This briefing is from the ‘Exploring effective practice’ project 2018-19 funded by the Academy of Medical Sciences and the Global Challenges Research Fund. It reports on the findings of fieldwork, including a workshop held in August 2018 at BRAC University with civil society organizations (CSOs) in Bangladesh. Inter alia, study participants represented different religions and those working to advance gender equality.1 The workshop was aimed at: exploring civil society and gender rights in Bangladesh; examining the key issues, progress and challenges in relation to civil society organizations’ work in advancing gender rights; and understanding the role CSOs play in upholding states’ obligations under international rights treaties. The research responded to three pivotal questions: How did CSO’s define citizenship through their actions? What were the major trepidations for CSOs to be effective on the ground as well as negotiating with the state? How are CSOs applying their organic methods/language outside state/UN-mandated vocabularies to ensure social justice?