Concluding Remarks Making Women Visible: Setting an Agenda for the Twenty-First Century
69 St. John's L. Rev. 231 (1995)
24 Pages Posted: 7 Oct 2015
Date Written: 1995
The Women's Rights as International Human Rights Symposium (Symposium), sponsored by the International Women's Human Rights Project of the Center for Law and Public Policy at St. John's University, focused on the roles played by rules of law and by the conflation of economic, social, political, religious, cultural, and historic forces in the marginalization of women in the public and private sectors in both the international and domestic systems. The traditional exclusion of women from the articulation, development, implementation, and enforcement of rights has rendered gender issues invisible and thereby shielded gender-based abuses from much needed scrutiny. The flawed public/private dichotomy, for example, has delayed the recognition of domestic violence as a violation of both domestic and international rights, such as the universal international right to security of the person. Additionally, the application of the public/private distinction in domestic, regional and international law has ghettoized women's interests and has helped to maintain the unequal status of women.
The Symposium, recognizing the second-class status of women in international societies and the dangers of the marginalization that results from this treatment, sought to reassess the international human rights construct to ensure inclusion of women's rights as human rights. These reconceptualized norms must be applied to issues pertaining to individuals, such as sexual harassment, reproductive freedom, and gender-based violence, and to issues facing local and national governments and intergovernmental organizations including economic policies and structural adjustment programs. Forward-looking strategies must be devised to facilitate and safeguard women's enjoyment of the full range of so-called "generational human rights" -- first, civil and political; second, economic, social, and cultural; and third, solidarity. The eradication of the false public/private dichotomy and the encouragement and incorporation of women's voices and concerns into the rights discourse is essential to effect this reformulation of human rights. Scholars and activists in various fields must work together, utilizing an interdisciplinary approach to the rights construct, to implement existing rights in a fashion that protects women. Simultaneously, these individuals must innovatively develop, expand, and transform the content and meaning of these rights to reflect women's realities and perspectives.
A feminist methodology is necessary and appropriate because gender concerns simply represent a microcosm of the myriad problems facing the international community. Gender is a particularly well-suited focus precisely because it encompasses many vital issues such as race, ethnicity, culture, language, religion, national and social origin, class, and sexuality. A new analytical construct taking a multidimensional perspective is necessary. The current construct, that has been used to define rights and prohibitions with a single-issue focus, is ill-equipped as an analytical tool to evaluate women's issues. The multidimensional perspective requires a culturally sensitive analysis that incorporates the voices of different cultures to ensure that the new international human rights construct is indeed equitable in both principle and application.
Although these concerns are not new, only recently have women gained access to domestic and international arenas. As a result, gender dimensions of human rights norms are being examined and a feminist critique of international law is emerging. It is disturbing, however, that despite this recent trend, there are some who have already begun to dispute the need for any focus on international women's human rights. Critics suggest that the emergence of and discourse about international "women's human rights" is inappropriate because international human rights norms include women as human beings, and, thus, the proper emphasis is on all people, not just women.
Keywords: international women's rights, gender, unequal status of women, Women's Rights as International Human Rights Symposium
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