Gender and Human Rights

Authored by: Serena Parekh

The Ashgate Research Companion to Ethics and International Relations

Print publication date:  September  2009
Online publication date:  April  2016

Print ISBN: 9780754671015
eBook ISBN: 9781315612935
Adobe ISBN: 9781317043546


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This chapter examines women’s human rights and specifically the impact that gender has had on our understanding of human rights. 1 1

In this context, we must understand gender as the socially constructed identities of men and women, including behavioral, psychological and social traits that come to seem natural and inevitable. ‘Gender’, a socially constructed category, is often contrasted with ‘sex’, which is usually considered to be a biological category (see de Beauvoir 1989).

For many people, however, such a chapter will appear either banal or unnecessary. It may appear unnecessary because the category of human rights already encompasses women, making any discussion of specific women’s human rights redundant. It may appear banal because aside from some extreme groups (the Taliban in Afghanistan for example) there are few who would deny that women are human and hence entitled to full human rights. This view, however, neglects a number of important facts. First, despite its almost universal normative force, women’s human rights have been extraordinarily difficult to uphold. This reveals the heavy impact gender has on human rights enforcement. Second, the movement for women’s human rights in the last 35 years has called for a radical reinterpretation of the traditional notion of human rights. This view of human rights was found to be inadequate to account for the impact of gender on human rights. As such, far from being banal or unnecessary, the relationship between gender and human rights continues to be a topic of ongoing significance for both human rights theory and practice.

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