Women's Rights as Human Rights -- Rules, Realities and the Role of Culture: A Formula for Reform
73 Pages Posted: 8 Nov 2015
Date Written: 1996
Imagine, as we go into the 21st century, needing support for such a simple statement: that over half of the world, meaning women, are indeed humans and have human rights. This apparently revolutionary concept has resulted in a powerful, emerging movement in the international human rights arena which urges the recognition and acknowledgement of women's rights as human rights. This movement was clearly embraced by First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton (and many other world leaders) in China in September 1995, with her declaration that "human rights are women's rights . . . . [a]nd women's rights are human rights." The catalysts at the core of this global initiative to recognize and promote women's rights as human rights are the correlative needs to eradicate the institutionalized invisibility of women in the global sphere, to craft a means to implement existing rights to benefit women's lives, and to develop, expand, and transform the content and meaning of such rights to reflect women's realities and compel women's equality. This article explores the roles played by rules of law and by the conflation of economic, social, political, religious, cultural, and historic realities in the marginalization of women in the international, regional, and domestic spheres worldwide. Its centerpiece is a proposed analytical model deconstructing and reconfiguring the human rights framework to ensure that women's rights that exist in theory become reality.
The United Nations Human Development Report 1995 states the shocking, but all-too-well known fact quite plainly: "In no society today do women enjoy the same opportunities as men." Recognizing the second-class status of women in societies around the world and the dangers of the marginalization that results, this article, as the title suggests, reviews and analyzes the rules that exist and the realities that persist. It proposes reform in the context of cultural, religious, and traditional norms and practices. Part II describes the general setting that provided the impetus for women around the world to unite and demand their rights as human beings. Part III reviews the international human rights construct to establish that, as a matter of paper rights, women are, or should be, protected under existing norms. Part IV reveals that the reality of the conditions and status of women worldwide is a far cry from the equality mandated by the rules. This section includes an assessment of some gender-specific practices, some of which are justified by culture, history, and tradition, as well as a scrutiny of various substantive provisions of the body of human rights documents to show that women are, indeed, not equal in their enjoyment of, or protection by, established international norms. In Part V, this piece explores the role of culture in analyzing the nature and obligations of compliance with articulated human rights. Finally, Part VI designs a methodology that reconstructs the existing approach to rights to ensure, facilitate, and safeguard women's enjoyment of the full range of human rights.
To be sure, the analytical methodology proposed is not necessarily limited to a scrutiny of gender issues. Indeed, it cannot be limited to gender because gender is not, and cannot be, a monolithic category. Gender cannot be considered essential or viewed in isolation. Women's personhood is also indivisible from racial, ethnic, cultural, and other aspects of their identity. Women speak in different tongues and experience life in different ways. It is, thus, with a multiple perspective or multidimensionality analysis that this article addresses women's rights as human rights.
Keywords: women's rights, human rights, gender equality
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