Women and human rights

Material Information

Women and human rights
Norris, Sarah Georgina
Place of Publication:
Denver, Colo.
University of Colorado Denver
Publication Date:
Physical Description:
iv, 90 leaves : ; 29 cm

Thesis/Dissertation Information

Master's ( Master of Arts)
Degree Grantor:
University of Colorado Denver
Degree Divisions:
Department of Political Science, CU Denver
Degree Disciplines:
Political Science
Committee Chair:
Everett, Jana
Committee Members:
Ware, Lucy
Morris, Glenn


Subjects / Keywords:
Women's rights ( lcsh )
Human rights ( lcsh )
Women -- Legal status, laws, etc ( lcsh )
Human rights ( fast )
Women -- Legal status, laws, etc ( fast )
Women's rights ( fast )
bibliography ( marcgt )
theses ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )


Includes bibliographical references (leaves 88-90).
General Note:
Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree, Master of Arts. Political Science.
General Note:
Department of Political Science
Statement of Responsibility:
by Sarah Georgina Norris.

Record Information

Source Institution:
University of Colorado Denver
Holding Location:
Auraria Library
Rights Management:
All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
37767355 ( OCLC )
LD1190.L64 1996m .N67 ( lcc )

Full Text
Sarah Georgina Norris
B. A. (Hons), University of Kent at Canterbury, 1993
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado at Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Master of Arts
Political Science

This thesis for the Master of Arts
degree by
Sarah Georgina Norris
has been approved by
5// hu

Norris, Sarah Georgina (M.A., Political Science)
Women and Human Rights
Thesis directed by Professor Jana Everett
This thesis is a consideration of women's human rights on a global scale. The
concept of women's human rights as an integral part of human rights discourse
is a relatively new voice in international human rights discourse.
The premise of women's human rights is the idea that there are certain issues
that pertain exclusively, or at least primarily, to women and girl children. Such
issues include domestic violence, sexual assault, rape, rape as a tool of war,
infanticide, female genital mutilation, dowry murder, sati, and forced abortions
on the grounds of sex. However, human rights are defined in a way that
largely excludes many of the violations women face, since the focus revolves
around state transgressions against the individual. This reflects a gendered
approach to human rights as most human rights violations against women take
place in the private sphere and are committed by individuals rather than the

This thesis begins with a consideration of why women's human rights have
been absent from human rights discourse and how that is changing. It will also
addresses the question of cultural rights and whether they take precedent over
universal rights (which tend to be influenced by western values). The second
chapter looks at international human rights instruments and discusses their
effectiveness. The final chapter explores two specific forms of violence against
women, rape and domestic violence, through a discussion of two case studies,
Brazil and South Africa, where women's groups have adopted different
approaches to deal with rape and domestic violence. The conclusion suggests
some ways forward from this point that women's groups, human rights groups
and governments interested in improving women's human rights may pursue.
This abstract accurately represents the content of the candidate's thesis,
recommend its publication.
' Jana Everett

Introduction............................... 3
Women's Human Rights: Why the Lack of
Recognition?............................... 6
International Human Rights Law............. 9
Separate Laws or Integration?............... 12
The International Women's Human Rights
Movement.................................... 15
Introduction................................ 18
United Nations Conferences, Documents, Treaties, and
Bodies...................................... 19
Universal Rights Versus Cultural Rights......26
Problems and Weaknesses Regarding International
Women's Human Rights Implementation..........33
The Positive Side to Working and Organizing
Globally.................................... 44
VIOLENCE........................................... 49
Introduction................................ 49
Violence Against Women in Brazil............ 54

Violence Against Women in South Africa.61
Violence Against Women and the International
Community............................. 67
4. CONCLUSION................................ 80
Where To Go From Here?................ 80
NATIONS.......................................... 87
REFERENCES............................................. 88

This thesis will consider women's human rights in the global arena. The
concept of women's human rights is not new and the international community
has never denied women the human rights' protections that it provides men.
However, women's human rights need specific attention because women face
certain human rights' abuses that affect only them, as women. Among other
things this includes domestic violence, rape, sexual assault, infanticide, female
genital mutilation, involuntary sterilization and forced abortions on the grounds
of sex.
Since these issues do not fit the conventional definition of human rights
they have not been addressed by the international human rights community, the
international legal community, scholars, or international organizations like the
United Nations (UN). These organizations reflect, although change is
beginning to occur, a gendered approach to human rights. The approach is
gendered in that traditionally the focus has been the public sphere where
violations such as torture, disappearances, unfair trials and so on against men
and women take place. These are the type of violations that spring to mind
when the issue of human rights is raised. While these are human rights abuses
that all persons face, the primary violation of women's human rights occurs in

the private sphere, which is not usually considered by organizations concerned
with human rights. Activities which take place in the private sphere have not
been defined in the same context as those which take place in the (male
dominated) public sphere.
The first chapter of this thesis begins with a consideration of why, until
recently, women's human rights have been largely ignored by the international
community and how and why this is changing. The second chapter focuses on
the international community and the international instruments available to
those promoting women's human rights. Primarily this is a consideration of the
UN, its human rights' instruments and how effective they are in protecting
women's human rights. The question of whether it would be more valuable for
women to focus their time and energy in this forum or whether an alternative
approach would be more constructive will be discussed. This chapter also
addresses briefly the debate on the concept of universal human rights versus
the idea of cultural relativism. Chapter Three is a study of one element of the
women's human rights agenda, that of violence against women. The focus will
be on rape and domestic violence, two of the most common and yet most
neglected human rights violations against women. Included in the discussion
are two case studies, one on Brazil and the other on South Africa, which help
highlight the problem of rape and domestic violence and provide two examples
of ways women's groups within those countries are working to address these

The discourse on women's human rights is relatively new and as a
result, the literature available is somewhat limited. Organizations like Amnesty
International and Human Rights Watch have plenty of documentation of
women's human rights' abuses, but what is lacking is scholarly analysis of why
women's human rights have been neglected by the international community and
an analysis of women's attempts to get their rights globally recognized and
protected. The literature available is of a high quality; there is just not a great
deal of it. This work is intended to provide an introduction to this field of
discourse and provide an overview of the issues involved. I hope this work
will add to the debate and encourage the reader to do more in-depth study of
this topic.
We must recognize that women will never gain full dignity until their
human rights are respected and is no longer acceptable to
discuss women's rights as separate from human rights...human rights
are women's rights...and women's rights are human rights.
This is part of a statement made by Hillary Rodham Clinton at the 1995
Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing (cited in Amnesty
International, 1995). At first glance it appears to be an obvious statement, but
unfortunately the concept of women's rights as human rights is one that is only
just becoming widely written about, discussed and accepted. It was not until
the late 1980s and the early 1990s that human rights organizations,
international lawyers, scholars and others began to take seriously the idea of
women's rights being human rights.

A brief consideration of the status of women worldwide is relevant here
since women's status has a direct link with the development of their human
rights, or lack of them as is more often the case. Most of the world's poor are
women and children (for whom women are the primary care-givers). A UN
report states that women are one half of the world's population, represent one-
third of the world's labor force, receive one-tenth of the world's income, and
own less than one percent of the world's property (Agosin, 1993, p. 16).
Rates of illiteracy are far higher for women than men (Agosin, 1993). A recent
study of women in a maternity hospital in Lima, Peru found that 90% of
mothers aged 12-16 had been raped at some point by their father, step-father
or a close relative (Parenti, 1994, p. 154). In some countries women are
murdered so that the husband can marry again and get a better dowry.
What is unique about women's human rights is that in many cases, it is
gender alone that puts women at extra risk of being violated. As Amnesty
International (1995, p.5) has noted, "More women and girl children die each
day from various forms of gender-based discrimination and violence than from
any other type of human rights abuse." In addition, "Deliberate violation of the
human rights of women is a central component of military strategy in all parts
of the world" (Amnesty International, 1995, p.4). The most striking examples
of this are the rape camps in the former Yugoslavia.
In most societies around the world, if not all, women have less rights
than men and for this reason alone, are more likely to have their human rights

violated; it is easier and the opportunity for recourse is less. As a recent
Amnesty International publication (1995, cover page) notes, "Human rights
violations against women remain rampant because they are largely
hidden...governments have done little to ensure that women enjoy the full
range of human rights to which they are entitled."
Women are often imprisoned for exercising the rights men have and
often the judicial system treats them with harsher punishments than are given
to men for committing the same crime. This is frequently the case with
sanctions for adultery. In many Latin American and Islamic countries the law
allows a man to kill his wife for alleged unfaithfulness and go unpunished. Yet
women may face unfair trials and harsher punishment because of their gender.
For example, in Egypt men who kill adulterous wives are excused of their
crime whereas women who kill adulterous husbands face the death penalty.
Women in Pakistan who report being raped are often imprisoned under an
adultery law (zina) and then often are raped or sexually abused by the
authorities. It is estimated that 72% of women in police custody in Pakistan
are raped or sexually assaulted and 75% of all women in prison are there under
charges of zina (Goodwin, 1994, introduction). If the defendant pleas not
guilty, the only proof that a court will accept for a rape allegation is if four
male Muslims of'good repute' witness the act and support the woman's story.
The woman must also be able to prove that she is of good reputation herself.
The test for this the insertion of two fingers into the vagina. If this can be done
'with ease', then the women is of 'easy virtue' and the case is thrown out.

Guilty verdicts for the rapist are rare and are usually overturned by an appeal's
court. In some cases, the victim will be killed by her own family in an attempt
to restore the family honor (Goodwin, 1994). A study in India found that 80%
of prostitutes became prostitutes because they were disowned by the family
and/or community after they had been raped (Parenti, 1994, p. 154).
Women are at an increased risk in some countries simply because they
are active in organizations which work for civil, political or economic rights.
This may lead to detention, harassment, torture, or even death. This is
common occurrence in South America where women are very active in
campaigning against oppressive governments and regimes. Additionally,
women and children make up over 90% of refugees and asylum seekers world
wide and this is another group that is at particularly high risk for having their
human rights violated (Agosin, 1993, p. 17). Other groups at high risk include
women in countries where there is a war, poor women, minority women,
indigenous women, homeless women and immigrant women.
Women's Human Rights: Why the Lack of Recognition
What is it that has lead to the exclusion of women's rights as human
rights? Why have human rights not been fully implemented for women? One
possible answer is that most human rights work has focused on political
prisoners and torture. As Majorie Agosin (1993, p. 18) has noted in her book,

Surviving Beyond Fear: Women. Children and Human Rights in Latin
The conventional assumptions, such as the general belief that political
prisoners are male, are significant, because by assuming that most
victims of human rights violations are men, we fall into the trap of
imaging that most revolutionaries and opposition leaders are men.
When women are made invisible in discussions of government abuses
and torture, dissident politics is implicitly masculine and the crucial role
women have played in opposing repression is marginal.
Also, in the past, human rights groups talked about universal rights
(and still do); they did not like to refer to women's human rights', seeing that
as implying women should have special or greater human rights than men.
Slowly, with pressure from women's organizations and some human rights
activists, they have awoken to the fact that there are certain issues and human
rights violations that are directed exclusively at women. As these have not
affected men, they have not been defined as human rights' issues. Men have
control of the language and definitions of the human rights' debate. Domestic
violence provides a perfect example of this.
Domestic violence generally takes place within the home, which is
classified as the private sphere. Again, until recently, this is an area of life in
which governments, states, human rights organizations and international bodies
have not been involved. Their focus has been entirely on the public sphere. As
Rebecca Cook (1994, p.10) of the University of Toronto has written,
"International human rights and the legal instruments that protect them were
developed primarily by men in a male-oriented world. They have not been

interpreted in a gender-sensitive way that is responsible to women's
experiences of injustice."
Katarina Tomasevski (1993, p. x) of the Danish Center for Human
Rights refers to the perception of international human rights standards as being
gender neutral, but argues that in reality this means that women are
disregarded in human rights' law:
Human rights of women have yet to be attained... women have made a
contribution to human rights that far exceeds the contribution that
human rights have made to women...what women have learned from
history is that their needs and interests and their rights are neither
automatically recognized nor guaranteed unless they articulate them
and fight for them.
To explain this bias Cook (1994) refers to the way the right to life is
used in international human rights law. The right to life is the fundamental
underpinning of all human rights law, and yet the context in which this
principle is generally used in is in death penalty cases where it is used to ensure
due process. But what about the right to life of baby and infant girls in China,
or the right to life of the 500,000 women who die each year from pregnancy as
a result of a lack of access to basic obstetric care? What about the failure to
consider violence against women in the home as torture? These are examples
of how existing law could be used to protect women from human rights'
abuses, but seldom are, because these issues (women's issues) are not seen in
this context.

International Human Rights Law
It is not a case of the UN specifically excluding women from human
rights law. International law as laid out by various documents such as the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on
Civil and Political Rights, ban sex as a ground for discrimination. However,
this ban not enough because, for the reasons documented above, it does not
provide enough protection for the abuses that women face.
International human rights law developed in the aftermath of World
War II with the desire of the international community to punish the Nazis for
their war crimes. Hilary Charlesworth (1994), a legal scholar, has documented
the development of human rights law in three stages. The first stage focused
on civil and political rights. Charlesworth argues that many western nation
states see these as not just the only rights in need of international protection,
but also as the standard against which claims for other rights should be
measured. The second stage of development led to the addition of economic,
social and cultural rights. We are now in the third stage, which has added
group or peoples' rights. However, none of these three stages really help
The reason for this is that under international human rights law and
treaties, the focus is on the state as the public sphere. Human rights' law
makers tend to be men who have little concern for the private sphere (where

the majority of women's human rights' abuses take place). Even if men are in a
weak position in society generally, they still tend to be the dominant party in
the private sphere. Human rights law was constructed to reflect men's fears
and concerns, and those were in the public sphere. Men feared being taken as
political prisoners or being tortured by a government agency. The language of
the legislation describes the state as being the actor who commits human rights'
violations (e.g. torture) against the individual. If the state or a state agent,
such as a security forces officer, commits a crime against an individual, then
clearly a violation has taken place under international human rights' law and
procedures to hold a state or government accountable can begin. The problem
is how to bring a charge of a human rights' abuse against an individual citizen,
such as a man who beats his wife, another individual citizen, in their home.
The state has not been involved, and it is very hard to prosecute under existing
international human rights laws unless it can be demonstrated that the state has
been involved in some way.
A recent strategy used by women's human rights' advocates has been to
push for treaties and laws which allow prosecutions to be brought if the state
can be shown to be inactive or negligent in preventing such acts. For example,
if police do not take a women's complaint of domestic violence seriously, then
the state can be said to have been complicit, because of their inaction i.e.
knowledge of the incident and their failure to see anything is done about it.
This strategy has successfully been used in cases of governments in Latin
America who do nothing to stop death squads or the violence perpetrated by

private militias (Cook, 1994). As Kenneth Roth (1994), Executive Director of
Human Rights Watch has suggested, this approach could be used in the same
way for domestic violence cases. The UN has now recognized rape as a form
of torture as well as making it a war crime, however, this applies only when
rape is performed by an agent of the state. The goal for women's human rights'
activists now is to pressure international bodies to make rape a human rights
violation when performed by an individual citizen against his wife or another
Many human rights organizations were established while the first stage
of human rights law was dominant. Understandably, this led to political rights
being the focus of their attention, and this has been where their focus has
tended to stay. When a country is being judged on its human rights' record, the
status of women is rarely considered, reflecting how little importance is placed
on the position and condition of women. Trade sanctions were placed on
South Africa in the 1980s because of their treatment of blacks as second-class
citizens. Why are trade sanctions not placed on Saudi Arabia for their
treatment of women as second class citizens? The failure to consider the
private sphere as being in need of human rights protection leads, among other
things, to a lessening of rights in the public sphere. As Charlotte Bunch
(1995, p. 14), Director of the Center for Women's Global Leadership, writes
"When women are denied democracy and human rights in private, their human
rights in the public sphere also suffer, since what occurs in "private" shapes
their ability to participate fully in the public arena."

Charlesworth (1994) agrees that even the third stage of rights does not
adequately address the needs of women. Charlesworth finds gender equality
limited in human rights instruments in two ways. Firstly they do not address
many of the aspects of subordination that women face, and second, usually
only lip service is paid to women's equality and rarely is anything enforced.
Separate Laws or Integration?
Nicola Lacey (cited in Charlesworth, 1994, p.64), a human rights
scholar is also in agreement with this school of thought. She writes:
It is inadequate to criticize and transform a world in which the
distribution of goods is structured along gender lines. It assumes a
world of autonomous individuals starting a race or making free choices
[which] has no cutting edge against the fact that men and women are
simply running different races. The language of equal rights and equal
opportunities tacitly reinforces the basic organization of society. The
promise of equality as 'sameness' as men only gives women access to a
world already constituted.
Elisabeth Friedman (1995) of Stanford University also argues that
aiming for equality is not enough. Friedman cites the goal of equal pay, which
is great in theory, but on a worldwide scale is virtually useless since in most
countries women's work is focused in a few areas which are usually exclusively
female dominated, domestic work for example, and so the issue of equal pay is
irrelevant. The push for this type of legislation is typical, suggest many non-
western feminists, of middle-class western feminists who are lawyers and

professors: women who have managed to get into traditionally male
professions and who benefit from equal pay legislation. The majority of
women worldwide work either in the home or from the home and consequently
such legislation is of little benefit to them.
For Charlesworth and others what is needed is a whole new set of laws
to define and protect women's human rights. However, this is not a view
shared by all scholars/writers. Some argue that this approach is misguided
because by focusing on women-only rights within the law women will stay
marginalised. What needs to happen, according to this school of thought, is
that women need to get involved with the mainstream process and get their
voices heard there. Only then will real and substantial gains be made.
Charlotte Bunch (1995, p. 18) argues:
The specific experiences of women must be added to traditional
approaches to human rights in order to make women more visible and
to transform the concept and practices of human rights in our culture so
that it takes better account of women's lives.
The law in many cases already exists, it just needs to be redefined and
reinterpreted to include women. As Bunch (1995, p.20) notes on the issue of
violence against women:
You can see in violence all the things the human rights community
already says it is against: it involves slavery, it involves situations of
torture, it involves terrorism, it involves a whole series of things that
the human rights community is already committed to [fighting, but
which] have never been defined in terms of womens lives.

Another concern of some feminist scholars is that current human rights
law is primarily based on individual rights and protects against discrimination
of an individuals human rights. It fails to take account of broader, group
discriminations, many of which are faced by women as a group and need to be
addressed accordingly.
The 1993 UN World Conference on Human Rights is held by many
women's human rights activists to be a crucial point in the recognition of
women's rights as human rights. Initially, the agenda did not include any
mention of women's rights or the abuses faced by women. However, following
a great deal of effort and campaigning, women's groups got their issues on the
agenda. The following statement by Friedman (1995, p.3) is typical of the
attitude with which women went to the Vienna conference: "It is no longer
enough that existing human rights mechanisms merely be extended to women.
Women's rights must be understood as human rights. We must understand
gender-based abuses as human rights abuses." The Conference issued a
statement in the declaration from the conference which stated that the human
rights of women and of the girl-child are an inalienable, integral and indivisible
part of universal human rights.
There is still a long way to go and the fight to get women's human
rights recognized is far from over as the following testimony by Suzanne
Roach of Amnesty International highlights. Roach describes how on a fact
finding mission to Peru a military commander freely admitted to Amnesty

officials that soldiers regularly raped women in their custody. He had no
shame admitting this, despite knowing the nature of Amnestys work. The
commander explained it was understandable as the soldiers were away from
home for long periods of time. However, when he was asked about the torture
of people in the soldiers' custody, he vehemently denied that took place (even
though there is evidence that it did). Clearly, he knew the international
community viewed torture as unacceptable and against international human
rights law, but knew that rape was not condemned or viewed in the same way.
Examples abound: 71 girls were raped at a coed boarding school by their male
classmates in Kenya in 1991. The deputy principal told the press that "The
boys never meant any harm against the girls. They just wanted to rape." as
though it was a perfectly acceptable thing for them to do (Parenti, 1994,
p. 153). Amnesty International (1995, p.87) highlighted the case of two young
female factory workers in Indonesia who were raped by soldiers who laughed
while they told their victims "Go ahead and report us to the commander. He's
not going to do a thing. It is our right."
The International Women's Human Rights Movement
The womens human rights movement cannot be separated from the
international womens movement. However, it is not one and the same thing.
Elisabeth Friedman (1995) traces the beginnings of the womens human rights
movement. It begins in the local communities with grassroots groups of

women who focus on and organize around issues that affect their lives. In one
community this may be trying to stop female genital mutilation, in another it
might be a drive to increase female literacy. Many of these organizations
remain localized at the grassroots level, but some grow and turn into regional
organizations, some of which go on to become national and then international
in their scope. This is not to say that these groups do not still work at the
grassroots level, but that they also have some type of international connection
and interaction.
One area of distinction is reflected by the decision of the womens
human rights movement to become part of the mainstream human rights
movement. Most in the movement see a great strength in this strategy as the
framework is already established. The mainstream movement has legitimacy,
status, treaties and the support of many governments. Becoming part of this
mainstream is not easy and has taken years of hard work on behalf of womens
human rights' groups and there is still a long way to go.
Tomasevski (1993) suggests that there is a gap between the women's
movement and the human rights movement in terms of agenda, policy and
action. What Tomasevski sees happening is that women's human rights fall
between the cracks of the two movements because an issue is seen by the
human rights movement as a women's issue and so they do little or nothing to
address it and the women's movement sees that issue as a human rights issue
and does not prioritize it in their agenda. Tomasevski argues that there needs

to be more bridge building between the two movements so that women's needs
are better addressed.
Another part of the problem, as Tomasevski (1993, p. x) sees it, is the
lack of knowledge women have about the rights that they do already have:
The first step towards effective protection of women's human rights
is knowledge of what these rights are, how they should be protected, and what
redress is available to women whose rights are denied or violated...thus far
women have rarely sought to remedy rights violations, often because they were
unaware that they were entitled to have their rights protected, or did not know
where to seek redress or even information concerning available remedies.
The problem is that there is a lack of available literature and where
available, it tends be where it is least needed. Tomasevski (1993, p. x) notes,
"The availability of human rights information is inversely correlated with the
need for human rights instruments are tools to be used by
those whose rights they affirm and guarantee."
Clearly these are both issues the women's human rights movement
needs to address. How they approach this remains to be seen, but the fact that
there is now a recognized and internationally growing women's human rights'
movement is a start. It will hopefully be the bridge that Tomasevski talks
about. It can be the link between the two, and benefit from the experiences of
both the older women's movement and the human rights movement.

This chapter will consider the implementation of women's human rights
as outlined in international treaties. The primary focus will be on the
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women,
since this is the main instrument by which women's human rights are protected.
Consideration of this issue is valuable in light of the complaints by many human
rights activists that governments merely pay lip service to supporting treaties
and platforms of action, because, in reality, they do little or nothing to
implement the recommendations. Governments can do this due to the lack of
enforcement mechanisms available to enforce the provisions. This chapter will
consider both the advantages and disadvantages of women's human rights'
groups focusing on a global level, as well as briefly looking at the debate
between advocates of universal human rights and advocates of cultural
relativism. A major theme throughout the chapter will be the highlighting of
the way in which women's human rights bodies within the UN are marginalized
compared to other UN bodies.

UN Conferences. Documents. Treaties and Bodies
The countries that signed the United Nations charter and have ratified
subsequent treaties are legally bound by them. However, the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights is only a declaration and thus is not legally
binding. The actual legality of the provisions laid out in the Declaration of
Human Rights comes in the form of the International Covenant on Civil and
Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social
and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). While the original declaration was adopted in
1948 and the covenants in 1966, it was 1976 before both of these instruments
came into force (Tomasevski, 1993). Neither of these treaties adequately
addresses the issue of gender discrimination. Tomasevski (1993, p. 100)
observes: "...Women were not addressed as women, but only through the
special protection of motherhood." In other words, women's issues were only
addressed if they related to motherhood.
In addition to the above-mentioned instruments, the UN since its
inception has passed a number of instruments, both through specialized
agencies and through the General Assembly, which relate to the status of
women. Some of the earlier initiatives include the Convention on the
Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the
Prostitution of Others (1949), the Equal Remuneration Convention (1951), the
Convention on the Political Rights of Women (1952), the Convention on the
Nationality of Married Women (1957), the Convention Against Discrimination

in Education (1960), the Convention on the Consent to Marriages, Minimum
Age for Marriage and Registration of Marriages (1962), and the Declaration
on the Protection of Women and Children in Emergency Armed Conflict
The Commission on the Status of Women (the Women's Commission)
was established in 1946 by the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). The
Women's Commission's role is primarily to monitor the programs promoting
women which are adopted at world conferences. This includes any conference
that addresses women's issues in addition to specific women's conferences. As
well as monitoring the implementation of treaties, the Commission also makes
recommendations to the Secretary General and other UN bodies. It was the
Women's Commission, beginning in 1972, which drafted the Convention on
the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (Tomasevski,
1993). In 1993, the Women's Commission finalized the Draft Declaration on
the Elimination of Violence Against Women and this was adopted by the
General Assembly in December of 1993. This document is significant in that it
has added substantially to the legal discourse on women's human rights.
Complaints regarding the condition of women world wide are generally
handled by the Commission on the Status of Women, and entail a separate
procedure from the process by which complaints of human rights violations are
addressed. The Commission's role is to monitor trends and patterns
worldwide, and it does not provide compensation for individual women or

provide any means of redress in terms of challenging the offending party or
government. While any individual or group can submit a report to the
Commission, in practice very few do. The commission believes this is due to a
lack of awareness about the procedure and the fact that no retribution is gained
(Tomasevski, 1993).
A series of three international conferences, the first in 1975 in Mexico
City, began the UN decade of women. The Mexico City conference developed
for the first time a World Plan of Action on the equality of women and their
contribution to development and peace. Equality, development and peace
became the main themes of the decade. In 1980 women's groups met in
Copenhagen and focused on these three themes and the additional three sub
themes of employment, health and education. The conference also endorsed
the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against
Women. The final conference which ended the decade was held in 1985 in
Nairobi where the agenda included a review of what had been achieved during
the past decade and strategies to achieve what still needed doing. A document,
the Nairobi Forward-Looking Strategies for the Advancement of Women, was
produced which outlined and proposed means by which to achieve women's
The platforms of these three conferences have been adopted by many
countries, but none of the resolutions are legally binding on governments.
Implementation of these platforms rely entirely on the political will of

governments and hence only very small portions of them have been
implemented. Consequently, more focus has been placed on the Women's
Convention because that is (in theory anyway) legally binding on the counties
which have signed it.
The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination
Against Women was adopted in 1979 and came into force in 1981. It was the
culmination of a great deal of hard work by women's groups around the world.
There is not the space here to list in detail the whole document, but briefly it
addresses the following issues (Davies, 1988, p.26):
Part 1: defines discrimination and ways in which it may be eliminated as
agreed upon by the states
Part 2: focuses on the elimination of discrimination in political and
public life
Part 3: focuses on the elimination of discrimination in education,
employment, health care, economic and social life particularly
as it relates to rural women
Part 4: focuses on equality before the law regarding marriage and
family life
Part 5: focuses on the establishment and role of CEDAW
Part 6: refers to ratification of and accession to the Convention and
details of its administration

States signing the Convention are obliged to take legislative and other
measures to ensure all forms of discrimination against women end. They are
permitted to take affirmative-action measures in order to bring women up to
the same level or status as men. Such measures are often necessary. Since
women are currently in a subordinate position to men in society, treating them
equally without bringing them up to the same level as men first will not result
in equality. The Convention mandates that women must be given legal
protection from discrimination on the basis of gender, hence countries signing
the Convention are required to amend their constitutions or governing
documents to recognize women's equal status with men.
The main channel through which the Women's Convention is monitored
is through CEDAW (Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against
Women). CEDAW, which began its work in 1982, consists of a panel of 23
women experts who have an in-depth knowledge of a country or a particular
region. The experts are elected by the parties to the Convention and serve
four-year terms. Since the Committee is funded directly by governments, it
gives governments some control in the scope of the Committee's activities
which is obviously not ideal. Although, as Tomasevski (1993) has noted, this
has a positive side in that it does give the Committee a level of access to
governments which is not available to all groups. Parties to the Convention
have to submit reports (compiled by their governments) to CEDAW within one
year of ratification of the Convention and then every four years thereafter.
CEDAW then questions the government representatives on the progress they

have made on women's human rights' issues and make suggestions as to how
further improvements could be made. NGOs submit their own reports which
the committee also takes into account when considering a country report.
CEDAW is unique among the UN monitoring bodies in that it is made up
entirely of women. None of the other monitoring or grievance bodies have
even half of their membership consisting of women, let alone a majority.
In addition to CEDAW, there are two other main human rights treaty
monitoring bodies. The Human Rights Committee (CCPR) oversees the
implementation of the ICCPR and the Committee on Economic and Social
Rights oversees the ICESCR (mentioned above). These two bodies are
important since they sometimes (although not often enough) take on women's
issues and they have greater status within the UN hierarchy than CEDAW.
Understanding how the UN works is a long and complicated process
and there is not the scope in this paper to discuss that in depth. However, a
brief overview especially as relates to women is useful. Tomasevski (1993,
p. 101) describes it this way:
The main characteristics of the present United Nations arrangements
for women's advancement are multiplicity of focal points, suffused
mandate, limited financial resources and inadequate interaction with
national governments... A system of focal points [concerning the
advancement of women] exists that consists of a network of
responsible officials in 32 units of the United Nations Secretariat, seven
United Nations programmes, 17 specialized agencies and 10 United
Nations research institutes or inter-agency bodies.

Since women's rights encompass such a broad range of issues, it is hard
to decide which body should deal with what. The situation is complicated by
the fact that the structure of human rights bodies within the UN is different and
separate from those which deal with women. Tomasevski explains (1993,
In theory, all women's issues should be coordinated by the Division for
the Advancement of Women (DAW) while all human rights questions
should be coordinated by the Centre for Human Rights. In practice,
however, women's human rights fall through the cracks created by the
lack of coordination they are dispersed among different agenda items
at the Commission and scattered among various human rights bodies.
Nowhere is there a focal point for the human rights of women.
In addition, countries have to be committed to implementing the
Women's Convention in order for it to be successful. Eleanor Roosevelt, who
chaired the committee that drafted the first human rights document, the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights, realized from the beginning that the
document itself was not enough. She told UN delegates, that the challenge is
in "Actually living and working our countries for freedom and justice for
freedom and justice for each human being" (Tomasevski, 1993, p.99). The
same is true of the Women's Convention. Along the lines of Eleanor
Roosevelt's comment, Sonia Picado Sotela of the Inter-American Court of
Human Rights commented:
For this initiative to be effective, however, states must take the
complementary steps of adopting the Convention in their domestic law,
of monitoring respect for the Convention by other states, and suffering
it to be enforced against them in their domestic courts and before
regional and international is premature to claim that the

Convention is universally respected and enforced, (cited in Cook, 1994,
Universal Rights Versus Cultural Rights
The question that is often asked is "Can we have an international
discussion in a world of cultural difference?" (Rao, 1995, p. 167). This is a
complex and very important debate. Since it is relevant to the issue of
women's human rights, it will be considered here. The debate can be broken
down into two broad categories: the universalist position and the cultural
relativist position. The universalist position states that there are certain human
rights that everyone has, which have been defined by the international
community and laid out in documents and treaties such as the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights, the ICCPR, and the Women's Convention.
States cannot pick and choose which of these rights they give their citizens.
Most human rights organizations like Amnesty International are supporters of
the universal rights' argument. In contrast, cultural relativists argue that
although international standards claim to be neutral, in actuality they reflect
western values. Cultural relativists contend that no country or group of
countries has the right to impose its cultural values on another country, or to
criticize another county's cultural practices.
Peters and Wolper (1995, p.5) in the introduction to their book,
Women's rights. Human rights, ask whether the right to preserve religious and

cultural practices takes precedence over human rights norms. If they do, then
does that mean the concept of universal human rights does not have a place in
a multicultural world? Finally, they ask are "... [Universal human rights
standards merely a dream of the final phases of imperialism, the post-war
West's attempt to cling to an idea of the world remade in its own image?"
This debate reflects a genuine dilemma because the cultural relativists
have a valid point; the western ideals of liberalism and individualism dominate
the policies and decisions of international bodies like the UN. However, too
often cultural differences are used to defend human rights violations and the
oppression of women on grotesque levels. Atati Rao (1995), a political
science professor from India, argues that the debate has become over simplified
and suggests culture is not as clear cut an issue as it is often made out to be.
Rao says the real issue is "What are the politics of any argument based on
culture in human rights discourse today?." Questions like "What is the status
of the speaker?", "[I]n whose name is the argument from culture made?" and
"[W]hat is the degree of participation in culture formation of the social groups
primarily affected by the cultural practices in question?" need to be asked (Rao,
1995, p. 168). These are important questions because as Rao (1995, p. 169)
notes, "No social group has suffered greater violations of its human rights in
the name of culture than women."
So, at the UN when a representative of a country claims that his
country's culture and integrity is being violated or will be violated if forced to

comply with a certain regulation, it should be asked what the impact will be on
that country's women because the objections are usually made by male
government official or diplomat, who do not necessarily speak with the same
voice women would if they had an opportunity to be heard. For example, in
debates on female genital mutilation the UN has taken the word of male
representatives but has not really heard from those who are actually affected by
the practice. Rao (1995, p. 170) points out that "International organizations
are functional extensions of states that allows them to act collectively to
achieve their objectives." It is necessary to be aware of whose voices are heard
at the international level. Rao (1995, p. 170) correctly notes that "Mainstream
human rights discourse continues to rely on the pronouncements of heads of
states or high-ranking government ministers, and this often amounts to hearing
the oppressor's voice in lieu of the victims." It is also telling how few women
are representatives at the UN or how few women judges are on the
international court. Even where there are women representatives, it is also
important to be aware of whose voices these women represent. The few
women who are present in the international arena are usually urban, educated,
middle-class, and financed by their government and this too brings biases.
Ann Elizabeth Mayer of the University of Pennsylvania has considered
the issue of cultural rights through the perspective of Muslim women in the
Middle East. Mayer (1995, p. 177) argues that accepting the arguments of
Middle Eastern governments regarding culture and tolerating those
governments treatment of women "constitutes a misguided application of

cultural relativism." For example, when CEDAW tried to get the UN to study
the status of women in Islamic law, the General Assembly refused largely
because Muslim countries complained that CEDAW's proposal amounted to
religious intolerance and cultural imperialism. The same thing happened when
CEDAW held debates on whether the reservations attached by many (primarily
Muslim) countries were acceptable. There are so many reservations and they
are so wide-reaching that they are at odds with the aims of the Women's
Convention. Again CEDAW faced criticisms of being anti-Islamic and of
mounting an attack on third world countries (Mayer, 1995). For Mayer the
problem is due in part to the fact that too often western supporters of cultural
relativism willingly accept governmental claims/explanations and ignore the
reality that these cultures are diverse and have many voices. The feminist
movement is strong in many Muslim countries, but governments try to
suppress its voice and certainly do not allow it to be heard by the international
community. Womens groups in most Middle Eastern countries for example
would not endorse their governments' stand made on their behalf at
international forums.
Mayer (1995) is also quick to point out that it is interesting how states
need to use the law to enforce things which they claim are culturally based. If
this were the case, then surely official enforcement would not be necessary. It
would not matter if bans on women driving, voting, working without their
husbands permission, being able to testify in court and so on, were lifted
because if they are cultural phenomena and respected by people then women

would not want to do those things even if they were allowed. If the dress code
in Iran is a respected element of the culture, then why does the government
need a special police force to ensure it is adhered to?
Rao (1995, p.172) stresses that while we must be aware of cultural
differences at the international level:
...It is equally important to retain our awareness of intracommunity
gender oppression...For too long, gender has been subsumed by the call
to nationalist self-assertion; for too long, gender equality has been
asked to take a position secondary to other struggles, for too long,
women have been required to choose between compartmentalized
struggles for freedom.
Dorothy Thomas (cited by Mayer, 1995, p. 185) of Human Rights
Watch agrees with Rao and Mayer. Referring to the 1993 World Conference
on Human Rights in Vienna, Thomas writes:
Women from every single culture and every part of the world are
standing up and saying we won't accept cultural justification for abuses
against us anymore. We are human, we have a right to have our human
rights protected, and the world community must respond to that call
and throw out any attempts to justify abuse on the grounds of culture.
Rao (1995, p.174) concludes by warning that:
...The notion of culture favored by international actors must be
unmasked for what it is: a falsely rigid, ahistorical, selectively chosen
set of self-justificatory texts and practices whose patent partiality raises
the question of exactly whose interests are being served and who comes
out on top.

Radhika Coomaraswamy (cited by Cook, 1994, p.7) of the
International Center for Ethnic Studies in Sri Lanka argues that human rights
can only be effective if they become part of the culture and tradition of a
society. For example:
In South Asia, the institution of law is generally viewed with deep
suspicion and often hated because it is seen as the central instrument
employed by colonizing powers to replace indigenous cultural,
religious, and social traditions with the mechanisms of the modern
western nation states.
Cultural relativists argue that in such countries it is better to let reform
come from within, from NGO's etc., so that the reforms will have credibility.
Universalists of course reject this, arguing that it is these very cultures or
religious practices which are oppressing women in the first place and therefore
"secular" norms must be adopted.
However, we cannot dismiss cultural arguments as simply being an
excuse used by oppressive governments to continue blatantly mistreating
women or other sections of their population. This clearly happens as Mayer
(1995) shows us with the example of women in the Middle East, but there is
also a legitimate side to the cultural rights arguments. Haunani Kay Trask,
Director of the Center for Hawaiian Studies at the University of Hawaii
articulates this position well. Trask (1993, p.264) says it is easier to find
solidarity with her own people (native Hawaiians) including the men, than it is
to find solidarity with the white feminist movement. She feels "[W]e have
more in common, both in struggle and in controversy, with our men and with

each other as indigenous women than we do with white people...culture is a
larger reality than women's rights."
Trask has arrived at this conclusion after years of trying to build
alliances with white feminists. Trask (1993, p.265) says that:
...Haole feminists have steadfastly refused to support our efforts to
regain our lands, to protect our civil rights, and to achieve self-
government. They have defined what is "feminist"...but to most Native
people women's concerns are part of the greater concern for our Iahui,
our nation. For example, we see lack of control over our bodies as a
result of colonialism but haole feminists don't see the causal connection
between our life conditions and our status as colonized people.
The problem for Trask and many other non-white women activists is
that they see the agenda as being defined by the white/western women's groups
with these groups assuming that all women agree with their definition of what
constitutes feminism and women's rights. They fail to take into account other
issues which are important to indigenous women, such as land rights and
sovereignty, regarding these as secondary to the issues that they have
prioritized as women's issues, e.g. equal pay. Women's human rights' groups
are often critical of native culture claiming that is what is keeping native
women oppressed when the native women believe other factors, particularly
colonialism are responsible for this.
Trask (1993, p.268) cites Donna Auratere a Maori nationalist who
argues that:

The first loyalty of white women is always to the White Culture and the
white way... This is to be expected as the oppressor avoids confronting
the role they play in oppressing others... White feminists do this by
defining "feminism" for this country [New Zealand] and by using their
white power, status and privilege to ensure that their definition of
"feminism" supersedes that of Maori women.
It is important for women's human rights groups to continue to have
this debate and to ensure that all women's voices are heard and all perspectives
and concerns are taken into account. Only then will the movement truly be
able to call itself global.
Problems and Weaknesses Regarding International Women's
Human Rights Implementation
The question has been asked whether or not it is a waste for women to
spend time and energy focusing on the international arena, lobbying the UN,
preparing for and attending world conferences and so on? Would their time be
better spent working at the grassroots level in individual countries and
pressuring governments from within a country? This may seem like a more
constructive strategy, especially in countries such as the United States where
resentment against outside bodies like the UN "telling" government what to do
is very high. The following section highlights the main shortcomings of the
international system and of working at the global level.
The means by which CEDAW receives reports regarding the condition
of women's human rights in a particular country is in the form of self-

assessment by that country's government. This immediately opens the process
up to question, as a country is clearly going to present itself in a favorable light
and skip over any violations it is committing. Some supporters of this method
acknowledge the shortcomings but counter that it is balanced by the fact that
the committee members have an in-depth knowledge of conditions in that
country, and that they also take into consideration NGO reports which are
likely to present more of an accurate picture. However, the prime source of
information remains the government itself. Analysis of the reports given to
CEDAW by countries are, as Tomasevski notes (1993, p. 122):
... Not surprisingly, rarely self-critical. In most cases they reproduce
the existing constitutional and legal provisions relating to non-
discrimination, and do not venture into analyzing their application nor
indeed obstacles to the enjoyment of equal rights by all women. Not
only is there a wide gap between formal legal status and reality, but
also the Convention itself requires the eradication of de facto
discrimination. Without data on the actual position of women
regarding all their human rights and fundamental freedoms de facto
discrimination remains invisible, and policies for its eradication are
difficult to elaborate.
A look at the 1996 set of reports currently being discussed by CEDAW
shows that in addition to obvious shortcomings in many, if not all, of these
reports (which in fairness the committee members do not hesitate to point out
to the government representative), CEDAW merely make suggestions for
improvements, never going as far as bringing formal proceedings against a
country, even in cases where they are clearly violating the Convention.

An additional problem is that CEDAW meets yearly for two weeks at a
time (either in New York or Vienna), hence it does not enough time to review
adequately all the reports it receives. When it is considered that the Human
Rights Commission meets for nine weeks each year, and CERD (Commission
on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination) meets for six weeks yearly, it can
be concluded that women's human rights are not taken as seriously as the
human rights of others. CEDAW desperately needs extra resources, but so far
the General Assembly has failed to grant them any. As a solution to this
particular problem. Sandra Coliver (1989) a human rights lawyer, suggests
that CEDAW change its system and require more reports each year, but only
require a report on two or three sections of the Convention, say employment
and education or health care and marriage and family law at any one time. This
would mean countries would be more likely to hand in reports on time as they
would have less preparation to do and reports could be more promptly
reviewed. Also, representatives could be better prepared to answer questions
as they would not need such a broad knowledge of all the areas under
Another aspect of the Convention which Coliver perceives as leading to
ineffectiveness is the wording of the document: it is not specific enough hence
implementation is more difficult. For example, the language of the Convention
refers to "pursuing" gender equality. This, Coliver (1989) argues is open to
vagueness; she argues "achieving" would have been a better choice of wording,
as in countries must achieve gender equality as opposed to countries pursuing

gender equality. This way not much is left to individual interpretation;
pursuing could continue forever, a country can move very slowly and still claim
to be pursuing gender equality. Another example would be the requirement to
pursue gender equality by "appropriate" means; a more specific requirement
would be "necessary", again this is much easier to define
On the issue of the language of the treaty, Kaufman and Lindquist
(1995) of the University of South Carolina have questioned the usefulness of
the gender-neutral language in the treaty. Kaufman and Lindquist argue that
too much focus is placed on legal rights, which are useful as a base, but are not
useful for making fundamental changes in society. Emphasis on legal rights
reflects a male way of addressing problems and affecting change and is based
on male standards.
Instead, Kaufman and Lindquist suggest the use of corrective language.
Corrective language involves the use of active provisions and policies in order
to ensure women's equality. It goes a step further than gender-neutral
language which merely forbids discrimination, but falls short of going that extra
step to correct the effects of past discrimination. For Kaufman and Lindquist,
corrective language has three advantages. First, it addresses situations that
victimize only women. Second, it allows for women-centered solutions and
third, it can allow positive discrimination to achieve equality rather than
outlawing discrimination (which is what the male-centered solution would do).
Kaufman and Lindquist (1995, p.120) believe:

The active character of corrective language is necessary to respond to
the political and economic reality of women's disempowerment in most
contemporary societies, a disempowerment that cannot be addressed
effectively through the "level playing field" approach encoded in the
gender-neutral language of equal rights.
Also at issue is the fact that many countries simply do not hand reports
in when they are due. By 1993 there were 27 countries with reports
outstanding; many are overdue by several years and this number has since
increased (Tomasevski, 1993). Other countries have handed in very short
reports; in one case a two page report. Clearly such short reports are
inadequate to explain the status of women in a country and to discuss the
efforts being made to improve their situation (Tomasevski, 1993). In some
cases this can be attributed to a lack of support, resources, and knowledge
about report making, but mostly it reflects a lack of governmental cooperation
and clearly has an impact on what CEDAW is able to do.
On the one hand, countries seem committed, at least in theory, to the
idea of ending human rights abuses against women. The Convention on the
Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women has been ratified
by more countries than any other human rights treaty except the Convention
Against Racial Discrimination, and until the ratification process for the
Convention on the Rights of the Child, it had the fastest rate of ratification of
any treaty (Tomasevski, 1993). The General Assembly alone is responsible for
over 500 resolutions concerning women (Tomasevski, 1993). Many argue that
this shows that the UN and the international community is aware of the human
rights problems that women face and is working hard to do something about it.

Of course, the flip side is that obviously these measures are not effective, since
little progress has been made with regard to women's human rights and the
number of resolutions is irrelevant if they are not enforced. Andrew Byrnes
(1994, p. 189) of the University of Hong Kong argues that the problem is not
that women do not have protection under international human rights law. He
maintains that their protection is extensive; the problem lies in the fact that
"The gap between the formal guarantees and the extent to which the rights are
actually enjoyed in practice is frequently a wide one."
The impressiveness of the high ratification rate of the Women's
Convention diminishes somewhat when it is revealed that forty of the countries
who have ratified the Convention have submitted reservations which exempt
them from certain provisions of the Convention (Tomasevski, 1993). Many
countries have submitted more than one reservation, leading to more than 90
reservations in total. It is ironic that many of the reservations are held by
countries which hold themselves up to the international community as being
champions of human rights and of women's rights. These countries include
Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Israel, Luxembourg, New Zealand, and
the United Kingdom.
Reservations to treaties are permitted in order for a country to declare
support for a treaty even if at that time it is not able to implement the whole
treaty. They are not designed as an excuse for a country not to adhere to a
treaty fully or to allow them to pick and choose which provisions they will

enforce. The concern as regards the Women's Convention is that many of the
reservations are so broad and so numerous that they render the implementation
of considerable portion of the Convention meaningless. As Tomasevski (1993,
p.l 16) notes, their reservations "[I]n many cases seem contrary to the very aim
of the Convention. Thereby individual governments have limited the
recognition of the full scope of women's rights, as laid down in the Convention,
for women on their territory."
The majority of the reservations are related to the articles in the
Convention which address the issues of women's position in marriage and the
family and their status under the law. Countries argue for them primarily on
religious and cultural grounds. Tomasevski (1993) cites the examples of Libya
and Malawi. Libya will not be party to the clauses which it says conflict with
the laws on personal status which come from the Islamic Sharia. Malawi does
not consider itself bound by the provisions which call for the ending of certain
traditional customs and practices. A key element of the Convention is the
attempt to ensure that women have equal rights in marriage, divorce and
property/inheritance rights. So when twelve countries, including France make
reservations against these provisions, a major portion of the Convention
becomes invalid for all intents and purposes.
Concern about the number and extent of the reservations to the
Convention has stimulated discussion at various levels of the UN, and debate
seems to be focused around whether or not it is preferable to have the largest

number of governments as signatures to the Convention or whether a smaller
number who accept the treaty in full and are serious in their attempts to
implement it (as opposed to paying lip service to it, which is what many
countries currently do) is better. This debate has not yet been resolved.
The fact that women's human rights are not being taken as seriously as
other human rights issues at the UN is demonstrated by the fact that under the
Convention states can decide for themselves whether or not the reservations
they attach are compatible with the Convention. With other treaties, such as
CERD, this is decided by a two-thirds majority vote of all the states party to
the Convention. Thus it is far easier for a country to undermine the Women's
Convention than other treaties.
This lack of seriousness with which women's human rights are treated
is also evident with the position of NGOs. NGOs are crucial for both the
information they provide based on their expertise in certain countries or areas
of gender discrimination, and also because they contribute a counter balance to
the government report. CEDAW can accept NGO reports on an informal
basis, but not formally, as is the case for other UN bodies such as the Human
Rights Commission. This is something that CEDAW should consider lobbying
to change because when NGO input is accepted formally and is documented, it
carries greater weight and status.

Another dimension of the implementation problem, stems from the
diversity of various UN documents and bodies that attempt to deal with the
status of women. As mentioned earlier, there is no one body which
encompasses all of women's concerns. Instead they are split into many
subdivisions with which they have some link. For example, the working group
on Contemporary Forms of Slavery considers cases of widow burning and
forced marriages, women who face persecution from the government for their
political activity may be covered by the section that deals with torture or labor
rights and women refugees are covered by the High Commission on Refugees.
There are two major problems with this approach. Firstly, women are often
marginalized within these sub-sections and their issues and concerns are not
fully addressed. Second, this approach makes it hard to get an overall picture
of the status of women worldwide and to track progress. If there were one
group within the UN which assumes overall responsibility for women's issues
this would be easier to do. The Commission on the Status of Women is the
obvious choice to be that unified body, but currently it has no power to take
action or ensure enforcement of women's human rights. The Women's
Commission remains restricted to making reports and recommendations to
other bodies and to appoint working groups or special Rapporteurs. While this
work is a useful beginning more concrete powers are needed to ensure real
improvements are made. Byrnes (1994, p.209) cites Laura Reanda who
correctly points out that "There has been no concerted attempt to expand the
role of the Commission [on the Status of Women] into a monitoring

mechanism with powers of investigation, such as is the case with the
Commission on Human Rights."
Again, with the Women's Commission, as with CEDAW, the
marginalization of women's human rights issues is evident. The Women's
Commission, unlike many other UN bodies, including the Human Rights
Commission, does not have a large number of experts, sub-committees and
working groups reporting to, or assisting them. Another issue worth noting is
that the Women's Commission is located in Vienna whereas all the other
human rights bodies are in Geneva. The result is that the Women's
Commission is cut off from the support, resources and networking
opportunities the other groups have. Lack of enforcement is a problem too.
Sandra Coliver (1989, p.33) observes: "Even when the commission has
identified patterns of discrimination, its resolutions have been decidedly weak.
Most simply call on states to take steps to curtail identified violations or
request the Secretary-General to take note of the commissions conclusions."
In fairness to some, particularly South, countries, they often have
difficulties implementing the platform of the Women's Convention in terms of
finances, resources and infrastructure. Implementation of policies requires
money, resources and trained personnel, facilities which are lacking in many
countries especially if the government has problems that it considers more
pressing such as ensuring food supplies. Currently there are no funds available

from CEDAW or the UN generally to assist countries with this. Consequently
the effect is one of delaying implementation in some countries.
Maria Suarez Toro (1995), a Costa Rican and Puerto Rican teacher and
human rights activist, has raised some additional issues which focus not on the
negatives of organizing globally and the use international forums like the UN,
but on the positives of grassroots organizing. Toro does not discount the
advantages and the positive side to global organizing, indeed she thinks it is
good to bring women together at global conferences for them to share
experiences and devise strategies. As she rightly points out, anything that is
achieved at the international level is to a large extent a reflection of the
cumulative experiences and efforts by women at the grassroots level.
However, Toro (1995, p. 190) is concerned about how useful some of the
legislation passed as a result of international activism is for ordinary women in
their everyday lives. She writes:
Despite advances made at the international level, most real gains for
women have in fact been the result of women's struggles in their own
communities. These struggles have been necessary for several reasons,
not the least of which is that battles won in the international arena in
the past have often had little impact on the daily lives of the women
they were meant to serve. In the words of one Nicaraguan woman
"Equality before the law is not equality in life for women."
Toro writes about the grassroots women's human rights groups in
Central America and how vital the grassroots work has been in giving women
skills, experience and self esteem. Everyone can participate and feel part of the
success which is far more liberating than having reforms handed to you that

have been gained by the work of a small elite group of people working in a
foreign city. Toro (1995, p. 191) sums up her and her co-activists experience in
a very positive way:
We have been able to trace back and re-examine those situations that
have characterized the denial of basic human rights in our lives, and this
process has contributed to the rebuilding of personhood and the gaining
of a sense of empowerment. We have come to have a better
appreciation of women's roles as protagonists in society and in our own
lives, as social, economic, and political actors in the development of
civil societies. This work has been instrumental in allowing us to move
beyond the limiting portrayal of women-as-victims...Most important,
perhaps, is that we have learned about human dignity, our own
strength, and our capacity to transform society...We also realized that
the kinds of changes that would improve women's lives would never
come about unless we took it upon ourselves to see that they did.
Toro's points certainly need to be taken into consideration in any
discussion of the merits of organizing locally or globally. Ideally, a
combination of both is probably most effective.
The Positive Side to Working and Organizing Globally
Does all this mean that women should give up using the international
arena to push for their rights? While some may support a distancing from
international bodies like the UN, preferring instead to focus entirely on
grassroots activity i.e. groups within each country limiting their lobbying to
their own governments and trying to bring about change in this way, this is a
minority position within the movement for women's human rights, although it

still deserves recognition. Despite the fact that there are many shortcomings
within the UN and the international legal community and there is still a long
way to go and a great deal of work to be done, not least of which is getting the
reservations to the Convention withdrawn and setting up a complaints
procedure whereby individuals are able to bring their grievances, there are
signs of progress and there are advantages to global organization which
probably outweigh the shortcomings and disadvantages. While the process
seems incredibly slow, it should be remembered that the achievements to date
did not happen overnight and neither will future developments. Change is
happening and this maybe is the most important thing. For example, in 1993
the Human Rights Commission adopted a resolution entitled "Integrating the
Rights of Women into the Human Rights Mechanisms of the United Nations",
which was followed in 1994 by the appointment of a Special Rapporteur for
Women. These are both significant steps forward in integrating women's
human rights into the mainstream of the UN. As Tomasevski (1993, p.84)
An important change is the mere placing of the problem on the human
rights agenda: it becomes a matter of women's entitlements and
governmental obligations; it enables women to demand and obtain
equal rights; it obliges governments to guarantee these rights to
This is why it is vital to get violence against women and other human
rights violations against women recognized at the international level as a
human rights issues: then governments can be held accountable for the
situation in their countries. The fact that the international women's human

rights' movement has achieved what it has to date reflects not only hard work
and coordination by a large number of women's organizations working locally,
nationally and internationally, but is also evidence that organization on a global
scale can help women get their voices heard. A problem that used not to be
talked about is now brought to the attention of governments around the world
by groups of women working together. For the issue of violence against
women alone, Tomasevski (1993, p.89) feels the global movement is vital in
Women's groups in nations around the world have brought the problem
of violence against women to public attention. They published
newsletters, held demonstrations, wrote letters and called on public
officials, told their stories, got media attention, and changed public
opinion. They illustrated how common, pervasive and insidious the
problem of violence against women is, and created the political will for
It should also be recognized that simply by establishing committees to
look at women's human rights and hosting conferences like Beijing, the UN has
contributed a huge amount. World conferences like Beijing have the power to
gain world-wide media attention. The mere fact these conferences take place
gives global attention to women's human rights issues, even if afterwards it
proves difficult to get governments to implement the platform. At least for a
short period of time the world is made aware of women's human rights abuses.
The conferences lead to discussions, newspaper articles and television
programs; issues are put in the spotlight that probably otherwise would not be
there, or at least not so prominently. It also means governments have their
record on women's human rights exposed to the whole world. Global

guidelines are drawn up and, even if not always implemented they at least
provide a standard with which women's groups can go home and try to
persuade their government to live up to. While the efforts of women within
individual countries cannot and should not be ignored, the fact that sometimes,
especially in countries where women are still in a very inferior position, the
pressure that can be brought by the international community (if they choose to
do so) can be considerable. Sometimes governments will react to outside
pressure, especially in an increasingly interdependent world, when they can,
and do ignore protests from within their own country.
Finally, women have benefited from global networking in ways that
cannot be measured simply in terms of the legal successes they have had at the
international or even national level. When women from all over the world and
all walks of life get together as they have done in the last two decades, they are
able to share experiences, discuss strategies and generally provide great
emotional and practical support for each other. They become aware of the
concerns of other women and the difficulties they face in their countries.
Sometimes these are the same concerns, or they may be different, but it is
empowering to know that others are also working towards the same goal. The
importance of this cannot and must not be underestimated.
The situation may be best summed up by Janice Wood Wetzel (1993,
p.3) who in her analysis of the first world conference (Mexico City, 1975),
which has been described as the greatest consciousness-raising event in history,

Although it is true that the document was largely ignored by the
majority of nations, these revolutionary ideas would prove to be
catalytic...the meeting set in motion the most intricate network of
women ever recorded. Women began to realize that collective action
was the key to their power ad effectiveness. Solidarity links forged
over the decade turned out to be stronger than ever imagined. They
formed an unbreakable chain of women throughout the world dedicated
to healing and liberating themselves, their children, and, in turn their
men and their nations.

This chapter highlights some of the more practical issues that the
paper has so far discussed in theoretical terms. Of all the human rights
violations that women face, violence against women is the most common.
This includes a whole range of abuses from rape and female genital
mutilation to sexual assault of women refugees and women in custody to the
trafficking of women and girls and forced prostitution and marriage. Since
there is not room to discuss all facets of violence against women, the focus
in this chapter will be on rape and domestic violence. There are several
reasons for this choice. Both are often seen as taking place in the "private
sphere," which was the focus of discussion in the first chapter.
Additionally, the abuser(s) is often excused and the victim blamed. Finally,
rape and domestic violence are issues that affect many women regardless of
race, ethnicity, class, religion, political persuasion, age, status or wealth.
While other human rights abuses should not be ignored, rape and domestic
violence merit particular attention simply because of the sheer number of

women affected by them. However, no human rights treaty explicitly
requires governments to take action against rape or domestic violence.
It is useful to begin with some statistics in order to demonstrate the
magnitude of the problem. Domestic violence is one of the leading causes of
injuries to women in nearly every country. In many countries domestic
violence accounts for the majority of hospital visits by women (Human
Rights Watch, 1995, p.341). The FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation)
estimates that a women is beaten in the United States every eighteen seconds
and that a woman is raped every six minutes. One-in-ten American woman
are raped in their lifetime, with most rapes happening in the home, and most
(over 50%) are premeditated. This figure reaches 90% for gang rapes
(Wood Wetzel, 1993, p.162). In Peru, 70% of all crimes reported to the
police by woman are cases of domestic violence and in Japan, domestic
violence is the second most cited reason for divorces initiated by women
(Wood Wetzel, 1993, p. 161). A study of nearly 350 women living on the
outskirts of Mexico City found that one in four women had experienced an
abusive relationship with her husband or boyfriend, with 66% experiencing
physical abuse, 76% experiencing verbal abuse and 21% experiencing sexual
abuse. One-quarter of the battered women had been assaulted with a
weapon. 70% had been beaten in the head or face and 20% had been beaten
in the stomach while pregnant (Schuler, 1992, p.178).

Not only is rape and domestic violence prevalent in many countries,
but only too often the woman is held responsible for her abuser's actions.
For example in Malaysia Irene Fernandez (1992, p.103) of WomenForce
explains how:
Families blamed the rape victim, felt ashamed, kept the event a
secret, and finally even alienated the victim. If she was a virgin, it
was even worse as it was thought that her marriage marketability
would be greatly affected Rape victims were sent to the center for
wayward girls for rehabilitation. There was generally considerable
guilt, shame and fear.
Also in Malaysia, women can only seek assistance for domestic
violence if they are willing to file for divorce. If they are not then there is
no legal redress for them. Malaysia is not the only country where attitudes
like this still prevail. India provides another example and there are many
others. Indira Jaising (1995, p.52), senior advocate to the Supreme Court of
India has written about how common sexual abuse is in India, but how
rarely it is reported:
If a girl is raped, both she and her family are considered to have
been shamed. Only rarely have rape cases come to public notice. It
is common for the police to be bribed, and those families that do
report a rape to the police are liable to be ridiculed and, finally,
intimidated into dropping the case. Among those cases that are tried,
convictions can be won, but the process takes an average of eight
years, and sentences are low.
Rape during war is something that has been happening since ancient
times. Women are seen as the legitimate spoils of war. Rape during war is
outlawed by the Geneva Convention, but rarely is anything done to stop it.

The recent war in the former Yugoslavia resulted in world-wide attention on
this issue for the first time. Other recent examples, although not as heavily
reported, include Somalia, Haiti, Kashmir and Peru. Rape as a weapon of
war may be used as a means of ethnic cleansing, as a means of terrorizing a
community so that its members flee or surrender or as a reward for
conquering troops. A recent Amnesty International (1995, p.22) report on
rape noted that:
It's widespread use in times of conflict reflects the special terror it
holds for women, the special power it gives the rapist over his
victim, the special contempt it displays for its victims. The use of
rape in conflict reflects the inequalities women face in their everyday
lives in peacetime. Until governments live up to their obligations to
ensure equality, and end discrimination against women, rape will
continue to be a favorite weapon of the aggressor.
In war and armed conflict situations, women and children are the
innocent victims. They have (usually) no place in the power structure, they
don't start the wars, they don't (usually) fight in them and yet they are
murdered, raped, and mutilated. 80% of the casualties in armed conflicts
today are civilians and these primarily consist of women and children
(Amnesty International, 1993, p.29). Enemy women (often from an ethnic
group) are particularly sought out. The list of examples is endless; Muslim
women in Bosnia, indigenous women in the Chiapas region of Mexico,
Muslims in Kashmir, Kurdish women in Turkey and other areas of the
Middle East, and East Timorese women to name but a few.

Refugee women and girl children are another group who are
especially likely to be victims of sexual violence. Amnesty International
(1993, p.25) has evidence of border guards detaining women for weeks or
months and abusing them sexually and/or giving them passage in exchange
for sexual favors. One refugee, a woman with her two children and five
months pregnant with her third who was trying to flee Ethiopia tells her
story. She was stopped by two men and one told her, "No safe passage
before sex!...he forced me down, kicked me in the stomach and raped me in
front of my children. He knew I was pregnant, but that made no difference
to him." As well as border guards women refugees are also at risk from
other male refugees and camp officials.
Despite violence against women being an age old problem, the
international community has taken little action against it. As Tomasevski
(1993, p.89) writes:
Violence against women has continued throughout history unreported
and unchallenged. The recent worldwide mobilization to condemn
violence against women as a violation of their rights has encountered
centuries of silence as an obstacle. Many opponents of tackling
violence against women claim that it has nothing to do with human
rights. According to such views, only relations between the state and
the individual pertain to human rights, what people do to each other
is excluded; governments do not have to act to protect women from
being beaten, raped, killed.
Women's groups have begun to challenge this inaction and there now
exists an international movement against violence. As described in earlier
chapters this did not happen overnight, rather it took a long time and a great

deal of hard work and perseverance by a large number of different
grassroots organizations and NGO's. Before discussing what is, and more
importantly, what is not, being done at the international level, two case
studies, one in Brazil and one in South Africa, will be presented to highlight
the problem of rape and domestic violence and to reflect two different ways
that countries may try to combat rape and domestic violence. In Brazil this
is in the form of women only police stations and in South Africa through the
use of restraining orders. These two countries, while they have appalling
records of violence against women, have not been singled out for any
particular reason. The fact that we could pick any two countries and find
gross violations of womens human rights, especially as relates to violence
against women, is a sad reflection on our world.
Violence Against Women in Brazil
Women in Brazil have been campaigning against domestic violence
for the last two decades. They have brought the issues of domestic violence
and the "honor" defense to both national and international attention. In
1984 they were successful in getting Brazil to ratify the Women's
Convention (though the government did attach reservations and has yet to
comply with its obligation to present a report to CEDAW). In 1985, after
much hard work and campaigning by a coalition of groups including the Sao
Paulo State Council on the Status of Women, the Black Women's

Collective, the Brazilian Women's Center and the Sao Paulo Women's
Union, they were able to get the government to set up special police
stations, staffed only by women to deal with violence against women
(Schuler, 1992, p.204). Also in that year the government set up the
National Council for Women's Rights. Then in 1988 came another success
when the government made a constitutional guarantee to women of equality
before the law. While gains are considerable, the story is not one of total
70% of reported incidents of violence against women in Brazil take
place in the home. A study in Sao Paulo found that only 20-50% of
domestic abuse cases reported are ever investigated. "Honor" as a defense
for a man killing his wife is successful 80% of the time, and even when the
honor defense is not used the courts still treat the defendant with greater
leniency than other murder defendants (Women's Rights Project, 1991, p.4
& 29). Rape is underreported in Brazil as it is worldwide. Marital rape is
the most unreported and the least prosecuted, hardly surprising in a country
where the refusal of a wife to have sex when her husband wants it is
grounds for divorce. In one Rio police station, the police chief reports that
of over 2,000 battery and sexual assault cases in 1990, not one of the
defendants ever received any type of punishment. Why? According to the
Women's Rights Project (1991, p.5) there are several reasons:
...[T]he police often fail to classify domestic abuse as a crime, or
classify domestic abuse crimes too leniently, and discriminatory
attitudes towards female victims persist. Moreover, female victims

still have little reason to expect that their abusers once denounced -
will ever be punished.
Part of the problem is the nature of Brazilian criminal law. Under
the law, the victim is not the woman, but custom. So rape, for example, is
not classed as a crime against the individual person, but against custom.
Also, in most sex crimes (not rape) the woman must be a "virgin" or a
"honest" woman or else she is deemed to have consented (Women's Rights
Project, 1991, p.5). The fact that this is in violation of international law
(under the Women's Convention and the ICCPR to which Brazil is a party)
appears to go unnoticed and unpunished.
A case investigated by Americas Watch highlights this clearly. The
victim, Maria Celsa Conceicao got into a fight with her partner, Domingos
Savio, from whom she was trying to separate. He threw alcohol over her
and held her over a lit stove. Maria, who was pregnant at the time, lost part
of her ear and mouth, suffered severe bums all over her body and had to
have an abortion because of the treatment needed for the burns. Despite
this, Savio's charges were first of all reduced and he was later acquitted.
Maria was not seen as a credible witness as she had had a previous partner
(Women's Rights Project, 1991, p.37). As an observer commented:
In theory, the classification of a crime depends entirely on the intent
of the accused. However, the court's assessment of that intent often
appears to be clouded by discriminatory attitudes towards the female
victim with the result that charges are often reduced unjustifiably.
(Women's Rights Project, 1991, p.39)

As in most countries the law does not treat men and women equally.
Americas Watch (Women's Rights Project. 1991, p.35) was told by a
Brazilian state prosecutor that "[I]n general, women who kill their husbands
are always given a higher sentence than men who kill their wives."
The women's police stations have proved successful in many ways.
Most notably, women feel more comfortable going to them, and in cities
where they are located the incidence of reporting has increased dramatically.
There was also a great deal of publicity surrounding their opening. Schuler
(1992, p.205) quotes Luiza Nagib Eluf, a Sao Paulo attorney who says:
There were some chilling cases never before presented. The press
gave ample coverage to such investigations, with television reports
showing in detail the violence women suffered. Most of the TV
networks showed serious interest in the subject, examining the day-
to-day work of the women's police stations. In one way or another
the entire population, even children, became very well informed
about police activities geared specifically to women.
Most of the stations report Monday as their busiest day and say often
the stations look like hospital emergency rooms with all the bruised faces,
broken arms, and other injuries. The average woman who goes to the
women's police station is semiliterate, between 25 and 45 years old, has
several children, feels unable to leave her abuser for financial reasons and
has endured several years of abuse (Schuler, 1992, p.206). This is only an
average picture; this is not the only group of women who have found benefit
from the women only police stations; women from all walks of life have.

However, they have not completely solved the problem. Not
surprisingly, the women's police stations are at the bottom of the hierarchy
of status and respect; they are not seen as having the same value as police
departments which have drug or homicide units. The women officers
working there are not given adequate training and are not regarded as equals
by their colleagues. While the stations are working in the sense they
provide a supportive atmosphere and women feel safe going there to report
their abusers, at the end of the day they have to operate within the same
legal system; a system that works to the advantage of the abuser. The head
of the main women's police station in Rio reports that in 1990 her station
investigated over 2000 domestic violence cases and yet not one of them
resulted in a punishment for the accused (Women's Rights Project, 1991).
In another region, between 1988 and 1990 there were over 4000 complaints
of domestic violence of which 300 went to court and only two convictions
resulted (Women's Rights Project, 1991, p.60).
Following their investigation the Women's Rights Project (1991,
p.50) concluded that even with the women's police stations the environment
was far from ideal. Among the reasons they cite are:
Lack of economic and political support by state and federal
governments, discriminatory treatment of and low moral among
women police, lack of police training and, above all else, failure to
prosecute domestic abuse all contribute to the denial of equal
protection to Brazilian women victims.

Police attitudes (not at the women's police stations but at regular
stations) is clearly a factor in the way women expect they will be treated.
Women hear from other women about their experiences with the police and
often that is enough to deter them from reporting their own situation. The
following officer's comment (Women's Rights Project, 1991, p.56) is not an
uncommon one amongst police officers in Brazil or elsewhere:
Nobody is able to spread the legs of a woman if they are crossed,
unless she's threatened or fears her life. Most cases happen because
the woman consents, because she wants it. Then she regrets it and
comes to play victim, comes [and] reports. Many women create
favorable conditions for the crime.
Other reasons women don't report include family pressure, fear of
reprisal, fear of not being taken seriously, or not seeing justice done, and in
many cases, because they simply accept what is happening to them as either
their fault or as inevitable. As one woman, Anita says, "Women in Rio's
slums live in a culture of violence and perceive domestic violence as a
normal occurrence." Adding that "[F]irst you have to know you have
rights. If you don't know you have rights, you can't advocate for them"
(Women's Rights Project, 1991, p.50). Economic factors are also a major
reason many women continue to endure abuse. They don't like their
situation but feel that is better than being on their own in a workforce that
discriminates against them especially while trying to raise children by
themselves. It is particularly difficult for women when there is no support
in the community. In the entire country of Brazil, with a population of 75

million women there is one public women's refuge and this has a capacity of
six women and their children.
Other practical problems work against women reporting. For
example, in order to report a sexual crime, women must go both to a police
station and to a IML (Medical-Legal Institute) to get a medical examination.
First, these are only located in urban areas which makes them inaccessible to
millions of women. Second, they lack female personnel and people trained
in violent sexual crimes, so often even if women go the evidence is not
properly collected and so is useless in court. In order to encourage more
women to report rape, domestic violence and other sexual crimes, something
must be done to improve this procedure; for example having the centers at
the police station. This would at least reduce the victim's feeling of being
pushed from one place to another.
Marital rape is an issue in Brazil which women's groups continue to
fight against. One attorney in Rio sums up the situation well when they say
"What happens in marriage isn't considered a crime. Sex is an obligation of
marriage. Marriage obliges her to have such relations. Women don't
consider it rape, they don't consider it a crime." He goes on to say that
"[I]n practice, Brazilian judges generally reject the notion of marital rape"
(Women's Rights Project, 1991, p.64). The law in Brazil does not
specifically mention marital rape, though the general law on rape should
cover marital rape. However, in practice this rarely, if ever, happens.

The womens police stations in Brazil are innovative and a good
start. However, womens groups still have a long way to go in terms of
education and legal reform before they can claim true success in improving
the situation for women who are victims of rape and/or domestic violence.
This is not going to be an easy task for them.
Violence Against Women in South Africa
The new government in South Africa under Nelson Mandela is fully
committed to women's equality. This goal and the ways to achieve it are set
out in the Reconstruction and Development program. Responding to the
needs of women and children who are victims of domestic violence is
explicitly mentioned as something that needs addressing. Despite these good
intentions, there lies a big gap between theory and reality.
Violence has long been a way of life in South Africa. Often this
violence was state sanctioned and the persuasiveness of it has spilled over
into the home as well. South African women's organizations believe that
one in six women in South Africa are abused by a partner. Some
organizations like the Cape Town Rape Crisis Center estimate that it is as
high as one in three (Human Rights Watch, 1995, p.385). This is a problem

faced by women of all races and all classes in South Africa. The better
treatment that white women usually experience in other areas of life in South
Africa does not exclude or protect them from domestic violence. It should
be noted that there is a greater reluctance by black women to report rape and
domestic violence because of a greater distrust of the police the result of
their years of experiences under apartheid.
When women do report they are often faced with police and court
officials who are either unaware of the law or who choose either not to
respond or not to respond adequately. They often give the abuser a warning
instead of charging him with a crime. This sends the message to the woman
that her complaint is not being taken seriously or that the law cannot protect
her. Consequently, she is unlikely to use that avenue the next time. A 1993
survey of over 100 battered women by a women's organization found the
breakdown of the means women used to get support to be as follows: 50%
sought help from their extended family, 22% from their friends and
neighbors, 12% from a church, 8% from street committees or councils, 2%
from a social worker, and only 6% reporting to the police (Human Rights
Watch, 1995, p.387).
Another survey of 10,697 women who had suffered a mean of 8.2
years of abuse was conducted by the Advise Desk for Abused Women and
the National Women's Coalition. The survey found "Women's reluctance to
report abuse to the police and government legal and social services stemmed

directly from their negative experiences with police; the inadequacy of the
legal system in dealing with domestic violence; and the fragmentation of
social services" (Human Rights Watch, 1995, p.388).
Under South African law all persons are equal before the law. There
is no specific crime of wife or partner beating but legal redress can be
sought by bringing assault charges. Women can also get a restraining order
against an abusive partner which if noticed, will lead to immediate arrest.
The big "if" comes from the fact that the police have the discretion whether
to arrest someone who has violated a restraining order and police officers
are still heavily influenced by deeply held views on privacy in the home.
Police have also been found to take complaints of domestic violence
less seriously when a woman has been seen to return to an abusive partner
following a report of abuse. There are many reasons for return including
economic factors, low self-esteem and self worth, fear, family pressure, lack
of trust in the legal system, children and love they want the abuse to end,
not the relationship. However, as the police are not educated about
domestic violence and the dynamics associated with it, they are not as
sympathetic or understanding as they need to be in order to encourage
women to report. Clearly, in South Africa as in Brazil and elsewhere in the
world, the lack of training and education of police and criminal justice
officials contributes to the problem.

As long as the perception among women of police inaction, lack of
concern, and even bias against women persists, then women are going to
remain reluctant to report. Women regularly report delays in police
response times, police indifference, or in many cases, the police actually
siding with the abuser in domestic violence calls. In one case in
Johannesburg an abusive husband showed up at a shelter where his wife and
children were staying. When the woman called the police, not only did they
not take any action against her husband for violating his restraining order,
they took away her restraining order. It took the orders of a magistrate to
get it back (Human Rights Watch, 1995). In another case in Durban, police
came with an abusive husband who had a restraining order against him to
the shelter where his partner was and threatened to break the door down.
Despite the restraining order and assurances from the woman and shelter
staff the police believed the husbands claim that his wife had been abducted
by a domestic violence advocacy group, the Advice Desk on Abused
Women (Human Rights Watch, 1995). Such cases clearly send women the
message that the police are not on their side, but rather that they will often
believe the abuser, and they do not enforce the law.
As the Women's Rights Project (1991, p.64) has noted there is
another dimension to the lack of police and criminal justice officials action
...[B]y not acting decisively to prevent, investigate and punish
domestic abuse, South African police and judicial officers are failing
to enforce the law equitably across gender lines in violation of

international human rights law which prevents discriminatory
application of the law on the basis of gender.
The campaign by women's groups against domestic violence in
recent years has focused on the restraining order. Guidelines for issuing
these were contained in the 1993 Prevention of Family Violence Act.
Among other things this act made it cheaper and easier for a woman to get a
restraining order. The major provision is that a woman no longer needs a
lawyer for this process. In the Cape Town area since the act was passed,
magistrates have granted approximately 90% of requests for restraining
orders. Some women have told a human rights investigator that their abuse
has stopped because the fear of police is now very real (Human Rights
Watch, 1995, p.392).
As with the womens police stations in Brazil, restraining orders are
part of the solution and do help in many cases, but they also have their
limitations. One of the main restrictions is that they only apply to certain
women and certain types of relationships. One of the requirements is that
the woman must live with her partner or have lived with him. However,
women do not always live with their abuser. The abuser must be a husband
or boyfriend which excludes other family members who also may be abusive
and it also means same sex relationships are excluded. The requirement of
living together is especially a problem in South Africa where the system of
apartheid often meant that families (almost always black families) were
forced to live apart. Men would live in the urban areas in order to find

work and their families would remain in the rural areas or women who
worked as domestics and servants would live with the family they worked
for and not their family, and although this does not exempt them from abuse
from a family member it does exempt them from being able to get a
restraining order (Human Rights Watch, 1995).
Also, there is no precise definition of exactly what constitutes the
grounds for a restraining order. Magistrates and judges have a great deal of
discretion which leads to unequal enforcement and uncertainty. Problems
have also arisen because many police officers are unaware of the restraining
orders and how they work. Women who go to the police for help are often
not aware of how they can be helped and it is up to the police officer to
inform her, so police knowledge is crucial to their success. In July 1994, a
survey by a South African human rights organization in the KwaZulu-Natal
area found that only 60% of station commander's knew of the Prevention of
Family Violence Act and even less had the forms needed to apply for a
restraining order (Human Rights Watch, 1995, p.396). A final weakness
with the restraining orders is that not all courts issue them. Primarily it is
courts in the urban areas that are knowledgeable about them and willing to
issue them. This leaves rural women either without access to restraining
orders or having to face long and expensive journeys to big towns to try and
get one.

One solution would be standardized training for police and legal and
court officials. These people must know the law and be under orders to see
that it is enforced. Training in domestic violence, its causes and impact,
would also go a long way to improving police services and to restoring
women's confidence in the systems ability to protect them. As well as legal
protection, women need other services such as shelters, free or cheap legal
advice and access to jobs and job training. Currently there is no state
funding for women's shelters and only eleven exist in South Africa. This is
wholly inadequate, especially since shelters are such a crucial way of
helping women. As one woman, Tamina, told Human Rights Watch. "...I
am still with my husband because I have nowhere to go" (Human Rights
Watch, 1995, p.407).
Violence Against Women and The International Community
Violence against women is largely committed by private actors and
this has posed problems for the protection of women's human rights within
that sphere (as has been demonstrated in earlier chapters), but the state often
plays a part, by discriminatory enforcement of the law, and therefore can be
held partly responsible. Discriminatory enforcement of the law may occur
even where the government is seemingly implementing gender-neutral laws.
For example, in Thailand there are laws which prohibit prostitution and
procurement, but in reality it is only women who face charges of

prostitution while male agents, pimps and brothel owners are hardly ever
prosecuted (Human Rights Watch, 1995).
The main international legal protections against domestic violence
come from the ICCPR and the Women's Convention which both prohibit
discrimination on the grounds of sex. In January 1992, CEDAW proposed a
General Recommendation which was ratified by the UN general body. The
Recommendation was an attempt to clarify and widen the interpretation of
the Women's Convention which did not specifically mention violence
against women. CEDAW confirmed that under the Womens Convention
governments were accountable for the routine non-prosecution of domestic
violence and that tradition and custom are not an excuse that countries may
use to account for their failure to address the issue of violence against
women. The Recommendation defined gender-based violence as a "[F]orm
of discrimination which seriously inhibits women's ability to enjoy rights
and freedoms on a basis of equality with men" (Fitzpatrick, 1994, p.534).
CEDAW has ruled that domestic violence constitutes an impairment
of rights protected by Article 1 of the Women's Convention which protects
the right to life, provides equal protection of humanitarian laws and the right
to liberty and security of person, as well as the right to physical and mental
health. Article 2 requires states to take action against "any person" who
discriminates against women and CEDAW interprets this to hold states
accountable for ignoring domestic violence or other acts of violence against

women (Fitzpatrick, 1994). The Convention also requires states to be
responsible for seeking "[T]o eradicate attitudes toward women as limited to
stereotyped roles" and to provide "[A]dequate protection to all woman"
which includes providing support services and gender-sensitive training of
judicial and law enforcement officers (Fitzpatrick, 1994, p.535). Clearly,
these measures are relevant to rape and domestic violence issues.
The Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) adopted solution
1982/22 which classifies rape and domestic violence as offenses against the
dignity of the person. In 1985, the Nairobi Forward-Looking Strategies for
the Advancement of Women found violence against women to be an obstacle
to peace one of the Decade of the Woman goals.
In December 1993, the UN recognized the Declaration on the
Elimination of Violence Against Women which states that UN member
states are required both to fight against and to punish violence against
women (in all forms that it occurs). The document describes domestic
violence as "A violation of the rights and fundamental freedoms of women."
It also states that "States should condemn violence against women...[and]
exercise due diligence to prevent, investigate and, in accordance with
national legislation, punish acts of violence against women, whether those
acts are perpetrated by the state or by private persons" (Human Rights
Watch, 1995, p.347).

The following year, 1994, the UN appointed a Special Rapporteur on
Violence Against Women, its Causes and Consequences. The Special
Rapporteur has the task of investigating violence against women and of
making recommendations in order to eliminate violence against women.
This is done in conjunction with other working groups and Rapporteurs
within the UN. The first report issued by the Special Rapporteur states:
In the context of norms recently established by the international
community, a state that does not act against crimes of violence
against women is as guilty as the perpetrators. States are under a
positive duty to prevent, investigate and punish crimes associated
with violence against women. (Human Rights Watch, 1995, p.347)
These are important improvements and suggest that finally the UN is
recognizing the need to address women's human rights issues and violence
against women in particular. However, as has been the case throughout UN
history women appear to be bottom of the priority list. Like CEDAW, the
Rapporteur has no where near the support and resources that are necessary
to do the job properly. The appointment is a welcome start, but there needs
to be greater commitment on the part of the UN to provide the necessary
means to investigate violence against women in an effective way. There are
also other UN and international bodies, such as the IMF (International
Monetary Fund) which are in a position either to influence or to require
countries to do something about womens human rights abuses, but they
rarely do so, again highlighting the lack of importance placed on the

Another action that might be taken is to require countries to stop
allowing the police and legal system to treat rape and domestic violence as a
private issue. Prosecuting acquaintance rape and domestic violence should
be done with the same seriousness and these crimes should carry the same
punishments as when the same acts of violence are carried out against a
stranger. The evidence presented in the two case studies show this is clearly
not the case.
Action is being taken at the regional level. For example, in 1995,
the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and
Eradication of Violence Against Women was established. This is a complete
treaty dedicated to fighting violence against women which requires state
parties to prevent and punish violence against women and urges them to
consider positive measures to address the root causes of violence against
women, such as education programs and services for victims like battered
women's shelters. Again this is a good step forward, but it needs serious
commitment behind it to implement it or else it is useless.
Rhonda Copelon (1994, p.116), Professor of Law in New York has
The abuse of women by their male partners is among the most
common and dangerous forms of gender-based violence... As a
result of the global mobilization of women, and international
attention to certain ongoing atrocities, both official and private
violence against women have begun to be recognized as a human
rights concern. Nonetheless, intimate violence remains on the

margin: it is still considered different, less severe, and less deserving
of international condemnation and sanction than officially inflicted
In an effort to show how misguided this assumption is, Copelon
compares domestic violence to torture, an abuse which the international
community deems a legitimate human rights violation. Copelon suggests
that there are two major reasons why domestic violence is not treated as a
human rights violation. The first is the private/public dichotomy, and the
second is that it is seen as a family issue and not as real violence.
Copelon (1994, p. 121) argues that the analogy of domestic violence with
torture is a useful one because "torture is universally condemned as one of
the most heinous forms of violence and, therefore, provides a framework
against which to examine the gravity of domestic violence."
Many international laws and treaties focus on torture and the
prevention of torture. And torture is usually defined as having the following
1) severe physical and/or mental pain
2) intentional
3) for specific purpose(s)
4) official involvement
Copelon takes these components one at a time and considers how
they also apply to domestic violence. Domestic violence involves physical

abuse, and with the exception of electro-shock the same techniques are used
in both; beating, kicking, punching, use of knives, cigarettes and the actual
or threat of, rape and sexual abuse. Both result in physical pain, mental
anguish, and fear. The psychological effects of both torture and domestic
violence involve anguish, humiliation, fear and debilitation. Both mental
torture and domestic violence involve threats of sexual abuse, threats of
harm to family members or victim, sleep deprivation and being kept in
To constitute torture the pain must be intentionally inflicted and be
against the will of the victim. Domestic violence clearly meets this criteria
too. As far as specific purposes are concerned, domestic violence also
meets this criteria since its purpose and effect is to make the woman
powerless and keep her in a position of subordination. When considering
the final criteria, official involvement, Copelon (1994, p.135) argues "...[I]t
is necessary to explore whether the sheer fact that violence is privately
versus publicly inflicted so qualitatively alters the character of the violence
as to deprive it of the enormity of torture or cruel, inhuman, and degrading
Those who would argue that torture differs from domestic violence
because it is state imposed and therefore in need of international protection
since if the state is the perpetrator then protection is not available
domestically, as they would argue it is with domestic violence, fail to

consider the negligent role the state plays in most countries in failing to
protect women from domestic violence by providing adequate support for
them to leave an abuser and by not ensuring the police and courts respond in
a way that supports the woman.
Article 7 of the ICCPR provides for the "Right not to be subjected to
torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment" (Cook,
1994, p.140). This could easily be interpreted in a way which includes
domestic violence. No amendments or new provisions would be needed.
Along the same lines, the Inter-American Convention Against Torture
defines who is guilty of torture as being any official who "[Ojrders,
instigates or induces the use of torture, or who directly commits it or who,
being able to prevent it, fails to do so" (Cook, 1994, p.142). Under this,
the failure to train police officers to take action or court officials who fail to
protect women who ask for help are also guilty. The law already exists. It
does not need to be rewritten, it merely needs the interpretation widened and
implementation enforced.
Copelon's approach forms part of the debate about whether
mainstreaming women's human rights is the way forward. Should women
try and get protection under the current "accepted" provisions, or work for
the acceptance of domestic violence as a separate human rights violation.
Copelon supports the mainstream approach and feels that defining domestic
violence as torture would go a long way to eradicating the 'blame the

victim syndrome so common with domestic violence. Victims of torture
are never blamed, nor asked why they did not leave, nor told they deserved
it, nor are their abusers' actions ever excused. Thereby, having domestic
violence classed as torture would give great weight to measures designed to
eradicate it.
Kenneth Roth (1994) of Human Rights Watch agrees that the narrow
reading of international human rights law goes a long way to explaining why
domestic violence as a international human rights issue has been neglected.
Roth feels that the ICCPR is the most useful document for women's human
rights groups to focus their attention on. As well as Article 7, mentioned
above, Roth (1994, p.327) also cites Article 6(1) and Article 9(1). Article
6(1) provides for the right to life for every human being which is relevant to
many women who suffer from domestic violence as for many of them their
situation ends in death. Article 9(1) provides "Everyone has the right of person." Again the application of this to domestic violence is
Roth (1994, p.329) recognizes the focus of most human rights
organizations is primarily on the political aspects of human rights abuses and
accepts that this is a reason for the neglect of women's human rights issues.
But he also agues that "Violence against women can be said to have a
political dimension in that it arguably serves as a form of social control by
reinforcing the subjugation of women."

Joining in the debate about how to approach the attempt to get
women's human rights recognized, Roth like Copelon disagrees with groups
that advocate for domestic violence being classed as its own human rights
violation. The groups who do so argue on the grounds that domestic
violence "[Systematically subordinates women...domestic violence is
directed primarily at women, with the aim of maintaining male supremacy
and depriving them of a range of political, social, and economic benefits"
(Roth, 1994, p.332). They also argue that trying to hold the state is
accountable is problematic because it (the state) cannot be held accountable
for individual cases, and therefore systematic inaction would have to be
proved and this is very difficult.
Roth supports the approach which finds protection within existing
legislation. He argues that a separate law or treaty is not the answer because
once you pick out a crime which applies to just one class of people then you
cannot distinguish between domestic violence and other forms of violence
that only affect a certain class of people i.e. violence against landless
peasants or labor activists and Roth (1994, p.332) argues, if you start doing
this then the "[DJefense of human rights under international law is gradually
transformed into an exercise of crime control." This, in turn, would lead to
a devaluing of the stigma attached to human rights violations and
international law. Also, distinguishing a certain class of people with special

rights is at odds with the human rights principle of universal rights. Roth
(1994, p.333) writes:
Any theory that creates special rights for a class of people
undermines this universality and risks setting a precedent for
exempting classes of people from the full protection of international
human rights instruments that can easily be abused. Given the long
and continuing history of women's suffering under non-universal
systems of rights, women's rights advocates should be particularly
reluctant to breach this principle of universality.
Believing that we should use existing anti or non-discrimination
provisions provided by most international treaties, Roth suggests that human
rights organizations need to start documenting domestic violence cases in the
same way that they do other abuses. Additionally, women's groups need to
learn how to document cases and do fact finding missions in the way that
human rights groups do. These actions are vital when trying to bring human
rights prosecutions. Roth argues that women's groups have proved very
effective at educating and campaigning, but have neglected to focus on
collecting hard data in the form of case studies. Consequently this leaves a
gap because traditionally human rights groups have not done this with
women's issues like domestic violence. Roth (1994, p.338) concludes that:
Ideally this will come from two directions: human rights
organizations will begin to see women's rights issues as an integral
part of their mandate, while women's rights organizations will begin
to supplement their advocacy with attention to fact-finding and the
collection of well documented data. At a minimum, one of the two
types of organizations must move to fill the void. Until that
happens, the problem of domestic violence and other women's rights
issues will never move beyond the political domain to the realm of
human rights where they also belong.

Joan Fitzpatrick, a Professor of Law, also dismisses the need for a
new and separate treaty or instrument to deal with rape and domestic
violence for several reasons. First, she thinks it will send the message that
the Women's Convention and CEDAWs General Recommendation doesn't
cover violence. Second, that it will create confusion about existing
instruments. Third, there is the risk of limited ratification, making it useless
and finally, there would be the expense of implementation. Bearing all
these factors in mind she argues it is better to use existing instruments.
Despite the fact that the two countries highlighted in this chapter,
Brazil and South Africa are many miles apart and have very different
histories and cultures, it is interesting to see how many similarities there are
between the two where the issue of violence against women is concerned.
This would almost certainly have been the case regardless of which countries
were considered. This is very telling as far as the state of women's
international human rights today. More than anything else, it highlights the
fact that women worldwide, regardless of their country of origin, their race,
their class and other distinctions, have much in common and much to gain
from uniting globally and fighting for their rights, and for an end to the
violations that they all have in common.
Eradicating violence against women is challenging because it
involves altering attitudes. Getting laws passed, as difficult as that is, is
relatively easy compared to the task of changing societal norms and

attitudes. This requires enormous education efforts on behalf of everyone
committed to ending violence against women. As the Commission on the
Status of Women has written, "[T]o recognize that the elimination of
violence against women is essential to the achievement of equality for
women is a requirement for the full respect of human rights" (Tomasevski,
1993, p.94).

Where to go from here?
The part the women's human rights movement has played, not just in
fighting for women's human rights to be included on the human rights agenda,
but by doing so in a way that has and continues to transform the agenda and
the fundamental nature of international human rights discourse, is remarkable.
Few movements have made so large an impact in so short a time as the
women's human rights movement... The movement's emergence and
growth over the past decade have, to a large extent, also transformed
the way human rights issues are understood and investigated, both by
intergovernmental bodies and by non governmental human rights
organizations. The result has been to turn the spotlight on and to
place at the center of the social and political debates at the United
Nations and between governments the role that human rights
violations play in maintaining the subordinate position of women.
(Human Rights Watch, 1995, p. xiii)
Another amazing phenomena of the women's human rights movement
is its diversity. Women from around the world have many differences, and yet
through the global movement they work together on a united front, maybe
because "Patriarchy and the devaluing of women, although manifested
differently with different societies, are almost universal" (Charlesworth, 1994,
p.62). Dorothy Thomas (1995, p.356) believes this makes the women's human
rights movement somewhat unique:

...Unlike many other social movements in the world today the
women's human rights movement is inherently diverse, created and led
by women of many different cultures, countries, regions, ages, races,
classes, and sexual orientations. Its vitality, and ultimately its power,
lie in its capacity to affirm this distinctive variety and still find ways for
women to connect with one another in order to make fundamental
changes in their lives an the lives of other women.
The movement's ability to stay united despite all its diversity means it
has a great deal to offer the rest of the human rights movement. The women's
human rights movement has a role to play in bridging the gap between the
universalists and the culturalists. The movement has demonstrated that it is
possible to focus on universal goals while at the same time integrating cultural
differences. Thomas (1995, p.358) has written that "The fundamental
challenge for the movement for women's human rights is that it not become a
reformist project: its recipe should not read, 'Add women and stir,' but, 'Add
women and alter'."
In addition to discussing theory, it is also important to offer practical
suggestions which allow women to turn their thoughts and goals into action.
Throughout this paper suggestions of possible changes have been made;
allowing CEDAW to take individual complaints is one that was suggested.
The following suggestions represent some other ideas of the direction the
movement might take from here. This reflects just a few suggestions and is by
no means conclusive.
The 1995 Human Rights Watch (1995, p. xiii) report notes:

Clearly the international women's human rights movement has raised
the visibility of abuses against women, and the international community
has made welcome statements supporting women's human rights. But
the gap between government rhetoric and reality is vast. The challenge
is now is to ensure that governments that should be combating
violations of women's rights do not get credit for deploring abuse when
they do nothing to stop it.
One way to work towards this goal is for women's groups to spend
more time documenting abuses, publicizing them and pressuring the
international community to condemn violators of human rights. The problem
in part is the lack of documentation of women's human rights abuses as
compared with other human rights violations. As Human Rights Watch (1995,
p. xvi) notes this reinforces governmental silence because:
Without concrete data, governments have been able to deny the fact of
and their responsibility for gender-based abuse. Where human rights
violations against women remain underdocumented and unverified,
governments pay no political or economic price for refusing to
acknowledge the problem and their obligation to prevent and remedy
Women's human rights groups, human rights groups and women's
groups all need to work together to collect data which can be used as hard
evidence to present to governments and international bodies. This way, the
violations will be undeniable and far more visible, and hopefully this will lead to
governments being forced to improve the situation of women in their countries.
Highlighting violations in as visible manner as possible is crucial because, as
Tomasevski (1993, p. 128) points out "...[SJilence is the best friend of

violations as long as violations are not exposed and opposed they continue
Working at the international level is crucial in many ways, not least
because when trying to protect rights domestically, women are dependent upon
the laws of that country to aid them and the willingness of the government to
enforce them. Sadly this is often lacking. However, by using the international
human rights system they can gain protection and then use that as a lever by
which to push the hand of their individual governments. One of the challenges
of the global women's human rights movement is, in the words of one activist,
"To insist that women's human rights be continually integrated into all official
programs, legislation, and discourse related to human rights." (Human Rights
Watch, 1995, p. xx)
One recommendation of Human Rights Watch (1995, p. xxi) is that:
...governments should integrate considerations of women's human
rights into bilateral and multilateral foreign policy. To this end,
governments should systematically use all available leverage to combat
violations of women's rights, including bilateral, diplomatic, trade, and
military relations; their voice and vote at international and regional
financial institutions; and the stigma of public condemnation of abusive
Legal reforms are clearly a valuable and necessary start, but what really
needs to occur alongside legal reforms is a fundamental change in attitudes,
and legislation can only go so far in achieving this. Women's groups and
human rights groups can play a big role in helping to bring about changes in

attitudes and they can encourage governments to do the same by promoting
education and training programs in schools and among police and law
enforcement personnel. A combination of education around the issues of
women's human rights and a grounding in the legal rights women have and
ensuring these rights are enforced is crucial. Women themselves also need
educating so they are aware of the rights they have information is power.
Only too often they are not sure what resources are available to assist them,
making the rights largely irrelevant. This is clearly demonstrated in the South
Africa case study.
For Tomasevski (1993), one of the key areas of focus for the future is
the promoting and ensuring of the rights of girl children. There needs to be
more research and investigations into the status of the girl child and these
studies can be used to formulate policies to deal with the discrimination they
face: being aborted on the grounds of their sex, not being given the same
quality and amount of food as their male counterparts and not having the same
access to education as their brothers. This is to name but a few ways in which
girl children experience discrimination.
Women's groups must continue to push governments to ratify
international human rights treaties if they have not done so, and if they have,
ensure they enforce them. Pressure should be put on governments to withdraw
any reservations they attached when they signed a treaty and to follow through

on commitments made: handing reports into CEDAW when they are due for
Finally, women should analyze the efforts made to date in their name in
the international arena and consider whether the international community is
dealing with the issues that face them and is meeting their needs. This is where
grassroots activism is vital. Women must continue to organize locally,
nationally, regionally and internationally. Strength and success at the
international level is dependent upon the work that is done at the grassroots
level and grassroots activism should not be overlooked simply because it is on
a smaller scale. As Tomasevski (1993, p. 128) has observed, "Human rights
and women's organizations realized long ago that human rights are too
important to be left to governments." Suarez Toro (1995, p. 193) suggests that
"Women working at local and international levels must reach out to each other
so that the experiences, discoveries, and agendas of one group can inform and
influence the work of the other." Addressing the issue of the challenges facing
women working to improve their human rights, Toro (1995, p.194) writes:
The challenge for advocates of women's human rights remains: to
contribute to the empowerment of women in everyday life; to make a
tangible difference in women's lives by implementing the kinds of
change they themselves choose; and to hold the United Nations and
individual governments accountable for the needs and women in their
own very diverse communities and in the global governance. That
challenge must be met at every level and in every possible venue.
The link between human rights and women's everyday lives is a very
important one. Often human rights are seen as remote and as applying to other

people in other countries. Issues such as domestic violence or women's
unequal status in the workplace which affect women's everyday lives are not
seen as human rights issues, but women's issues which are not viewed as being
as important. Women's human rights groups need to keep working to ensure
that this view is challenged and people view women's rights as human rights.

December 10, 1948 United Nations adopts the Universal Declaration of
Human Rights
1975-1985 designated by the UN as the Decade of the Women. 3 major
events took place during this period:
1975: Mexico City Conference
1980 Copenhagen Conference
1985 Nairobi Conference
December 13, 1979 United Nations ratifies the Convention on the Elimination
of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. This has since been ratified by
133 states. CEDAW Committee on Elimination of Discrimination Against
Women was established under the Convention to monitor states compliance to
the Convention treaty.
1993 UN World Conference on Human Rights (Vienna)
December 1993, United Nations adopted the Draft Declaration on the
Elimination of Violence Against Women. Drafted by the Commission on the
Status of Women.
March 1994, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights appointed a
UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women.
1995 UN Fourth World Conference on Women (Beijing)

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260 1670 1668 1776 140
156 1672 556 1778 74
783 1674 357 1780 148
522 1676 660 1782 204
1570 1678 84 1784 891
660 1680 99 1786 24
60 1682 820 1788 1786
738 1684 120 1790 596
526 1686 84 1792 198
40 1688 24 1794 810
791 1690 562 1796 716
316 1692 198 1798 598
506 1694 1692 1800 48
678 1696 28 1802 25
252 1698 848 1804 50
522 1700 566 1806 684
140 1702 162 1808 276
532 1704 780 1810 198
60 1706 20 1812 362
400 1708 284 1814 252
228 1710 244 1816 220
212 1712 812 1818 429
803 1714 114 1820 424
201 1716 588 1822 606
534 1718 200 1824 911
52 1720 570 1826 180
72 1722 215 1828 84
210 1724 574 1830 290
1618 1726 220 1832 305
1620 1728 260 1834 276
540 1730 36 1836 732
300 1732 144 1838 830
542 1734 1732 1840 612
180 1736 692 1842 393

144 1950 1948 2056 68
60 1952 975 2058 440
923 1954 30 2060 140
602 1956 88 2062 228
154 1958 306 2064 1031
72 1960 652 2066 348
156 1962 468 2068 156
618 1964 60 2070 2068
780 1966 260 2072 36
1860 1968 210 2074 230
594 1970 890 2076 820
372 1972 18 2078 330
1866 1974 1972 2080 90
66 1976 780 2082 1040
935 1978 658 2084 2082
936 1980 1978 2086 276
500 1982 282 2088 1043
1876 1984 660 2090 29
939 1986 44 2092 40
90 1988 1986 2094 132
804 1990 24 2096 836
84 1992 180 2098 174
72 1994 996 2100 2098
472 1996 36 2102 190
60 1998 1996 2104 700
90 2000 333 2106 420
756 2002 308 2108 42
135 2004 286 2110 36
210 2006 200 2112 1055
1900 2008 222 2114 44
860 2010 420 2116 276
28 2012 402 2118 252
1906 2014 60 2120 324
902 2016 60 2122 300
84 2018 336 2124 480
239 2020 48 2126 200
764 2022 322 2128 708
630 2024 408 2130 532
900 2026 540 2132 2130
56 2028 2026 2134 234
64 2030 2028 2136 60
60 2032 676 2138 1068
460 2034 954 2140 110
214 2036 180 2142 2140
1930 2038 48 2144 51
644 2040 1019 2146 60
84 2042 156 2148 252
444 2044 678 2150 102
276 2046 204 2152 714
646 2048 11 2154 1076
924 2050 22 2156 172
388 2052 876 2158 718
290 2054 2052 2160 56

1080 2268 2266 2374 84
102 2270 2268 2376 900
72 2272 756 2378 1188
980 2274 568 2380 60
24 2276 60 2382 476
996 2278 330 2384 397
260 2280 364 2386 156
140 2282 190 2388 30
465 2284 380 2390 2388
726 2286 76 2392 796
242 2288 381 2394 598
1044 2290 36 2396 956
396 2292 1092 2398 184
1458 2294 2292 2400 1199
990 2296 72 2402 1029
156 229.8 1148 2404 198
56 2300 990 2406 36
292 2302 348 2408 1148
2028 2304 483 2410 90
244 2306 460 2412 482
35 2308 384 2414 126
734 2310 2308 2416 132
84 2312 1155 2418 1208
1103 2314 48 2420 580
1081 2316 924 2422 804
330 2318 30 2424 1211
2212 2320 772 2426 240
884 2322 210 2428 404
246 2324 1100 2430 1038
948 2326 20 2432 120
2220 2328 1068 2434 270
36 2330 136 2436 972
220 2332 36 2438 2436
520 2334 2332 2440 270
742 2336 932 2442 305
528 2338 180 2444 348
420 2340 2338 2446 324
148 2342 780 2448 1223
2236 2344 70 2450 195
1119 2346 132 2452 126
738 2348 782 2454 370
2242 2350 756 2456 980
224 2352 47 2458 36
318 2354 180 2460 2458
516 2356 52 2462 1166
750 2358 2356 2464 820
750 2360 21 2466 56
20 2362 786 2468 2466
180 2364 552 2470 822
150 2366 140 2472 264
72 2368 786 2474 618
45 2370 561 2476 60
60 2372 2370 2478 2476

396 2586 460 2692 132
826 2588 396 2694 2692
1140 2590 862 2696 420
420 2592 1295 2698 140
828 2594 81 2700 2698
1170 2596 172 2702 36
1196 2598 1092 2704 104
276 2600 308 2706 540
332 2602 408 2708 2706
1130 2604 612 2710 42
168 2606 260 2712 1355
60 2608 390 2714 1356
1251 2610 1304 2716 180
332 2612 372 2718 180
396 2614 132 2720 1359
96 2616 1044 2722 906
270 2618 1308 2724 1164
537 2620 144 2726 180
1004 2622 2620 2728 900
838 2624 420 2730 1364
380 2626 300 2732 26
1260 2628 1260 2734 182
812 2630 1190 2736 1092
100 2632 876 2738 264
342 2634 1316 2740 410
210 2636 40 2742 2740
2530 2638 876 2744 420
296 2640 84 2746 60
156 2642 414 2748 660
406 2644 no 2750 916
2538 2646 1012 2752 390
330 2648 1323 2754 1376
1271 2650 882 2756 252
508 2652 120 2758 306
282 2654 378 2760 55
2548 2656 348 2762 50
1275 2658 166 2764 102
396 2660 2658 2766 156
36 2662 886 2768 461
2556 2664 1331 2770 420
852 2666 60 2772 648
588 2668 42 2774 1334
290 2670 104 2776 180
36 2672 445 2778 1388
120 2674 810 2780 132
183 2676 1060 2782 306
428 2678 2676 2784 110
410 2680 414 2786 556
1020 2682 573 2788 464
858 2684 2682 2790 2788
2578 2686 356 2792 465
308 2688 79 2794 126
60 2690 224 2796 84

2796 2904 1451
930 2906 492
1400 2908 72
2802 2910 2908
40 2912 140
600 2914 194
2756 2916 260
234 2918 972
336 2920 138
1124 2922 77
156 2924 468
2818 2926 60
60 2928 1463
940 2930 700
140 2932 488
80 2934 1254
220 2936 1172
1332 2938 110
118 2940 2938
108 2942 344
2836 2944 36
664 2946 180
946 2948 420
2842 2950 982
284 2952 1356
36 2954 492
180 2956 196
2850 2958 2956
948 2960 1340
228 2962 138
102 2964 2962
68 2966 148
2860 2968 154
204 2970 371
380 2972 110
1380 2974 990
90 2976 120
420 2978 228
312 2980 30
1100 2982 270
204 2984 468
1439 2986 396
462 2988 1428
310 2990 420
144 2992 332
1443 2994 180
954 2996 1196
1218 2998 108
1310 3000 1499