The agencies produce policy documents that inform the discourse at the UN. Unlike the Functional Commissions or General Assembly, these documents are not written and negotiated by Member States, and therefore NGOs cannot advocate for them to be changed. However, when agencies release reports, it is helpful to highlight positive language, as well as language that runs contrary to international law, for the benefit of Member State representatives. The most relevant agencies are outlined below.
The Paris-based United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) was established in 1946 and has a wide ranging mandate. Its current top two priorities are Africa and gender equality. UNESCO has more than 2,000 staff members and an annual budget of around $700 million plus additional funding for set projects. In 2003, UNESCO was criticized for promoting abortion in one of its documents and in 2009 UNESCO produced two documents on “sexuality education” that attracted widespread controversy, particularly for encouraging sex education from the age of five. It has therefore become known as one of the organizations that promote abortion, although it consistently denies this.
NGOs can become accredited with UNESCO in the form of consultative partnership or associate partnership. There are currently around 350 NGOs that maintain official relations with UNESCO. The International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) is currently a consultative partner, as is the Global Alliance of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Education (ILGA).
The World Health Organization (WHO) was established in 1946 and deals with all issues related to health around the world. The WHO, based in Geneva, also has a secretariat comprised of nearly 8,000 staff members with an annual budget of approximately $4.5 billion. In the past two decades WHO has increasingly pushed for “sexual and reproductive health”, including abortion, although this has no basis in international law. The Department of Reproductive Health and Research produces numerous reports outlining the need to advance “sexual and reproductive health,” “family planning” and “safe” abortion. It pretends that “emergency contraceptives” do not cause abortion and recommends such “contraceptives” to be taken five days after intercourse.
In 2010, the WHO Regional Office for Europe produced a policy document entitled “Standards for Sexuality Education in Europe.” The document states that information should be given to 0-4 year olds on “enjoyment and pleasure when touching one’s own body, early childhood masturbation” and “the right to explore gender identities”. It also states that “sexual rights” are those defined by the International Planned Parenthood Federation.
In view of the organization’s extremist and unfonded positions, one researcher has concluded: “WHO capitalizes on its good reputation and exploits the extensive networks forged with rich and poor nations from its original role in order to carry out the abortion agenda all over the world.”
It is not as easy for NGOs to participate in the WHO’s activities when compared to other UN agencies, but NGOs can participate at the annual World Health Assembly in Geneva and some other meetings and consultations.
The UN also operates a number of programmes and funds which are overseen by the General Assembly and ECOSOC, including the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), UNAIDS, UNICEF, UNDevelopment Programme and UN-Women.
As with agencies, NGOs cannot influence the reports and events produced by UN programmes and funds. However, it is important to monitor their reports, budget, and events, and to inform Member States about their projects and how they affect issues such as life, marriage and the family and religious freedom.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) was established in 1946 to provide essential food, clothing and health care to children affected by the Second World War. In 1953 its mandate was extended indefinitely by the General Assembly and it became a permanent part of the UN structure. Its revenue is approximately $4.5 billion. In recent years concerns have been raised about changes in UNICEF’s activities. In 1996 the Holy See withdrew its symbolic annual contribution to the Fund, citing UNICEF’s participation in a manual that advocated abortifacient “contraceptives” and evidence of UNICEF involvement in advocacy at a national level to alter abortion legislation.
UNICEF joined other UN agencies in 2006 to urge the Nicaraguan legislature to keep abortion legal and in 2009, the UNICEF regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean, Nils Kastberg, called on the government of the Dominican Republic to maintain access to abortion. The country was in the process of passing a constitutional amendment that stated, “The right to life is inviolable from conception to death” at the time.
One researcher has summarized UNICEF’s connection with abortion as follows: “What should be concluded about UNICEF and abortion? On multiple occasions, UNICEF has endorsed statements calling for the legalization of abortion and for an increase in access to abortion. UNICEF employs the pro-abortion CEDAW Committee as its policy guide. UNICEF has funded a number of programs that may involve abortion.”
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) was formed in 1965 and has an annual budget of around $900 million. It is dedicated to achieving the Millennium Development Goals and has become a supporter of the abortion agenda and promoter of homosexual behaviour in recent years. In 2010, UNDP co-sponsored an event along with the Center for Reproductive Rights and LGBT organizations entitled “Outlawing Women – Effects of Laws Criminalizing Women’s Sexuality”. During the event, one speaker claimed that “the decriminalization of abortion is essential”. In 2012 the head of UNDP, Helen Clark, issued a press release remarking on the “progress” being made to advance LGBT “rights” and decrying the fact that in many nations same-sex unions are not recognized.
The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) was established in 1969 to address issues relating to global increases in population. Matthew Connelly, the author of Fatal Misconception: The Struggle to Control World Population, explains that already then the founding purpose of UNFPA was to serve as the UN arm of the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), and to engage in an “operational partnership” with IPPF. According to Connelly, the goal was to shift any potential negative repercussions away from the UN by way of a strategic relationship in which IPPF would execute projects designed by UNFPA. Its total revenue in 2011 reached a record $934 million. Amongst its goals are achieving universal access to “sexual and reproductive health” (including family planning), and promoting “reproductive rights.” Two frameworks guide the work of the UNFPA: the Programme of Action adopted at the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo and the Millennium Development Goals. According to its website, at the centre of its new strategic plan is “advancing the right to sexual and reproductive health.”
It is important to note that “reproductive health” is not recognized by international law. Only one treaty, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), mentions reproductive health, and the term is not defined. Several international human rights treaties do guarantee the right to health; however, none of these provisions note the existence of a right to reproductive health that includes abortion, despite the attempts of UNFPA and other actors to establish otherwise. The UNFPA has an NGO Advisory Panel that was set up in 2010 to provide a formal mechanism for dialogue between “civil society representatives” and the UNFPA. Given the origins of UNFPA that Connelly details, it is therefore no surprise that the current chair of the panel is Gill Greer, the former Director General, International Planned Parenthood Federation and the Vice Chair of the panel is Ishmael Selassie Fianu, Planned Parenthood Association (Ghana).
NGOs can monitor the work of UNFPA by attending their UNHQ events, and applying to attend their international events. One such event that was open to civil-society was the Global Youth Forum on the ICPD in December 2012, which produced the highly controversial Bali Declaration.
The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, more widely known as UNAIDS, is the United Nations body established in 1994 to guide the UN’s response to the global HIV/AIDS epidemic and is comprised of ten UN co-sponsors. The co-sponsors, together with the UNAIDS Secretariat, make up the Committee of Co-sponsoring Organizations. UNAIDS’ funds are dispersed to these organizations, which are tasked with carrying out the policies that UNAIDS promotes.
One of UNAIDS’ main goals is to achieve universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support by 2015. Much of UNAIDS’ policy reflects a misguided approach to the science of HIV transmission and the most effective responses to the disease. For example, UNAIDS highlights condoms as the “single, most efficient, available technology to reduce the sexual transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections”—an approach that undermines the importance of promoting behavior changes such as the reduction of multiple concurrent partners, delayed sexual debut, and abstinence. Moreover, UNAIDS advocates for sterile injections for drug users, which is a short-term solution that does not tackle the root causes of drug addiction. UNAIDS’ policies for HIV prevention in the context of the sex industry have the effect of implicitly supporting “sex work” as a legitimate profession. The 2007 Guidance Note on HIV and Sex Work notes that sex workers “have insufficient access to adequate health services; male and female condoms and water-based lubricants; post-exposure prophylaxis following unprotected sex and rape…,” and thus fails to highlight the fact that women and girls are often in critical need of support to extricate themselves from the sex industry. UNAIDS’ disproportionate emphasis on harm-reduction techniques permeates the discourse at the UN and has considerable influence on UN texts.
The United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, more widely known as UN Women, was established in 2010 and is expected to command an annual budget of at least $500 million. The entity openly promotes abortion as a matter of women’s rights. In its first report, “In Pursuit of Justice,” UN Women included a section entitled, “Balancing the Scales: Groundbreaking Legal Cases that have Changed Women’s Lives.” One such ground-breaking case was a Constitutional Court decision in Colombia that overturned national laws restricting abortion.The Executive Summary of the report states: “Despite significant advances, discriminatory laws, gaps in legal frameworks and failures of implementation mean that women continue to be denied their rights [for example] 61 countries severely restrict women’s rights to abortion.”
 These are: the International Labour Organization (ILO); Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO); United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO); World Health Organization (WHO); International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD); International Development Association; International Finance Corporation; Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency; International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes; International Monetary Fund (IMF); International Civil Aviation Organization; International Maritime Organization; International Telecommunication Union; Universal Postal Union; World Meteorological Organization; World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO); International Fund for Agricultural Development; United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO); World Tourism Organization.
 Statistical Commission, Commission on Population and Development, Commission for Social Development, Commission on the Status of Women, Commission on Narcotic Drugs, Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, Commission on Science and Technology for Development, Commission on Sustainable Development, United Nations Forum on Forests.
 Economic Commission for Africa; Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific; Economic Commission for Europe; Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean; Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia.
 Committee for Programme and Coordination; Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations; Committee on Negotiations with Intergovernmental Agencies.
 The “Sovereignty Clause” reads “Further reaffirms the sovereign right of each country to implement the recommendations of the Programme of Action or other proposals in the present resolution, consistent with national laws and development priorities, with full respect for the various religious and ethical values and cultural backgrounds of its people, and in conformity with universally recognized international human rights;” See e.g. 46th Session of the Commission on Population and Development New trends in migration: demographic aspects (E/2013/25 E/CN.9/2013/7) ¶ 3
 Addis Ababa Declaration on Population and Development in Africa beyond 2014, United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (October 2013),
 Regional Conference on Population and Development in the Arab States,United Nations Population Fund, (June 2013)
 UNESCO Calls Abortion on Demand Proper Medical Procedure for Girls, Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute, ;Douglas Sylva, UNESCO Pledges End to Support and Promotion of Abortion, Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute
 See Terrence McKeegan, UN Agency Promotes Sex Ed from Birth, Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (Nov. 4, 2010); Bruce Crumley, US Conservatives Attack UNESCO’s Sex-Ed Guidelines, TIME (Sept. 3, 2009).
 John D. Shea and Majel E. Braden, UNESCO’s Program for Sexuality Education in Light of a Proper Understanding of International Human Rights, 1 Ave Maria L. Rev. 2, 199-229.
 Emergency Contraception, World Health Oraganization, (According to its factsheet on emergency contraceptives, “When inserted within five days of unprotected intercourse, a copper-bearing IUD is over 99% effective in preventing pregnancy. This is the most effective form of emergency contraception available.”). See Susan Yoshihara & Rebecca Oas, Eleven Problems with the 2012 WHO Technical Guidance on Abortion, Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (Nov. 7, 2012)
 Piero Tozzi, UNICEF Calls for Legal abortion in Dominican Republic, Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (April 23, 2009)
 Douglas A. Sylva, The United Nations Children’s Fund: Women or Children First?, Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (2003)
 Outlawing Women: Effects of laws criminalizing womens sexuality, United Nations Development Programme (March 4, 2010),
 Helen Clark: In More Than Seventy Countries, Homosexuality is Still Criminalized, United Nations Development Programme (May 17, 2012)
 See Matthew Connelly, Fatal Misconception, Belknap Press (April 29, 2010).
 See International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families arts. 28, 43(1)(e) and 45(1)(c), opened for signature Dec. 18, 1990, 2220 U.N.T.S. 93; Convention on the Rights of the Child art. 24, opened for signature Nov. 20, 1989, 1577 U.N.T.S. 3; Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women art. 12, opened for signature Dec. 18. 1979, 1249 U.N.T.S. 13; International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights art. 12, opened for signature Dec. 19, 1966, 993 U.N.T.S. 3; International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination art. 5(e)(iv), opened for signature Dec. 21, 1965, 660 U.N.T.S. 195.
 The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the World Food Programme (WFP), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the International Labour Organization (ILO), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the World Health Organization (WHO), and the World Bank.
 As with many other UN funds and programmes, UNAIDS receives funding from the voluntary contributions of governments and various organizations. According to its 2012 financial report, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, and the United States are the leading government donors to UNAIDS.
 Condoms and HIV prevention: Position statement by UNAIDS, UNFPA and WHO, UNAIDS (March 19, 2009), .