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This subject focuses on the reimagination of human rights from a gender and women’s rights perspective. The traditional human rights canon has been challenged in important ways by its deficiencies in the protection of the rights of women and sexual and gender minorities. The primary focus on violations by state actors was shown to obscure and make invisible violations against women in the private sphere of family and home, in particular gender-based violence. The partial and contingent protection of sexual and reproductive rights under international human rights law has revealed persistent gendered limitations. Meanwhile, the adherence to date of international human rights law to the male/female binary has proven exclusionary to the promotion and protection of the rights of sexual and gender minorities.
This subject considers these critiques and examines their explanatory force. It considers ways in which the international human rights system has responded to critiques and demands of feminist and gender scholars and activists. The subject will focus, first, on the international system for the protection of women’s rights, in terms both of ‘mainstream’ guarantees of non-discrimination and the specialised system for the protection of women’s rights, most notably CEDAW. Second, the subject will focus on certain emblematic violations of women’s and gender rights (gender-based violence, reproductive rights and the rights of sexual and gender minorities) and critically examine developments in the recognition and redress of such violations under international human rights law. Third, the subject will consider the relationship between the formal mechanisms of the human rights system and the mobilisation of human rights ideas and values by social movements and non-governmental organisation. It will consider, in particular, the role and value of international human rights norms in underpinning diverse social movements working in alliance for the improved protection of women’s and gender rights.
Principal topics include:
- An overview of the protection of women’s rights and gender rights under the so-called ‘mainstream’ system for the protection of human rights
- A discussion of feminist, queer and postcolonial critiques of the international human rights system
- Analysis of specialised treaties and instruments responding to these critiques, most notably CEDAW (the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women)
- Critical reflection on the particular role of the CEDAW Committee in monitoring and interpreting women’s and gender rights under international human rights law
- Analysis of developments for the enhanced protection of the rights of women to live free from violence, including the debate about the need for a new dedicated human rights treaty for the prevention of violence against women
- An examination of developments across the mainstream and specialised human rights systems for the protection of reproductive and sexual rights
- An understanding of the limited progress made to date under international human rights law for the protection and promotion of rights of sexual and gender minorities
- A review of sustained critiques of the human rights regime by scholars such as Ratna Kapur, Dianne Otto, Christine Chinkin and Hilary Charlesworth
- Examination of human rights in practice, focusing on the way these ideas are mobilised by women’s movements and human rights advocates to deal with local issues such as gender violence and reproductive rights.
Intended learning outcomes
A student who has successfully completed this subject will:
- Have a sophisticated appreciation of the challenges that the international human rights regime faces in the protection of women's rights and gender rights
- Be equipped to engage in a probing and constructive manner with the key criticisms and the challenges that they represent
- Understand how to make effective use of some of the principal international treaty regimes in the human rights field, in particular CEDAW
- Be able to apply international norms and obligations concerning women's and gender rights to domestic laws and contexts
- Have an understanding of human rights as a mobilising framework for women's movements and gender rights advocates
- Understand how human rights laws work in practice
- Evaluate in context new developments in the protection of women's and gender rights across diverse issues under international human rights law, including gender-based violence, reproductive rights and the rights of sexual and gender minorities
Last updated: 24 January 2023