Shaping an Agenda The period between the 1993 Human Rights Conference in Vienna and the 1995 Women’s Conference in Beijing provided a unique opportunity for taking stock of the state of women's rights with regard to the issues and the strategies used to address them. It was an opportunity to identify gaps in theory as well as practice. An assessment linked to the 1995 World Conference on Women would need to take into consideration the development framework in addition to that of human rights. From the beginning of the UN Decade for Women (1975 to 1985) the development perspective played the dominant role in UN activities related to women. Although women remained outside the human rights discourse in the early part of the modern human rights era, they came into the development discourse early on. Not surprisingly, “rights” and “development” pursued independent, and often divergent, tracks. During the UN Decade for Women “WID” (women in development) provided the preponderant framework within which to explore and address women’s issues. “Basic needs” was the governing paradigm, although at the Nairobi Conference in 1985 the issue of “violence against women” broke through the WID barrier for the first time. By 1993, with the impetus provided by the UN Human Rights Conference, a “rights” perspective took on greater importance in consideration of women’s problems—however, for many, their perspective on rights remained within the “civil and political” framework of traditional human rights practice. Moreover, for strategic reasons, recognition of violence against women as a human rights violation became the most visible issue to be pursued at the Human Rights Conference. Targeting women’s economic, social, cultural, sexual, reproductive or other rights with the same high profile or degree of energy was not possible. In organizing for Beijing, with the experience of Vienna as an important benchmark, the need to take a broader view and to develop new links of collaboration between “gender and development” and human rights became apparent. The principles of indivisibility and universality of human rights together with the full range of women’s experiences across the globe cried out for a more comprehensive and integrated approach. The imperative was to revisit both development and human rights from a gender perspective with the view to articulating a new vision to bridge the gap between basic needs and basic rights and offering a new paradigm to explore the full range of contemporary challenges to women’s advancement. WLDI's Basic Needs Basic Rights project contributed to bridging this gap. The Project Reaching out to women activists and academics from around the world, WLDI convened a dynamic international dialog about the substance and practice of women's human rights in the development context. An advisory committee, composed of WLDI board members Roberta Clarke, Shireen Huq, Akua Kuenyehia, Athalian Molokomme, Irina Mouleshkova and Dorothy Thomas helped conceptualize the project and identify the issues to be explored. In early 1994, potential contributors to the dialog were identified and asked to write papers for a strategy meeting to be convened later that year. The logistics of organizing the conference were somewhat daunting, but with the input and collaboration of International Women’s Rights Action Watch/Asia Pacific, WLDI convened a strategy meeting in Kuala Lumpur Malaysia. It brought together over 100 women from 47 countries as part of a collective effort to
evaluate the progress of the women’s rights movement over the past decade,
assess the needs of women to improve their status globally, regionally, and nationally, with special attention to the development/human rights nexus;
determine strategies for advocacy and action that will help refine and bring to fruition women’s rights agendas internationally; and finally,
influence the intergovernmental proceedings on women’s rights and human rights during and after the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing.
The major themes discussed at the meeting included: gender and hierarchy in human rights; making social and economic rights effective for women; challenges to the exercise of women's human rights posed by religious, cultural and ethnic identity; and conceptualizing and defending women’s sexual and reproductive rights; and exploring the strategic dimensions of women’s organizing and articulation as a movement. The result of the discussions was a substantive set of recommendations entitled "A Women's Rights Agenda for the 90s and Beyond" which lays out the challenges facing women in the contemporary world in each of the areas and makes recommendations at the international level (UN bodies) and the national (governmental) level and finally to women's organizations with regard to advocacy strategies needed to assure women's full enjoyment of their rights. By the time of the Beijing conference in September 1995, "The Women's Rights Agenda" had been translated into Spanish, Portuguese, French, Russian, Arabic and Chinese and distributed widely.
The Book The publication following the Kuala Lumpur meeting contained 35 papers covering the substance of the meeting. The papers together with the “Women's Rights Agenda,” represent a cross-section of contemporary scholarship and activism in function of women’s human rights. The essays and case studies highlight the thinking and activism that has given impetus to the growth and effectiveness of the women's human rights movement today. They raise issues that challenge not only the human rights system but the women's rights movement as well. The authors display a common thread of agreement about the identity of the major threats to the enjoyment of women’s rights but they also reveal divergent ideas on some aspects of the issues and how to address them. Indisputably the authors share the common goal of ensuring the full realization of women’s civil and political rights, of strengthening, promoting and securing the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights and of defending and advancing the fundamental principles of universality and indivisibility of all human rights. (Following is an excerpt from my introduction of the book describing the papers and issues addressed. The page numbers sited correspond to the pages in the book.)
Gender and Hierarchy in Human Rights The first theme covered in this book, which relates to the nature and hierarchy of human rights and their implications for women, touches on challenges to the indivisibility of rights. In addressing it, one question which arises asks whether women's needs as women figure in their claim to human rights. Florence Butegwa (pp. 27-40)4 raises a fundamental concern, asserting that one of the limitations of the current human rights paradigm is an “equality” trap rooted in a “unisex” approach to human rights. Since women are not recognized as having rights that are “unique to their gender and not shared equally with men” they are forced to defend their rights by showing that violations result from discrimination in the law' or by the state. Butegwa argues that women have certain characteristics for which there is no equivalent experience for men and thus a legitimate claim to human rights and fundamental freedoms rests on these differences. She then calls for the construction of a specific framework for women's rights that would offer the human rights system effective mechanisms to address women specific issues including reproductive choice and health and violence against women. Butegwa’s notion represents a radical departure from the accepted framework for conceptualizing and defending violations of women’s human rights. It will, no doubt spark continued debate and further exploration. In many ways, the papers in this collection are ambivalent about the use of “discrimination” as a foundational element of women's human rights. On the one hand it is a powerful tool and acknowledged to be so. To lose it would be to run a certain risk of marginalization, something most women’s rights advocates fear with good reason. None would deny that equality is an important and sustaining principle of the women’s human rights agenda. On the other hand, the “rights talk” of many of the contributors imply, if not explicitly state, an agreement with Butegwa about the limitation and inadequacy of the discrimination approach. It is difficult to take a serious look at women's issues and come away without asserting that women have characteristics that are indeed different from those of men and that require a specific framework for adequately addressing them. A second question that comes to mind in consideration of the nature of human rights is whether it is possible to confront the imbalance of the de facto rights hierarchy without establishing another or without giving priority to one kind of right over another? Many of the papers in this book attest to the reality of a changing economic and ideological landscape in which the new arrangements of the global market have placed social and economic rights under siege. They insist that this situation together with the ambivalent commitments to the indivisibility of human rights by the international community calls for active disapproval of the hierarchy of rights that privileges civil and political over social and economic rights (Butegwa, O’Neil, Clarke, Lamarche). While all agree in theory that the absence of rights for women in one sphere could obstruct the exercise of rights they already have in another sphere, Butegwa points out that privileging civil and political rights through the establishment of an optional protocol and other mechanisms that give ICCPR the political clout it needs to be effective has been paralleled by neglect of the ICESCR which has no protocol and lacks political force. She concludes that the resultant undesirable hierarchy of rights must be countered by greater attention to social and economic rights by women, a position shared by many of the writers in this book, whose articles deal in one way or another with redressing the imbalance. Dorothy Thomas (pp. 41-56) responds by cautioning about the potential losses that could be sustained if a “reverse” rights hierarchy were to be established as a result of over-attention to economic, social and cultural rights. She challenges the notion that economic and social rights are more relevant to women’s lives than civil and political rights and asserts that by underestimating the potential of civil and political rights, women run the risk of weakening “the basis for women’s human rights claims in general and [of reinforcing! the very public/private, civil and political/economic social distinctions that much of women’s human rights activism purports to challenge” (p. 45). Despite differences of emphasis, echoed throughout the book is the view that women’s realization of their civil and political rights is linked indivisibly with the fulfillment of their economic, social and cultural rights. Copelon and Petchesky go a step farther and assert that solidarity rights, including the rights to “human-centered and sustainable development, self-determination, preservation of the environment and the common heritage of humankind, disarmament and global security based on peace in all spheres of life” (pp. 345-346) are equally part of the interdependence principle of human rights. In affirming these principles the authors of this book recognize that women’s responsibilities in the domestic sphere limit the full exercise of their rights in the public sphere and that women experience particular differential obstacles in accessing and enjoying rights because of gender discrimination as well as other socio-economic and demographic variables such as class, ethnicity, race, age and region (KL Agenda, p. 560). Most would be cautious of Thomas’s resounding “no” to the question about whether it is possible to realign the imbalance of rights hierarchy by a swing of the pendulum, but they would share her assertion that the answer lies in “fighting for the recognition of female personhood in all realms [public or private! where its denial continues to occur” (p. 55).
Economic and Social Rights A second set of issues touches on how political, civil, social, economic and cultural rights can be effectively enforced. Given the new global arrangements, the challenge is to understand how social and economic rights can be made effective for women. What power do the treaties have to counter the changing policy climate toward more privatization and less state responsibility for basic services? Perhaps it is even necessary to reconsider what social and economic rights mean in this environment. In considering the policy responses of national governments to global economic trends, O’Neil (pp. 59-76) offers a sobering reminder that the benevolent, willing state envisioned in the human rights treaties, committed to providing citizens a range of social protection programs, rarely exists in today’s reality. The more likely case is for a state to be unwilling to take energetic action to protect economic rights, since the new economic arrangements and the requirements of the international conventions provide little incentive for them to live up to human rights treaty obligations. Case studies in this volume, covering such varied regions as the Caribbean (Clarke & French), Central and Eastern Europe (Sewall), India (Jethmalani), China (Horn), Colombia (Acosta), Canada (Cameron) and the USA (Crooms), demonstrate dramatically how market-based capitalist states—as well as those in transition—have abdicated their responsibility for social and economic rights owing to prods from class based interests at the national level, pressures from international financial institutions, such as the IMF, the World Bank, and other triggers that are reinforcing unequal power relations of the global market. O’Neil explores the problem of making rights consonant with state policies and policies with state obligations for which they can be held accountable. Clarke and French (pp. 103-122) highlight the ideological basis for giving primacy to either civil and political or social and economic rights, a concept echoed in Sewall’s (pp. 153-166) analysis of the status of rights in the transitional economies of Eastern and Central Europe. Sewall points out that the very conceptualization of rights is conditioned by the economic base. In market economics, rights are framed in relation to “access to the market” since economic and social well-being is derived from participation in the market. In these economies, civil and political rights are privileged. On the other hand, centrally planned economies favor social and economic rights. They delineate rights in direct relation to enjoyment in the goods and services the economy generates rather than participation in the market process as a means to the enjoyment of its output. The case studies amply demonstrate these variances in approach to rights and differences regarding the role of the state in the protection of rights. The transitional economies, where states are withdrawing from their former protectionist role in favor of market demands are a case in point. Lacking a tradition of reliance on civil and political rights to protect workers or citizens from the excesses or wrongs of the free market, the diminishment of state commitments to social and economic rights in both China (Horn, pp. 1 37-1 52) and the Central and Eastern European countries calls attention to the vulnerability of people without adequate mechanisms to enforce and protect rights. But whether die setting is a “developed,” a “third world” or “transitional” capitalist economy, O’Neil, Clarke & French and Lamarche (pp. 77-102) remind us that states are not exempted from their obligations to protect social and economic rights under international human rights law. Whether or not social and economic rights are respected depends not only on the will of the state to fulfill its obligations, but on the mechanisms that are available to citizens to defend their rights and make the state accountable. Clarke and French explore the “justiciability” issue with regard to social and economic rights and conclude that while it cannot be strictly said that these rights lack justiciability since some states have adopted citizen entitlements to some economic rights, they concede that the lack of a legal basis for the assertion of rights is an obstacle. Lamarche goes right to the treaty mechanisms themselves to find ways to guarantee the rights and calls for a new argumentation around the notion of economic and social human rights. Basing her approach on the position of the CESCR Committee, which makes it clear that “development should occur in die context of rights,” Lamarche proposes a “principled” approach in which states can be forced to assess die impact of laws and social policies (or their absence) on women’s social and economic rights. A right to petition at the international level would be needed to accomplish this supported by a legal forum to determine state liability with regard to social and economic rights. She also proposes that women should “ground their claims on the combined meaning of CEDAW and ICESCR and to use those instruments to argue against any commercial institution or human rights institution which fails to read CEDAW and ICESCR jointly” (p. 98). Sewall and Clarke and French each reiterate the resistance to such an idea that is likely to be encountered. Sewall suggests that to many nations within die dominant development paradigm, development and social and economic rights arc mutually exclusive.
Successful pursuit of structural adjustment policies demand the subjugation of social and economic rights, while the advancement of economic and social rights, especially for women’s employment related rights, is perceived as hindering any chance for development. Framed in such a stark dichotomy, it is difficult to present the argument for social and economic rights, if it will necessarily imply that a country's prospect for development will suffer. Proponents of improving social and economic rights are quickly turned into enemies of development (p. 162).
She suggests that since it is unrealistic to expect policy changes from developing countries within the context of the debt and structural adjustment policies that forced them into this position in the first place, the best approach is to change the policies of the international lending and donor agencies and to change the foreign assistance policies and laws of donor countries. Activist initiatives targeting international bilateral and multilateral trade accords seem to be increasing in recent years as a strategic choice. Cameron’s (pp. 183-195) case study of Canadian women in response to NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) and GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) shows that il is not only the women in the developing countries who are affected, but those in the “donor” countries as well. The analysis of the two treaties demonstrates how they reflect “classical liberal notions of rights as the rights of property and freedom from state regulation” (p. 183). She recounts women’s efforts to influence interpretation of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms and mobilizations against Canadian trade policy as a counter to their failure to take into consideration social and economic rights. Acosta also describes an international campaign to raise awareness and challenge the national and international policies that so negatively affect Colombian women in the flower industry. In part, as a result of such mobilizations in response to the negative effects of international finance and trade structures and policies, the use of “social clauses,” which place some restrictions on the trade relationship, is common in trade agreements today. However, in Lamarche’s view, they are not, cannot, be an effective means to ensure economic human rights.
To put it simply, social clauses can be nothing other than a commodification product of human rights. An accountable state is a protectionist state. And to be accountable a state must protect human and labor rights, tasks which arc contrary to market rules. Controlling social dumping would not be a compatible approach in a market system (p. 94).
Cameron's analysis of the GATT and NAFTA show how such accords undermine human rights by requiring fewer obligations to protect workers rights than, for example ILO conventions, and less stringent accountability mechanisms than are present in the human rights treaties. Lamarche’s concern is that we are accepting, perhaps willy-nilly, a trade-oriented redefinition of rights. She cautions human right activists to be careful about losing perspective. All their efforts to force international financial institutions to take into account the negative effects of structural adjustment programs could undermine the need to focus more attention on developing mechanisms to enforce economic human rights. To her, developing trade-related rights is loss important than reaffirming existing human rights. Indeed, the goal of human rights work, whether at the international or the national level, is to give legal force to social and economic rights. Ultimately, unless these rights attain the force of law, they remain vague, probably unattainable, ideals. Several of the case studies explore work at the national level to give force to social and economic rights using the tools that are available at that level. They illustrate the dynamic interdependence between social and economic rights and civil and political rights in practice. Often a rights’ violation can be conceptualized as a civil right and an economic right at the same time (Crooms, Jethmalani, Horn) and strategies to address them take into account the means available from both sources. Jethmalani outlines the developed use of “social action litigation,” or public interest law, in India to show how the interests of the most vulnerable social sectors can be defended using innovative legal strategies at the level of the Supreme Court. This approach has been effectively used in the cases of criminal law and civil law. In the “Narmada Dam” affair, a recent case that directly pits a community against “irresponsible and reckless activity in the name of industrial development” (p. 131), it is being applied in the context of social and economic rights. The approach has even been used to challenge the government on its commitment to CEDAW. While the outcome of these two cases are still pending, the possibilities of using such an approach in advance of women’s rights are promising. Finally, in response to the question, how can social and economic rights be effectively enforced, Lamarche says that this will depend on the capacity of women to “blame the state for not taking rights seriously” (p. 98). In speaking of China, Horn says “ultimately, it will be the outrage of the dagongmeis (working little sisters), and the political negotiations of domestic women’s groups and the courage of human rights activists and scholars that will ensure that social and economic rights are realized in the daily lives of women” (p. I5l). The strategies described in this book, not only in relation to social and economic rights but to any threat to women’s rights, come about as a result of the courage of women to say “enough” in words and in action.
Cultural, Religious and Ethnic Identities A third theme explores the threat to the universality of rights inherent in the politics of religious fundamentalism and of cultural and ethnic revivalism. The questions that come to mind with this theme confront the universality issue: How can women’s sexual equality rights be defended while retaining sensitivity to identity choices women themselves make? What strategies arc available to support women whose choices are in alignment with human rights articles but are in opposition to religious and cultural practices which are often invoked by the state or political groups to support their agendas? Coomaraswamy (p. 213) notes that women are at the cutting edge of the paramount threat to human rights today. One of the tentative achievements of the Vienna Declaration was an affirmation that culture should not be used to deny women’s human rights. However, despite the Declaration, wavering commitments to the principle of universality threaten to undermine the gains that have been made and slow the development and power of human rights as the standard bearer and protector of human dignity. Coomaraswamy asks why so many countries throughout the word are willing to accept human rights without the women's rights component. The papers in this section explore the reasons for this situation, the pressures it places on women in various contexts throughout the world and the varied answers they have framed in response to it. Although women are considered the custodians of culture in the majority of our societies, most religious, cultural and traditional practices are defined on the basis of patriarchal norms. It is in defense of these norms that many states, pushed by fundamentalist and nationalist political movements, pit cultural diversity rights against the universal applicability of human rights. This is easily borne out by the number of countries registering reservations on some of the most essential provisions of CEDAW. Rajasingham (pp. 233-248) and Coomaraswamy remind us, however, that the challenge to universality is arising not only from conservative sources. Rajasingham explores the conflict from the perspective of a clash between “universalizing formulations” of women’s rights and the opposition to this formulation by some third world feminists on die basis of cultural difference. Their concern is that “women’s gender/sexual rights and identities have been pitted against their ethnic/national communities in universalizing terms” and that the pressure women are put under when they are forced to choose between their ethno-religious community and their rights as women “necessitates a rethinking of the very idea of ‘rights’ in a constructive, contextually located and historical way” (pp. 240-241). Both Rajasingham and Afkhiami (pp. 217-232) address the idea of women’s “identity” as central to the dilemma and acknowledge the multiplicity of intersecting discourses that come into play and that challenge the validity of individual rights for women. Afkhami’s position is to assert that
the point of women’s struggle for rights is cultural change, that is, changing attitudes, behaviors, and laws that have a negative impact on women's human rights. Such a struggle would be meaningless if women did not agree that there arc rights beyond those prescribed by the traditional culture and that these rights are nevertheless valid everywhere (p.225).
The papers in this set directly address struggles that occur between rights and culture (or between rights and culture change) and illustrate varied experiences of resolution. The “Shabanu” case (pp. 242-244) in India demonstrates what Rajasingham calls the “volatile and overdetermined nature of women’s rights in multi-ethnic cultures.” In this case, the rights of a Muslim woman (with legal implications for all Indian Muslim women) became the point of contention around the issue of minority rights. Shabanu’s choice in the end was to abandon her quest for a resolution of her situation, for which she had received a favorable ruling from the Supreme Court, in favor of the demands of her religious group and out of fear of ethnic/religious violence. The Abdel Halim article (249-266) on female circumcision in Sudan reflects the conflict women can experience and the tension that arises when rights are invoked without contextual, cultural understanding. On the other hand, Coomaraswamy cautions that to “query the human rights tradition from a progressive position is to fall into another trap . . . [and support] the discourse of movements fighting for political hegemony . . . under the guise of different religions” (p. 216). To her, diversity can only be celebrated on the foundation of international and universal human rights. Sharon McIvor, a member of the Lower Nicola Indian Band, British Columbia, is unambiguous on the issue. She begins her story (267-288) with the affirmation:
Aboriginal women can successfully seek to have their sexual equality rights recognized without subjugating their struggle to the indigenous struggle for self-determination. It is not necessary for Aboriginal women to put aside their equality rights, and they can simultaneously contribute to the larger struggle for indigenous rights (p. 267).
Siklova’s paper (pp. 327-339) about women in the Czech Republic describes a struggle to frame and maintain a unique and culturally specific position about women’s status and rights that is in some ways in opposition to Western formulations. While emanating from an entirely different context where rights are (or at least were) highly elaborated, the Czech struggle, nonetheless, echoes the South Asian, post-colonial critique of rights presented by Rajasingham. Wali’s paper (pp. 289-303) on the situation of refugee and displaced women dramatically makes the case for universality of rights by highlighting the manner in which women’s rights are ignored even as states and ethnic groups use women “as pawns to portray the virtues of male ideology.” Although strikingly different, the transitory circumstance of women's experiences as refugees or as citizens in a rapidly changing society brings to the fore issues that may not arise in a more stable environment. The uprooted context of refugees and displaced women brings out the dangers of cultural relativist arguments in a dramatic fashion and the transitional character of the Central European societies today highlights the need to take a critical look at simplistic formulations of rights in the context of reshaping a culture of rights. Shaheed (pp. 305-326), and Afkhami use the experience of Muslim women to argue for the universality of rights and the dynamic role women can play in reshaping cultural frameworks. Shaheed’s thoughtful reflections on women’s self-identification in Muslim societies points out how difficult it is for many women (and not only Muslim women) to distinguish between cultural practices and faith. This recognition, however, docs not lead her to question universality. Rather, her call to demystify the factors that constrain women's potential and provide support mechanisms for change (p. 312) is a reminder that if there is a conflict between women’s rights and culture, the resolution will come in the struggle for change and that the major players will be women themselves. Afkhami sums up the challenge well when she says:
Our problem is two-fold: (l) to establish the moral priority of universal rights; and (2) to devise strategies for developing and communicating ways and means of realizing universally accepted women’s rights in all countries while upholding and appreciating the diversity of life styles and variety of cultures across the globe. Both points involve moral and ethical issues, but their nature is fundamentally political (p. 222).
Despite the questioning of formulations of women’s rights and the validity of the universality of rights arising from both conservative and progressive sources, the consensus of women’s rights advocates is clearly in favor of women’s ability to choose the human rights framework as a alternate ethical framework. The KL Agenda (p. 5S7-572), for example, affirms women’s courage in coming forward to challenge the ways in which they have been, and are being, defined by religion, culture and tradition on the one hand, and claiming their right to define and interpret religious, cultural and traditional norms and practices according to their own needs and experiences on the other hand. As stated in the Women's Rights Agenda, in the context of the rapid expansion of all forms of fundamentalist and chauvinist nationalist movements, it is necessary to struggle for a process of democratization that will provide women with the space to assert their various identities without fear of reprisal and which will not permit the political usage of religion, culture and tradition to oppress women.
Sexual and Reproductive Rights A fourth set of issues in this book, From Basic Needs to Basic Rights, covers sexual and reproductive rights and addresses how they can be framed as human rights; what special threats to human dignity are associated with sexual and reproductive choices, practices and policies; and what mechanisms are available to support those rights as human rights. The papers in this section demonstrate how patriarchal laws, institutions, and attitudes limit women’s ability to express and enjoy their sexuality both within and outside marriage, to choose their partners, to make decisions whether and when to bear children, to protect themselves from disease (STD’s, HIV/AIDS) and violence, and to participate equally in all aspects of economic and social life. Because of this fact, and because sexual and reproductive rights are the least elaborated rights within human rights instruments, the greatest challenge to pushing the boundaries of the human rights paradigm in order to articulate new rights appears to be in this domain. The papers in this section explore the potential of the human rights framework for reinforcing reproductive and sexual rights and challenging abuses offering clear examples of efforts to reframe and reinterpret human rights from a women’s perspective. Building on the language of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, the other major instruments, and the Draft Platform for Action for the Fourth World Conference on Women (199S), Tambiah (pp. 369-390) offers a definition of sexual rights.
Sexual rights include the individual's right to have control over and to decide freely in matters related to her or his sexuality, free of coercion, discrimination and violence. They include the right to information, so that informed decisions can be made about sexuality; the rights to dignity, privacy, and to physical, mental and moral integrity while realizing a sexual choice; and the right to the highest standard of sexual health (p. 372).
Copelon and Petchesky (pp. 342-367) analyze the Declaration and Programme of Action adopted at the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo to assess progress in achieving a more adequate approach to these rights. While they acknowledge that Cairo moved beyond a debate centered on family planning and population control to one of rights and women’s empowerment, they also lament the Programme's weaknesses from the perspective of women’s human rights. The final document has no references to “sexual rights,” and the narrow definition of “family” fails to recognize and prohibit discrimination against a range of sexual relationships and family forms. It also fails to reassert that human rights take precedence over conflicting cultural traditions (pp. 355-356). The problem with the notion of sexual rights is that it is not found explicitly in any of the instruments. The Universal Declaration and other conventions, including CEDAW, focus exclusively on marriage and even there the treatment is limited. Sexual rights outside of marriage is a particularly weak concept as far as the instruments are concerned. Tambiah shows that although the right to privacy and the rights to physical and mental integrity have been used to argue successfully against laws opposing homosexual activity, “the fact that sexual rights are nowhere explicitly articulated as such, but dependent upon other conditionalities, such as privacy, make them especially vulnerable to compromise” (p. 386). On the other hand, Copelon and Petchesky show that the ICPD laid the foundation for interpreting the rights to liberty and security of person to include women's rights to determine and control their sexuality and reproduction as well as protection from abuse. Also, the right of freedom from servitude could be interpreted to include forced prostitution, involuntary motherhood, domestic servitude and violence (p. 357). The same could be said of the right to life and other recognized civil and political rights. Gita Sen’s (pp. 390-399) analysis of the development and availability of reproductive technologies raises critical ethical issues that are only beginning to be framed in relation to human rights. Sen demonstrates how the social and economic context plus gender, class and race biases influence decisions regarding which reproductive technologies will be developed, how they will be tested and who will have access to them. Huq and Azim’s (pp. 421-431) case study of Norplant in Bangladesh contextualizes these ethical issues related to availability and freedom of choice in reproduction. Beginning from a perspective that safe contraception is a basic human right, activists in Bangladesh challenged the policy that gave primacy to a provider- dependent method in a context where the service delivery system was unable to safeguard either the safety of the method or the choice of the user. Nwashili’s case study (pp. 409-422) illustrates the impact of HIV/AIDS on women's human rights in Nigeria. She calls for new strategies to reinforce women's rights and economic empowerment in order to protect women living with HIV/AIDS, from discrimination in housing, employment, international travel, and access to quality health services. Taking a firm position on the indivisibility and interdependence of rights, Copelon and Petchesky assert that the exercise of reproductive rights require the realization of basic economic and social rights as “enabling conditions” for free reproductive choice to happen. They suggest, therefore, that women can begin to use the concepts and mechanisms of the human rights system to insist that states be held accountable for policies, structural adjustment and other programs that violate human rights of women. Plata and Espriella’s (pp. 401-408) case study on using CEDAW to press for a health program in Colombia that promotes women’s sexual and reproductive rights is an example of how this can be done. Through the activism of a coalition of women’s organizations, which pressed for change in the Colombian Constitution to include principles contained in CEDAW and other human rights instruments, the new Constitution of 1991 “incorporated some principles and rights which reflect and strengthen those contained in CEDAW” (p. 401). The establishment of the primacy of human rights international treaties over national legislation and the right to claim protection in any court when a fundamental right is violated gave women new tools and arguments to defend and promote women’s human rights. Using these new tools, women successfully lobbied the government to adopt a health policy which establishes women's rights to participate in decisions related to health, life, body and sexuality.
Activism to Advance women's Human Rights The issues addressed in this book collectively give rise to an additional set of considerations related to how women approach the advocacy and activism required to achieve the goals that all pursue. The final set of papers addresses women’s human rights advocacy strategies at various levels exploring what it means to struggle for human rights at the local level; the political and cultural factors that condition the possibilities for advocacy at different levels; the limits of international instruments and mechanisms; the kind of relationship and interaction that exists and should exist between national and international advocacy groups and individuals in shaping the agenda and determining the strategy to be pursued and what we can learn from past experience. The reality of women’s lives in different historical moments is often the prime factor in determining the kind of strategy that can be pursued. The papers in this section bring this home forcefully. It is one thing to “frame the issue” correctly and clearly and another to assess the context and take action that will make the difference. The importance that conjunctural variables have together with the challenges they pose in asserting human rights are highlighted in Abeyesekera’s reflection on women’s mobilizing in Sri Lanka (pp. 445-474) during times of conflict. The powerful insights that resulted from reconciling them arc useful far beyond the Sri Lankan context. Finding ways to link women's rights issues to broader issues of rights and justice, to rethink and reshape relationships with political parties and movements, to create positive linkages among women at various levels are all challenges the Sri Lanka experience offers to women elsewhere. The circumstance of Chilean women (Matus Madrid, pp. 461-475) during and after the period of dictatorship and state violence is also illustrative of the challenges linked to historical context. Oppression provided the impetus to develop an authentic women's movement as well as a human rights movement. Once the crisis was over, however, the task of restructuring society within a democratic framework shifted the parameters of the rights agenda and demanded new responses by women toward the state, political parties, and the women’s movement itself. Work at the national, regional and global levels to press specific rights agendas, as exemplified by the experience of immigrant women organizing in the USA (Jang and Marin, pp. 495-505), the campaign on Rape as a War Crime in Asia (Sajor, pp. 506-54) or the Global Campaign on Violence Against Women (Bunch and Reilly, pp. 529-541), provide particularly rich illustrations of successful mobilizations to advance women’s rights. These experiences make it clear that for such mobilizations to have an impact on breaking the barriers of the human rights paradigm, the violations of women’s rights must become “real” to the world. In speaking of the “comfort women” in the Philippines and Korea, Sajor says it is the “bravery of these old women that allows one to recognize the impact of openly vocalizing rape as a war crime. The crime becomes real and the issue is recognized by the international community” (p. 513). The task of building a new consensus on women’s human rights requires both the courage of those whose rights have been violated and the leadership of those who have clarity and passion about the message and the capacity to mobilize around it effectively. However, taking effective leadership on behalf of women’s rights is not a simple project as these and other papers disclose. It requires successfully maneuvering over very difficult terrain to avoid getting entangled in the process. It requires facing the thorny issues of leadership, determining not only how a strategy should be articulated, but who should articulate it (Romany, pp. 544-554) and resolving the challenges posed by differences within the movement stemming from geographic, cultural, linguistic, religious, ethnic and class positions. Facing up to these issues means opening up our assumptions to critical scrutiny and honestly allowing dialogue to take place. The papers in this section remind us that for the women's rights movement to mature and become effective it must simultaneously develop its theoretical and strategic capacities. To deal effectively with the human rights system, it becomes important to resolve differences within in the movement, since it is easy to get trapped in the system on its terms. Evading such entrapment requires speaking convictions with audacity, moving from “what is” toward “what can be,” boldly exploring new perceptions and approaches and escaping the snares of entrenched modes of doing and thinking about human rights. Dealing with differences and being able to assess one’s own efficacy is a stepping stone to effectively challenging the system. Understanding how to be strategic players is an imperative of this crucial dynamic of engendering human rights. The lives of women depend on it.
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