What Has Feminism Got to Do with Children’s Rights? A Case Study of a Ban on Corporal Punishment
57 Pages Posted: 30 Nov 2009
Date Written: 2007
Has feminism breached new boundaries and entered the arena of children's rights? Are feminist theories prepared to act for the benefit of other weak sectors of the population, including weak family members, by rectifying social wrongs that are not directed at women? This study examines the degree of influence exerted by feminist groups to promote children's rights. This paper examines corporal punishment of children as a case study for this question. It asks whether limitations on this aspect of parent-child relations, which is performed mostly by women in holding important positions in the society, is a reflection of feminist influence. This paper also addresses whether efforts to restrict corporal punishment reflect not only feminist influence, but also humanism more generally, as an ethic of care, either in combination with feminists, or to the exclusion of feminists. A glance at the general character of the individuals and organizations who contributed to imposing the ban on the use of corporal punishment of children and students in Israel indicates that this group primarily consists of women, whether they be judges, members of parliament, Ministry of Justice workers, members of children's rights organizations or members of academe. Yet, at no stage during the process of reform leading to the ban was it ever mentioned that feminist theories inspired the movement, either directly or indirectly. This article examines the identities of those who carried out the process of reform, as well as the nature of the process itself, in an attempt to determine whether the process of change is actually the result of feminist influence, since not all movements undertaken almost entirely by women must necessarily be defined as feminist. The purpose of this examination is not only to identify the processes underlying the movement to ban corporal punishment, but also to open a window on two broader issues. The first issue is the potential influence of feminist theories on the development of children's rights. This issue is examined by questioning whether it is possible to compare male-female relations and the feminist effort to eliminate the artificial status and power gap between men and women, and parent-child relations, where the gap between parents and children is perhaps more natural and ensues from the dependence of children on their parents and the parents' duty to educate their children. The second issue examines whether feminist theories are interested in advancing the rights of weak or disadvantaged sectors of the population other than women or whether they are interested in confining their struggle solely to male-female relations, even if the nature of the feminist struggle is theoretically compatible with the struggles of other groups. This may explain the relative lack of feminist writings that focus on children's rights. The conclusions drawn from these issues allow us to hone our understanding of the scope and application of feminist theories. This paper might also expand the influence of feminist thinkers. By examining whether feminist activists were involved in children's rights could spur researchers who define themselves as feminists to write about, and impact, the field of children's rights. The paper also asks whether this influence will have a beneficial effect on children's rights or whether it will interfere with attempts to promote those rights because of the antagonism which some decision-makers feel towards feminists.
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