International Human Rights Law: Towards Rethinking Sex/Gender Dualism and Asymmetry

Forthcoming in A Research Companion to Feminist Legal Theory, M. Davies and V. Munro (eds.), Ashgate 2013

U of Melbourne Legal Studies Research Paper No. 620

23 Pages Posted: 21 Nov 2012 Last revised: 10 Jan 2013

See all articles by Dianne Otto

Dianne Otto

University of Melbourne - Melbourne Law School

Date Written: November 20, 2012

Abstract

This chapter rethinks the tradition of sex/gender dualism and asymmetry in international human rights law. By charting a genealogy of feminist engagement with this body of law, the issues thrown up by the dualistic and asymmetrical assumptions of feminist advocacy focused on women’s rights are critically examined. It is argued that this approach has become counter-productive because it reinforces the naturalized moorings of sex/gender and supports concomitant conceptions of women (and men) that justify protective and imperial, rather than rights-based, responses to women’s human rights violations. Duality and asymmetry also have exclusionary effects, silencing gendered discrimination and human rights abuses suffered by men and others, whose gender expressions and identities are erased or demonized by gender binaries. Further, despite widespread acceptance that sex/gender is a social rather than biological category, the conflation of gender with women continues to dominate feminist human rights theory and advocacy. Efforts over the last two decades, by feminists and others, to rethink sex/gender in the context of international human rights law are then examined through two developments: the formal adoption of the language of ‘gender’, and the implementation of ‘gender mainstreaming’. This examination shows that reconceiving sex/gender as plural rather than binary, and fluid rather than static, does not mean forsaking feminism’s long-standing commitments. Rather, cognizance of the whole spectrum of harms that flow from gendered hierarchies and power will strengthen the feminist project in law. A framework of gender pluralism provides a better means of troubling the persistent reproduction of protective, victimized and formally equal representations of women, and challenging conservative views about women’s sexuality, homophobia and trans-phobia. Only by treating gender as a fully de-naturalized social category will human rights law realize its potential, if it exists, to operate as a language of emancipation and justice.

Keywords: international law, feminist, women

JEL Classification: K00, K33, K39

Suggested Citation

Otto, Dianne L., International Human Rights Law: Towards Rethinking Sex/Gender Dualism and Asymmetry (November 20, 2012). Forthcoming in A Research Companion to Feminist Legal Theory, M. Davies and V. Munro (eds.), Ashgate 2013; U of Melbourne Legal Studies Research Paper No. 620. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2178769

Dianne L. Otto (Contact Author)

University of Melbourne - Melbourne Law School ( email )

University Square
185 Pelham Street, Carlton
Victoria, Victoria 3010
Australia
61 3 8344-4063 (Phone)
61 3 9347 2392 (Fax)

Here is the Coronavirus
related research on SSRN

Paper statistics

Downloads
682
Abstract Views
2,298
rank
39,128
PlumX Metrics