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Women's Rights as Human Rights: Toward a Re-Vision of Human Rights Author(s): Charlotte Bunch Source: Human Rights Quarterly,

Vol. 12, No. 4 (Nov., 1990), pp. 486-498 Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press Stable URL: Accessed: 16/09/2010 22:55
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Women's Rightsas Human Rights: Towarda Re-Visionof Human Rights

numbers the world'spopulation routinely of are Significant subjectto torture, starvation, terrorism, humiliation,mutilation,and even murdersimply because they are female. Crimessuch as these againstany group other than women would be recognizedas a civil and politicalemergencyas well as a gross violation of the victims' humanity.Yet, despite a clear recordof are deathsand demonstrable abuse,women's rights not commonlyclassified as humanrights.This is problematicboth theoretically and practically, because it has grave consequences for the way society views and treatsthe fundamentalissues of women's lives. This paper questionswhy women's and are rights humanrights viewed as distinct,looksatthe policy implications of this schism, and discusses differentapproachesto changingit. Women's human rightsare violated in a varietyof ways. Of course, that women sometimessufferabusessuch as politicalrepression are similar to abuses sufferedby men. In these situations,female victims are often invisible,because the dominantimage of the politicalactor in our world is male. However, many violations of women's human rightsare distinctly connected to being female-that is, women are discriminated againstand abused on the basis of gender. Women also experience sexual abuse in situationswhere their other human rightsare being violated, as political or ethnicgroups,forexample.Inthis paper prisoners membersof persecuted or Iaddressthose abusesin which genderis a primary relatedfactorbecause abuse has been most neglectedand offersthe greatestchalgender-related lenge to the field of humanrightstoday. The concept of human rightsis one of the few moralvisions ascribed to internationally. agreedupon, it strikes Althoughitsscope is not universally

and * A shorter of in to versionof thisarticleappeared RESPONSE the Victimization Women Children. Press HumanRightsQuarterly (1990) 486-498 o 1990 by The JohnsHopkinsUniversity 12


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of deep chordsof responseamongmany.Promotion humanrightsis a widely for and thus providesa usefulframework seeking redressof accepted goal it abuse. Further is one of the few concepts that speaksto the need gender activismand concern about the lives of people globally. for transnational The UniversalDeclarationof HumanRights,'adopted in 1948, symbolizes this world vision and defines humanrightsbroadly.While not much is said about women, Article2 entitlesall to "the rightsand freedomsset forthin this Declaration,withoutdistinctionof any kind,such as race, colour, sex, language,religion,politicalor otheropinion, nationalor social origin,propEleanor Rooseveltand the Latin American women or erty,birth otherstatus." who fought for the inclusion of sex in the Declarationand for its passage clearly intendedthat it would addressthe problemof women's subordination.2 Since 1948 the world community has continuouslydebated varying of of interpretations humanrightsin responseto global developments.Little this discussion, however, has addressedquestionsof gender, and only recently have significantchallenges been made to a vision of human rights which excludesmuchof women'sexperiences.Theconceptof humanrights, like all vibrantvisions, is not staticor the property any one group;rather, of itsmeaningexpandsas people reconceiveof theirneedsandhopes in relation to it. In this spirit,feministsredefine human rightsabuses to include the degradationand violation of women. The specific experiences of women must be added to traditional approachesto humanrightsin orderto make the women more visible and to transform concept and practiceof human in our cultureso that it takes betteraccount of women's lives. rights In the next partof this article, I will explore both the importanceand the difficultyof connectingwomen's rightsto humanrights,and then I will outlinefourbasic approachesthat have been used in the effortto makethis connection.

I. BEYOND RHETORIC: POLITICAL IMPLICATIONS Fewgovernments exhibitmorethantokencommitment women'sequality to as a basic human rightin domestic or foreign policy. No governmentde-

1. Universal Declaration HumanRights, of adopted10 December1948, G.A. Res.217A(III), U.N. Doc. A/810 (1948). 2. BlancheWiesen Cook, "Eleanor The Battlefor Peace and Rooseveltand HumanRights: P. ed. andAmerican Planetary Decency,"Edward Crapol, Women Policy:Lobbyists, Foreign Critics,and Insiders(New York:GreenwoodPress,1987), 98-118; GeorginaAshworth, "OfViolenceand Violation: Womenand HumanRights," II ChangeThinkbook (London, 1986).




terminesits policies towardother countrieson the basis of theirtreatment of women, even when some aid and trade decisions are said to be based on a country'shumanrightsrecord.Amongnongovernmental organizations, women are rarelya priority,and HumanRightsDay programs 10 Deon cemberseldom includediscussionof issues like violence againstwomen or When it is suggestedthatgovernments humanrights and reproductive rights. should respondto women's rightsas concerns that deserve organizations such attention, numberof excuses areofferedforwhy this cannotbe done. a Theresponses tendto follow one or moreof these lines:(1)sex discrimination is too trivial,or not as important, will come afterlargerissues of survival or that requiremore seriousattention;(2) abuse of women, while regrettable, is a cultural,private,or individualissue and not a politicalmatterrequiring for state action; (3) while appropriate other action, women's rightsare not human rightsper se; or (4) when the abuse of women is recognized, it is consideredinevitableor so pervasivethatany consideration it is futileor of will overwhelmother human rightsquestions. It is important challenge to these responses. The narrowdefinitionof humanrights,recognizedby many in the West as solely a matterof state violationof civil and political liberties,impedes consideration women's rights.In the UnitedStatesthe concept has been of further limitedby some who have used it as a weapon in the cold waralmost exclusively to challenge human rightsabuses perpetratedin communist countries. Eventhen, many abuses that affected women, such as forced pregnancyin Romania,were ignored. Some important aspects of women's rightsdo fit into a civil liberties but framework, much of the abuse againstwomen is partof a largersocioeconomic web thatentraps to themvulnerable abuseswhich women, making delineatedas exclusivelypoliticalor solely caused by states.The cannot be inclusionof "second generation" socioeconomic humanrightsto food, or and work-which are clearly delineated as part of the Universal shelter, of Declaration HumanRights-is vitalto addressing women'sconcernsfully. the assumption for thatstatesare not responsible mostviolationsof Further, women's rightsignoresthe fact that such abuses, althoughcommittedperhaps by privatecitizens, are often condoned or even sanctionedby states. I will return the questionof state responsibility to afterrespondingto other instancesof resistanceto women's rightsas humanrights. The most insidiousmythaboutwomen's rightsis thatthey are trivialor from secondaryto the concerns of life and death. Nothingcould be farther of the truth:sexism kills.Thereis increasingdocumentation the manyways in which beingfemale is life-threatening. followingare a few examples: The -Before birth:Amniocentesisis used for sex selection leadingto the abortionof more female fetuses at ratesas high as 99 percent in Bombay,
India; in China and India, the two most populous nations, more males than


Women's as Rights Human Rights


females are born even though naturalbirth ratios would produce more

-During childhood: The World Health Organizationreportsthat in manycountries,girlsarefed less, breastfed forshorter periodsof time, taken to doctors less frequently,and die or are physicallyand mentallymaimed at by malnutrition higherratesthan boys.4 -In adulthood:The denial of women's rightsto controltheirbodies in threatenswomen's lives, especially where this is combined reproduction with povertyand poor healthservices.InLatin America,complicationsfrom illegalabortionsare the leadingcause of deathforwomen betweenthe ages of fifteenand thirty-nine.5 Sex discrimination women daily.When combinedwith race, class, kills and other forms of oppression, it constitutesa deadly denial of women's rightto life and libertyon a large scale throughoutthe world. The most pervasiveviolationof females is violence againstwomen in all its manifestations,from wife battery,incest, and rape, to dowry deaths,6genital mutilation,7and female sexual slavery.These abuses occur in every country and are found in the home and in the workplace,on streets,on campuses, and in prisonsand refugeecamps. Theycross class, race, age, and national lines; and at the same time, the forms this violence takes often reinforce and Case other oppressionssuch as racism,"able-bodyism," imperialism. in point: in orderto feed theirfamilies,poor women in brothelsaroundUS bearthe burdenof sexual, racial, bases in places likethe Philippines military and national imperialismin repeated and often brutalviolation of their bodies. statistics revealsthatthe extentof violence Evena shortreviewof random women globally is staggering: against
3. Vibhuti A at Health Reproduction and Look Women, Patel,InSearchof OurBodies: Feminist in India(Shakti, of Dimensions ViolenceAgainst 1987);Lori Heise,"International Bombay, Women,"Response,vol. 12, no. 1 (1989): 3. 4. Sundari HealthImplications SexDiscrimination Childhood in of (Geneva: World Ravindran, Health Organization, to 1986). These problemsand proposedsocial programs counter themin Indiaarediscussedin detailin "Gender Violence:GenderDiscrimination Between (ChildHealthEducation Family," Boy and Girl in Parental paperpublishedby CHETNA and 1989. Awareness), Ahmedabad, Training Nutrition 5. DebbieTaylor, Women: World A A Book Oxford ed., Report, New Internationalist (Oxford: Press,1985), 10. See JoniSeagerand Ann Olson, eds., WomenIn The World: University An International Atlas(London: PlutoPress,1986) for morestatistics the effectsof sex on discrimination. 6. Frequently husbandwill disguisethe deathof a brideas suicide or an accidentin order a to collect the marriage settlement paid him by the bride'sparents. Although dowryis now illegal in many countries,officialrecordsfor 1987 showed 1,786 dowrydeaths iRIndia alone. See Heise, note 3 above, 5. 7. Foran in-depthexaminationof the practiceof female circumcision Alison T. Slack, see A "Female 10 Circumcision: Critical HumanRightsQuarterly (1988):439. Appraisal,"



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-In the United States, batteryis the leading cause of injuryto adult women, and a rape is committedevery six minutes.8 -In Peru,70 percentof all crimes reportedto police involve women who arebeatenby theirpartners; in Lima cityof seven millionpeople), and (a 168,970 rapeswere reportedin 1987 alone.9 - InIndia, eightout of ten wives arevictimsof violence, eitherdomestic abuse, or, among the least fortunate,murder.10 battery,dowry-related - InFrance, percentof the victimsof violence arewomen; 51 percent 95 at the handsof a spouse or lover.Similarstatistics fromplaces as diverseas that more than 50 Bangladesh,Canada,Kenya,and Thailanddemonstrate percentof female homicideswere committedby familymembers." Where recorded,domestic batteryfiguresrangefrom40 percentto 80 percentof women beaten, usually repeatedly,indicatingthat the home is the mostdangerousplace for women and frequently site of crueltyand the torture. the CarolStuart As murderin Bostondemonstrated, sexist and racist attitudesin the United States often cover up the real threatto women; a in woman is murdered Massachusetts a husbandor loverevery22 days.12 by Such numbersdo not reflectthe full extent of the problemof violence againstwomen, much of which remainshidden. Yet ratherthan receiving recognitionas a majorworld conflict, this violence is accepted as normal or even dismissedas an individualor culturalmatter.GeorginaAshworth notes that: Thegreatest and of and restriction liberty, dignity movement, atthesametime, of direct violation theperson thethreat realisation violence.... However of is and violence the the sex, against female on a scalewhichfarexceeds listofAmnesty indeedsomeacts of violation are is International victims, tolerated publicly; in in or and notcrimes law,others legitimized custom court are opinion, most areblamed the victims on themselves.13 the women is a touchstonethat illustrates limitedconViolence against of human rights and highlightsthe political natureof the abuse of cept he women. As LoriHeise states:"Thisis not randomviolence.... [T] risk factor is being female."'4Victimsare chosen because of theirgender.The
8. C. Everett presentation by Koop,M.D., "ViolenceAgainstWomen:A Global Problem," the SurgeonGeneralof the U.S., PublicHealthService,Washington D.C., 1989. 9. Ana MariaPortugal, "Cronica Una ViolacionProvocada?", de especial "ConFempress traviolencia," Santiago,1988; Seagerand Olson, note 5 above, 37. 10. Ashworth, note 2 above, 9. 11. "Violence Womeninthe Family," for Centre SocialDevelopmentand Humanitarian Against UnitedNationsOfficeat Vienna,1989. Affairs, 12. Bella English, Led The "Stereotypes Us Astray," BostonGlobe, 5 Jan. 1990, 17, col. 3. See also the statisticsin Women's International NetworkNews, 1989; United Nations note note 2 above; Heise, note 3 above; and Fempress, Office, note 11 above;Ashworth, 9 above. 13. Ashworth, note 2 above, 8. 14. Heise, note 3 above, 3.


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to message is domination:stay in your place or be afraid.Contrary the that such violence is only personal or cultural,it is profoundly argument of relationships power, domination, political. It resultsfrom the structural and privilegebetween men and women in society.Violence againstwomen is centralto maintaining those political relationsat home, at work, and in all public spheres. Failureto see the oppressionof women as politicalalso resultsin the exclusionof sex discrimination violence againstwomen fromthe human and Femalesubordination runsso deep that it is still viewed as rightsagenda. inevitable or natural,ratherthan seen as a politically constructedreality maintainedby patriarchal But interests,ideology, and institutions. I do not believe that male violationof women is inevitableor natural.Such a belief requiresa narrowand pessimisticview of men. Ifviolence and domination are understoodas a politicallyconstructedreality,it is possible to imagine that between the deconstructing systemand buildingmorejust interactions sexes. of The physical territory this political struggleover what constitutes of women's humanrightsis women's bodies. The importance controlover women can be seen in the intensityof resistanceto laws and social changes that put controlof women's bodies in women's hands:reproductive rights, freedomof sexualitywhetherheterosexual lesbian, laws thatcriminalize or rape in marriage,etc. Denial of reproductiverightsand homophobiaare also political means of maintaining control over women and perpetuating sex roles and thus have human rightsimplications.The physical abuse of women is a reminder thisterritorial dominationand is sometimesaccomof otherformsof humanrightsabuse such as slavery(forcedprospanied by to (confinement the home), titution),sexual terrorism (rape),imprisonment and torture Some cases areextreme,such as the women (systematic battery). in Thailandwho died in a brothelfire because they were chained to their beds. Most situationsare more ordinarylike denying women decent education or jobs which leaves them prey to abusive marriages, exploitative work, and prostitution. This raisesonce again the questionof the state'sresponsibility profor women's human rights.Feministshave shown how the distinction tecting between privateand publicabuse is a dichotomyoften used to justifyfemale in in subordination the home.Governments manymatters the family regulate and individualspheres. Forexample, humanrightsactivistspressurestates to preventslaveryor racialdiscrimination segregation and even when these are conducted by nongovernmental forces in privateor proclaimedas culturaltraditions they have been in both the southernUnitedStatesand in as South Africa.The real questionsare: (1) who decides what are legitimate humanrights;and (2) when shouldthe state become involvedand for what
purposes. Riane Eisler argues that:



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the issueis whattypesof private areandarenotprotected the right acts to by Evenmorespecifically, the the and/or principle familyautonomy. of privacy issueis whether violations human of withinthe family such as genital rights wife to mutilation, beating,and otherformsof violencedesigned maintain and control shouldbe withinthe purview human of theory patriarchal rights ... as action. [T]he for theory, formostother rights underlying problem human is that for and fieldsof theory, thatthe yardstick hasbeendeveloped defining human has rights beenbasedon the maleas the norm.'s measuring The humanrights communitymustmove beyondits maledefinednorms in orderto respondto the brutal systematic and violationof women globally. This does not mean that every human rightsgroup must alterthe focus of its work. However it does requireexamining patriarchal biases and acthe rightsof women as humanrights.Governments mustseek knowledging to end the politicallyand culturally war on women rather than constructed continue to perpetuateit. Everystate has the responsibility intervenein to the abuse of women's rightswithin its bordersand to end its collusion with the forces that perpetrate such violationsin othercountries.

The classificationof human rightsis more than just a semantics problem because it has practicalpolicy consequences. Human rightsare still consideredto be more important than women's rights.The distinctionperpetuatesthe idea thatthe rightsof women are of a lesserorderthanthe "rights of man,"and, as Eislerdescribes it, "servesto justifypracticesthat do not accord women full and equal status."'6 the United Nations,the Human In RightsCommissionhas more power to hear and investigatecases than the Commissionon the Statusof Women, more staff and budget, and better mechanismsfor implementingits findings.Thus it makes a differencein what can be done if a case is deemed a violationof women's rightsand not of humanrights.17 The determinationof refugee status illustrateshow the definition of human rightsaffects people's lives. The Dutch RefugeeAssociation,in its to pioneeringefforts convince othernationsto recognizesexual persecution

15. Riane Eisler,"HumanRights:Towardan Integrated Theoryfor Action,"HumanRights 9 The of Quarterly (1987):297. See also AlidaBrill, Nobody'sBusiness: Paradoxes Privacy (New York: 1990). Addison-Wesley, 16. Eisler, note 15 above, 291. 17. Sandra on How MightTheyBetter Coliver,"UnitedNationsMachineries Women'sRights: in Help WomenWhose RightsAre BeingViolated?" EllenL. Lutz,HurstHannum,and Univ. of Penn. J. Kathryn Burke,eds., New Directionsin HumanRights(Philadelphia: Press,1989).


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and violence against women as justificationsfor grantingrefugee status, would take sexual persecutioninto foundthatsome European governments account as an aspect of otherformsof politicalrepression,but none would make it the groundsfor refugeestatusper se.1' The implicationsof such a distinctionare clear when examininga situationlike thatof the Bangladeshi war, women, who having been rapedduringthe Pakistan-Bangladesh subsequently faced death at the hands of male relativesto preserve"family honor."Westernpowersprofessedoutragebut did not offerasylumto these victimsof human rightsabuse. I have observed four basic approachesto linking women's rightsto human rights.These approachesare presentedseparatelyhere in orderto identifyeach more clearly.In practice,these approachesoftenoverlap,and while each raisesquestionsaboutthe others,I see them as complementary. them These approachescan be applied to many issues, but I will illustrate in termsof how they addressviolence againstwomen in orderto primarily show the implicationsof theirdifferenceson a concrete issue. 1. Women's as women'sspecific Taking Rights Politicaland CivilRights. needs into consideration partof the alreadyrecognized"first as generation" political and civil libertiesis the firstapproach.This involves both raising the visibilityof women who suffergeneral humanrightsviolationsas well abuseswomen encounterbecause they are as calling attentionto particular female.Thus,issuesof violence againstwomen areraisedwhen theyconnect to other forms of violation such as the sexual tortureof women political Groupslike the Women'sTaskForceof Amprisonersin SouthAmerica.19 have for to nestyInternational takenthisapproachin pushing Amnesty launch a campaignon behalf of women political prisonerswhich would address the sexual abuse and rapeof women in custody,theirlack of maternal care in detention,and the resultinghumanrightsabuse of their children. Documentingthe problemsof women refugeesand developingresponsive policies are other illustrations this approach.Women and children of make up more than 80 percentof those in refugeecamps, yet few refugee policies arespecificallyshapedto meetthe needsof these vulnerable populations who face considerablesexual abuse. Forexample, in one camp where men were allocated the community'srations,some gave food to women

18. Marijke of to report NGO unpublished Meyer,"Oppression Womenand RefugeeStatus," Forum,Nairobi,Kenya,1985 and "SexualViolence AgainstWomen Refugees," Ministry of Social Affairs Labour, Netherlands, The and June1984. of 19. XimenaBunster describesthis in Chile and Argentina "TheTorture WomenPolitical in in A Prisoners: Case Studyin FemaleSexual Slavery," Kathleen Charlotte Bunch, Barry, SexualSlavand Shirley Feminism: Castley,eds., International Networking AgainstFemale 1984). ery (New York: IWTC,



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and their children in exchange for sex. Revealingthis abuse led to new policies that allocatedfood directlyto the women.20 The politicaland civil rightsapproachis a usefulstarting pointfor many human rightsgroups; by consideringwomen's experiences, these groups can expand theireffortsin areas where they are alreadyworking.This approach also raises contradictionsthat reveal the limits of a narrowcivil libertiesview. One contradiction to define rapeas a humanrightsabuse is only when it occurs in state custody but not on the streetsor in the home. Anotheris to say that a violation of the rightto free speech occurs when someone is jailed for defendinggay rights,but not when someone is jailed or even tortured and killed for homosexuality. Thuswhile this approachof them into existingfirstgenerationhumanrights addingwomen and stirring categoriesis useful, it is not enough by itself. 2. Women'sRightsas Socioeconomic Rights.The second approach to includesthe particular plightof women with regard "secondgeneration" humanrights such as the rights food, shelter,healthcare,and employment. to Thisis an approach favoredby those who see the dominantWesternhuman womand law and tradition international as too individualistic identify rights economic. en's oppressionas primarily This tendency has its originsamong socialists and labor activistswho have longarguedthatpoliticalhumanrights meaningless manywithout to are economic rights well. Itfocuseson the primacy the needto end women's as of economic subordination the key to other issues includingwomen's vulas focus has led to work on issues like nerabilityto violence. This particular women's rightto organize as workersand opposition to violence in the workplace, especially in situations like the free trade zones which have targetedwomen as cheap, nonorganizedlabor.Anotherfocus of this approach has been highlightingthe feminizationof povertyor what might betterbe called the increasingimpoverishment females. Povertyhas not of become strictlyfemale, but females now comprisea higherpercentageof the poor. in at Looking women's rights the contextof socioeconomicdevelopment is anotherexample of this approach.Thirdworld peoples have called for an understanding socioeconomic developmentas a human rightsissue. of Within this demand, some have sought to integratewomen's rightsinto to developmentand haveexaminedwomen'sspecificneeds in relation areas like land ownershipor access to credit.Among those workingon women in development,there is growinginterestin violence againstwomen as both

20. Reportgiven by Margaret Groarke Women'sPanel,AmnestyInternational at New York Regional Meeting,24 Feb. 1990.


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a health and development issue. If violence is seen as having negative it consequences for social productivity, may get more attention.This type of narrow economic measure,however,should notdeterminewhethersuch violence is seen as a humanrights concern.Violence as a developmentissue is linked to the need to understand developmentnot just as an economic issue but also as a questionof empowermentand humangrowth. One of the limitationsof this second approachhas been its tendency to reducewomen's needs to the economic spherewhich impliesthatwomwith thirdworld development,which en's rightswill follow automatically may involve socialism. This has not provento be the case. Manyworking fromthisapproachare no longertrying addwomen intoeitherthe Western to seek a transformative capitalistor socialistdevelopmentmodels, but rather developmentprocess that linkswomen's political,economic, and cultural empowerment. 3. Women'sRightsand the Law.The creationof new legal mechanisms to countersex discrimination characterizes thirdapproachto women's the Theseeffortsseek to makeexistinglegal and political rightsas humanrights. institutions workfor women and to expandthe state'sresponsibility the for. violationof women's humanrights.Nationaland local laws which address sex discrimination and violence againstwomen are examples of this apallow women to fightfortheirrights withinthe legal proach.These measures international illustration the Conventionon the Elimis system.The primary inationof All Formsof Discrimination AgainstWomen.21 The Conventionhas been describedas "essentially international an bill of rightsfor women and a frameworkfor women's participationin the developmentprocess ... [which] spells out internationally accepted prinfor ciples and standards achieving equality between women and men."22 Adopted by the UN GeneralAssemblyin 1979, the Conventionhas been ratifiedor acceded to by 104 countriesas of January 1990. In theorythese countriesareobligatedto pursuepolicies in accordancewith it and to report on theircomplianceto the Committeeon the Elimination Discrimination of Women (CEDAW). Against While the Conventionaddressesmany issuesof sex discrimination, one of its shortcomingsis failureto directly addressthe question of violence againstwomen. CEDAW passed a resolutionat its eighth session in Vienna in 1989 expressingconcern thatthis issue be on its agenda and instructing

of 21. Convention the Elimination All Forms Discrimination of on Women,G.A. Res. Against 34/180, U.N. Doc. A/Res/34/180(1980). of 22. International ActionWatch,"TheConventionon the Elimination All Women'sRights of Formsof Discrimination Institute Public Humphrey AgainstWomen" (Minneapolis: Affairs, 1988), 1.



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states to include in their periodic reportsinformation about statistics,legand supportservices in this area.23 Commonwealth The Secretariat islation, in its manualon the reporting forthe Conventionalso interprets the process issue of violence againstwomen as "clearlyfundamental the spiritof the to of Convention," especiallyin Article5 which calls forthe modification social and culturalpatterns, roles, and stereotyping are based on the idea sex that of the inferiority the superiority eithersex.24 or of TheConvention outlinesa clearhumanrightsagendaforwomen which, if accepted by governments, would markan enormousstep forward.It also carriesthe limitationsof all such international documents in that there is little power to demand its implementation. Withinthe United Nations, it is not generally regardedas a convention with teeth, as illustratedby the thatCEDAW had in gettingcountriesto reporton compliance has difficulty with its provisions.Further, is still treatedby governments it and most nongovernmentalorganizationsas a document dealing with women's (read rights,not humanrights.Nevertheless,it is a usefulstatement "secondary") of principlesendorsed by the United Nations aroundwhich women can organizeto achieve legal and politicalchange in theirregions. 4. FeministTransformation HumanRights.Transforming human the of so account conceptfroma feministperspective, thatit will takegreater rights of women's lives, is the fourthapproach.This approachrelateswomen's rightsand humanrights,lookingfirstat the violationsof women's lives and then askinghow the humanrights concept can changeto be moreresponsive to women. Forexample,the GABRIELA women'scoalitionin the Philippines statedthat"Women'sRights HumanRights" launchinga camare in simply lastyear.As NinotchkaRoscaexplained,coalition memberssaw that paign "human rightsare not reducibleto a question of legal and due process. ... Inthe case of women, humanrightsare affectedby the entiresociety's for traditional of or perception whatis proper notproper women."25Similarly, a panel at the 1990 International Women'sRights ActionWatchconference assertedthat "Violence AgainstWomen is a Human RightsIssue."While work in the three previousapproachesis often done from a feministperfeminist with itswoman-centered spective,this lastview is the mostdistinctly

23. CEDAW of on 3rd Newsletter, Issue(13 Apr.1989), 2 (summary U.N. Report the Eighth Session,U.N. Doc. A/44/38, 14 April1989). of of 24. Commonwealth on "TheConvention the Elimination All Forms DiscrimSecretariat, inationAgainstWomen:The Reporting Process-A Manualfor Commonwealth Jurisdictions,"London,1989. New 25. Speechgivenby Ninotchka RoscaatAmnesty International York Conference, Regional 24 Feb. 1990, 2.


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to fromsome authority determine to stanceand its refusal waitforpermission what is or is not a humanrightsissue. Thistransformative approachcan be takentowardany issue, but those fromthis approachhave tendedto focus most on abusesthat arise working femalesexualslavery, rights, specificallyout of gender,such as reproductive violence againstwomen, and "familycrimes" like forced marriage,comand female mutilation.These are also the issues pulsory heterosexuality, most often dismissedas not reallyhumanrightsquestions.This is therefore be the most hotly contested area and requiresthat barriers brokendown between public and private,state and nongovernmental responsibilities. the visionfromthisperspective Thoseworkingto transform humanrights can draw on the work of otherswho have expandedthe understanding of humanrights For previously. example,two decadesago therewas no concept of "disappearances" a humanrightsabuse. However,the women of the as Plazade Mayo in Argentina not wait for an officialdeclaration stood did but for up to demandstateaccountability these crimes.In so doing, they helped to create a contextfor expandingthe concept of responsibility deaths at for or the hands of paramilitary right-wingdeath squads which, even if not carriedout by the state, were allowed by it to happen.Anotherexample is the developing concept that civil rightsviolations include "hate crimes," violence that is raciallymotivatedor directed againsthomosexuals,Jews, or otherminority groups.Manyaccept thatstateshave an obligationto work to preventsuch human rightsabuses, and gettingviolence againstwomen seen as a hate crime is being pursuedby some. The practical applicationsof transforming human rightsconcept the fromfeministperspectivesneed to be exploredfurther. dangerin purThe suing only this approachis the tendencyto become isolatedfromand competitivewith otherhumanrightsgroupsbecause they have been so reluctant to addressgenderviolence and discrimination. mostwomen experience Yet abuse on the groundsof sex, race, class, nation,age, sexual preference,and and little benefit comes from separatingthem as politics as interrelated, claims. The human rightscommunityneed not abandon other competing issues but should incorporate gender perspectivesinto them and see how these expand the terms of their work. By recognizingissues like violence scholarsand activists concerns,humanrights againstwomen as humanrights do not have to take these up as their primary tasks.However,they do have to stop gate-keepingand guardingtheir prerogative determinewhat is to considereda "legitimate" humanrightsissue. As mentionedbefore,these fourapproachesare overlapping and many for change involve elements of more than one. All of these apstrategies proachescontain aspects of what is necessaryto achieve women's rights. At a time when dualistways of thinkingand views of competingeconomic
systems are in question, the creative task is to look for ways to connect these



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approachesand to see how we can go beyond exclusive views of what people need in theirlives. Inthe wordsof an earlyfeministgroup,we need breadand roses, too. Women want food and libertyand the possibilityof living lives of dignityfree from dominationand violence. In this struggle, the recognitionof women's rightsas human rightscan play an important role.