INTL254 Introduction to International Human Rights
Professor Nadya Nedelsky
Readig Review prepared by students Group 5: AG, EO, RR

Women’s human rights is defined by CEDAW through specific case studies looking at the intersection of economic and social conditions that characterize women’s lives around the world, specifically women that are silenced by society. The reading suggests that there is a strong correlation between human rights violations against women and their lack of socio-economic power. Thus, women’s rights can be protected by teaching women to read, educating them and providing equal and employment opportunities, additionally by assigning states specific duties to protect rights acts as a measure to oversee the development of women.

The reading also suggests that the public/private dichotomy excludes the explicit addressing of women’s issues in international law and thus it is not really universal. Is this a valid distinction to make in the realm of international law? The private sphere defined as that which is non-political related to private life and actions that do not have any political (public) ramifications. The public sphere defined as the sphere in which an act has a public impact. In the framework of international law this traditional divide in which women belong to the private sphere, as Karen Engle asserts, is assumed to be bad for women. New social movements, such as Las Madres de la Plaza del Mayo, manipulate their status as women, belonging to the private sphere to make an impact and protest the public sphere, relatively without much interference in a society where protest was banned. This effectively brought the private into the public, making a positive change.

The declaration on human rights can be viewed as a snapshot of current trends in western society. If this document (DHR) was written 100 years ago, racial references as well as women’s rights would not exist. What will change in the next 100 years? How much weight should document hold knowing it will inevitable change?

Is the inclusion of women’s rights a “development” of humanity, a form of modernization? When should international law trump national law? When should that trump culture? And that trump religion? Can there be an equal ground where all laws can be appreciated? With regards to historical backgrounds and cultural backgrounds, which are grounds for not implementing human rights laws? Is there a difference between “That’s the way it’s always been,” and “Our culture believes…”?

One of the major themes running throughout the reading is that of the ‘historicization’ of gender prejudice. That is; it stems largely from the customs and historical practices of a particular society. The Declaration of the Elimination of Violence against Women declares that ‘States should condemn violence against women and should not invoke any custom, tradition or religious consideration to avoid their obligations with respect to its elimination’ and that this should be done in accordance with national legislation. Now, if we can make the assumption that the particular laws of a country are going to be steeped in its particular customs and traditions, then the prospect of producing laws and regulations to safeguard the protection of women’s rights would appear to be slim. Is the expectation of swift and radical change within a state in order to advocate women’s rights fundamentally flawed because of the reliance on national legislature? Furthermore, it is the stated aim of documents like the CEDAW to systematically modify the social and cultural patterns within any given society in an effort to promote women’s rights. The reversal of years of custom and tradition cannot be a quick process. Should there be a specific time-frame in mind when documents such as CEDAW are produced?



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