Abstract: Despite recent moves by Congress to ratify international treaties that protect women's human rights globally, little consideration has been given to the impact of such treaties in the U.S. Not only government agencies, but women's advocacy groups, human rights organizations and even academic feminists tend to define women's human rights abuses as occurring abroad, and not in the U.S. This essay addresses reasons why domestic advocacy groups have failed to recognize the significance of addressing women's concerns in the U.S. from the perspective of women's human rights, and, more importantly, why it is vital that they do so.
In the aftermath of September 11, 2001, the attention of the country and the world turned to efforts by the U.S. to pursue and destroy al-Queda and topple its supporter, the Taliban regime controlling most of Afghanistan. As part of its campaign to generate domestic and international support for its military actions in Afghanistan, the administration used references to the harsh treatment of women by the Taliban. Extensive media coverage and remarks by the President and First Lady outlined how the Taliban had effectively undermined women's human rights by banning them from political organizations and the public sphere and subjecting them to torture and violence for such simple violations as not being fully veiled or for going to work or to school. (1) The administration's statements about the Taliban's brutality towards women brought attention to the worldwide movement to link women's rights with human rights, a movement that largely began as a way to provide a framework for responding to the global phenomenon of violence against women.
The movement to bring international attention to the unique rights violations endured by women gained momentum during the last decade, and "women's rights are human rights" became one of the key encompassing themes of the Platform for Action that emerged from the Beijing Women's conference in 1995 (see "Bejing Platform for Action," 1996). But, over the past two decades, the United States has made little effort to join the United Nations in supporting international treaties and agreements that were established specifically to extend the protections of existing human rights documents to women. Ironically, as of 2002, the United States, along with Afghanistan and Sao Tome and Principe, is one of three countries to have signed, but not yet ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), (2) a Treaty that was recently signed by Saudi Arabia (Human Rights Watch, 2001). According to Zoelle (2000), CEDAW is "the first international treaty to provide comprehensive protection of women's human rights" (p. 2). CEDAW defines discrimination against women as
... any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field (Convention on the elimination, 1979)
The treaty recognizes that existing human rights documents fail to account for the unique abuses faced by women and reflects the growing international movement to place the protection of women's human rights at the forefront of both human rights discourse and feminist discourse in the international public sphere. The heightened awareness of the ways that the women of Afghanistan suffered under the Taliban have reinvigorated efforts for the United States to ratify the treaty, which had been signed by Jimmy Carter in 1980, but had languished in the Senate whose approval is needed for ratification. In the Fall of 2001, President Bush indicated that he saw no reason to block renewed efforts to ratify the treaty, and on July 30, 2002, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted to send the Treaty to the Senate Floor for Ratification (Davis, 2002). It is a step forward, but approval is not guaranteed.
The move to finally ratify CEDAW is a profound step forward for the United States. However, it is troubling that the proponents of the Treaty frame its ratification as a largely symbolic move that would help women in countries abroad and have little or no effect at home. Further, it may be a move specifically aimed at building additional support for continuing the War on Terrorism abroad. As Senators Joseph Biden and Barbara Boxer write in their editorial to the San Francisco Chronicle, "our Constitution and gender discrimination laws already comply with the treaty requirements" (Biden & Boxer, 2002, p.1). This reflects a continuing trend by the U.S. government to view human rights abuses as existing "out there" in the developing world and not at home. (3)
In contrast to Biden and Boxer's claim, there is evidence to suggest otherwise. CEDAW and other efforts to extend human rights to include women can and should have an impact on government and social agencies within the United States. For example, according to a recent study by the National Women's Law Center, high school girls continue to be prevented from taking vocational classes 30 years after Title IX barred discrimination in education (Davis, 2002). And the adoption of CEDAW by San Francisco, one of the few cities in the United States to do so, has resulted in changes in some of the ways social services are delivered to make them more equitable (Vesely, 2002). These examples indicate, as Charlotte Bunch (1990, 1995, 2000) argues, that the linking of women's rights with human rights is potentially transformative of both human rights discourse and women's rights discourse, and offers the ability to secure equal rights and improve the status of women and girls everywhere.
But, what we consider even more troubling than the federal government's use of human rights discourse only within the context of international policy and international relations, blatantly refusing to acknowledge its domestic implications, is that human rights groups as well as feminist groups in the U.S. seem to have avoided addressing the issue of women's rights as human rights within the U.S. Many (though not all) of these women's and human rights advocacy groups save human rights terminology again for the abuses women living in other countries face. In other words, domestic advocacy groups have failed to bring the global home. Without an acknowledgement of the ways that the United States can benefit from a self-analysis in light of CEDAW, the movement to ratify the Convention is in danger of stagnating, or if its proponents do succeed in gaining Senate approval and the President signs the Treaty, its symbolic power may be negligible. Without recognizing the implicit connections between human rights violations against women abroad and those (perhaps) subtler, though equally debilitating, violations at home, feminists, human rights activists and politicians risk framing the issue from a position of arrogance and misinformation. Lacking a perspective of women's human rights violations in the U.S. risks seeing women abroad as "patriarchal prisoners" or "patriarchal dupes" rather than as women with agency (like women in the U.S.) struggling to define themselves and gain empowerment in their own cultures (Narayan, 1999).
In the first section of the paper, we explain why the linking of human rights discourse and women's rights discourse is so vital to the development of both domestic and international feminism. In the second section, we offer an analysis of some recent government actions and the websites of several major women's rights and human rights organizations as illustrations of how the linking of women's rights with human rights has not yet established a foothold in the discourse of women's advocacy in the U.S. This is not a systematic analysis but an overview of some key indicators that the global has not yet been brought home. In the third section, we suggest some reasons for this apparent reticence to fully develop a framework for understanding women's rights as human rights both in U.S. policy making and by feminist advocacy groups and what models we might use to shift discourse and thinking in that direction.
Linking Human Rights and Women's Rights as a Transformative Strategy
The move to discuss women's rights in terms of human rights was an intentional one, made in the hopes of mainstreaming feminism and of avoiding the "growing backlash against feminism from conservative forces" (McFarland, 1998, p. 52). Although some have noted a range of weaknesses with this framework (e.g. McFarland, 1998), we take the position of Bunch and others that women's rights as human rights discourse does indeed offer a transformative potential, and provides a framework for thinking and acting from a more global perspective about women's rights. (4) In fact, one of the goals of the movement to link women's rights with human rights is to spur the development of a global feminism in the U.S. As Charlotte Bunch (1987) explains, global feminism can be defined as that which "requires that we learn from each other and develop a global perspective," thereby expanding "our understandings of feminism" and making "changes in our work, as we respond to the ideas and challenges of women with different perspectives" (p. 192). Therefore, applying the women's rights as human rights discourse to issues affecting women in the U.S. is vital in both building new connections and recognizing existing connections to abuses and inequalities experienced by women abroad and at home. Further, seeing women as fully human continues to be a radical concept; and as Bunch & Frost (2000) points out, it has "profound transformative potential" in many parts of the world.
Using human rights as a framing device for women's rights, feminists sought to build "a movement based on diversity within unity," to "make women's voices heard outside of the movement" (McFarland, 1998, pp. 52-54). Further, activists believed that combining human rights with women's rights provides "an 'ethical basis' for women to be at the global policy-making table," and "an effective 'umbrella' under which women can unite to fight the forces of backlash." (McFarland, 1998, pp. 52-54). And indeed, the advocacy of women's rights as human rights clearly has made an impact by providing a forum for women's voices and a vocabulary with which to articulate concerns at international conferences. The women's rights as human rights advocates first established themselves as a visible and dynamic international movement at the 1993 U.N. World Conference on Human Rights held in Vienna where they won recognition that women's rights are human rights (Human Rights Watch, 1999). When Women's Rights are Human Rights became the key encompassing issue in the Platform for Action that came out of the 1995 U.N. World Conference on Women held in Beijing it "... firmly established that women's rights are human rights and that meeting women's needs is central to every nation's progress in economic development and democracy" (Bunch, 2001, p. 133). The Platform for action invoked "the substance and the language of human rights in every section" (Timothy & Freeman, 2000).
However, despite the significant gains made in terms of the recognition of women's rights as human rights worldwide, it became evident at the Beijing + 5 conference, held in New York City in 2000, that an organized backlash had been mounting. The backlash had combined fundamentalist religious groups in the U.S. and abroad with nationalist forces engaged in ethnic conflicts and right-wing Republicans who have united "to oppose women's growing strength and advances towards self-determination at the global level" (Bunch, 2001, p. 135). Given this climate, when advances seem to be crumbling, it is more important than ever to bring the global home to the U.S.
The Beijing + 5 assessment of progress since the U.N. Beijing conference in 1995 indicated that worldwide progress in furthering women's rights has been slow, and in some instances, governments have been regressive in their policies (International Women's Tribune Center, 2000). For instance, as then U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright pointed out during the Beijing +5 conference, trafficking in women continues to be a "growing criminal enterprise" that "has gone global" because not enough effort has been made to curb this practice (Cole, 2000, p. 1). Further, the trafficking includes approximately 40-50,000 women and children who enter the U.S. annually as sweatshop workers and even slave laborers (Cole, 2000, p. 2). Now, more than ever, women's organizations in the U.S., could benefit from using the women's rights as human rights perspective as they look at the world, and at themselves. Unfortunately, it appears they have not and the following section points to indicators that suggest that this perspective has not been applied systematically to both look at the world and at issues in the U.S. to help to develop a clearer perspective on advocacy at home and abroad.
The Absence of Women's Rights as Human Rights in the U.S.
In this section of the essay we outline general indicators that the framework of women's rights as human rights has not been integrated into the domestic discourse of the U.S. The discussion of federal policies and organizational web pages is not systematic or meant to be exhaustive, but provides suggestions of where a shift to the women's rights as human rights framework needs to take place. These indicators are evident both in the way the national government has not ratified various international documents, including CEDAW, and in the way domestic advocacy groups approach (or avoid) the issue of women's rights as human rights. Quite simply, there seems to have been minimal effort on the part of the U.S. national government to create strategies for complying with the Beijing Platform for Action. Furthermore, domestic advocacy groups have not brought the global home, retaining separate categories for women abroad and women in the U.S. And, the groups of women most at risk from this lack of re-conceptualizing domestic laws and social services in light of "women's rights are human rights" are predominantly poor and immigrant women.
Because the move to link women's rights with human rights has focused attention on the distinct types of violence women are subjected to in the "private sphere," it is important to look more closely at how efforts have been made in the U.S. to respond to issues of violence against women and whether they are linked with the larger concept of human rights. The key example of a U.S. response is the "Violence Against Women Act," passed by President Clinton in his 1994 Crime Act, and the establishment of a national office against domestic violence. The Crime Act has enabled the passage of legislation such as the "anti-stalking law" (Making good on anti-violence vow, 1995, March 23). However, while the act has produced results that have provided some legal mechanisms to prevent violence against women, the link between domestic violence and human rights violations has not been made, as is evident in the Office on Violence Against Women website (www.ojp.usdoj.gov/vawo). It does not use human rights terminology to help make a larger cultural link to domestic violence. In fact, the only time human rights is used on the website is to refer to trafficking in women, and trafficking is assumed to occur elsewhere, outside of the United States. As indicated earlier in discussing the Beijing +5 review process, the U.S. does play a role in trafficking in terms of the significant numbers of women and children who enter the U.S. annually as sweatshop workers and even slave laborers (Cole, 2000, p. 2).
Non-governmental women's organizations do not seem much better at applying the human rights framework. Aside from women's groups that focus on legal issues, in particular asylum law and advocacy for reproductive freedom in other parts of the globe (such as the Center for Reproductive Law and Policy), our argument is that domestic women's groups do not seem to use human rights rhetoric in their publications, or if they do, they limit its scope to political and civil rights, ignoring the importance of economic, social, and cultural rights. (5)
Our argument is based on our review of key women's and human rights activism websites. After using the search terms of "women's rights" and "human rights" in a number of web search engines, we reviewed the content of the web pages identified by the search. The websites can be divided into three categories: websites associated with domestic women's advocacy organizations such as the National Organization of Women (NOW) and the Feminist Majority Foundation; websites associated with domestic human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch; and websites associated with international coalitions of Women's Organizations (including U.S. women's groups focusing on asylum laws and reproductive advocacy) and the United Nations. The result of our analysis is that most prominent U.S. organizations fighting for women's rights tend not to frame women's rights as human rights or, if they do, they do so on a very superficial level. The only sites that effectively integrate the women's human rights rhetoric are primarily in the third category, associated with international coalitions of women's organizations, such as Women's Human Rights Net and the United Nations. Additionally, most of the activist organizations we found that fight for human rights tend not to infuse the concept of women's rights throughout their advocacy. Although prominent national organizations are not necessarily the most innovative in domestic activism, they are influential in terms of introducing perspectives into the public repertoire and they are most likely to directly influence the content of political discussions of women's issues (Ryan, 1992).
As we scanned the sites, four themes seemed to emerge, in terms of how women's rights as human rights are integrated (or not) into the vocabulary repertoire of the activist organizations. Since we have not conducted a longitudinal analysis of the organizations' rhetoric, we merely offer these themes as organizational tools to begin a discussion for understanding the ways in which women's rights as human rights seem to be currently discussed (or not) by contemporary U.S. activist organizations. All sites reviewed are listed in the sections that follow. As the reader may note, these themes have also been found by various feminist critics to discuss the inclusion (or exclusion) of women from various cannons in literature, art, history, etc.:
1) absence, meaning that human rights organizations ignore women's rights issues or that women's organizations ignore human rights issues;
2) externalization, meaning that if violations of women's human rights are recognized, they are recognized only if they take place outside of the U.S.;
3) tokenization, meaning that mention of women's human rights is made but does not represent a transformation in the organization's approach to issues; and
4) infusion, meaning that a deep recognition of the inextricability of women's rights from human rights, and of the centrality of human rights to women's rights, is present.
Absence. Absence indicates the failure to even recognize the concept that women's rights are human rights, and can be represented not only by the failure to pass conventions such as CEDAW, but also by the failure to explore the implications of global policies on women, such as the way U.S. sanctions against Iraq tend to disproportionately impact the welfare of women and children (UNICEF, 1998, April 30). Absence is a difficult theme to provide examples for, since we are trying to provide an example of that which is not there. But, a few websites allow us to identify locations where one might think women's rights as human rights would appear, but do not. Absence is present in the advocacy of groups such as National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL, n.d.) who casts its appeals in terms of how the "right to choose" is "essential to American freedom" (emphasis added), not as a basic human right. In fact, the attack on abortion is cast as "an American right at risk" (www.naral.org/choice/risk/index.html). General appeals to human rights are not made, nor is more specific reference to international treaties, such as CEDAW, that contain provisions concerning women's reproductive freedoms.
Although organizations that have an international focus tend to be more than willing to link women's issues with human rights, domestic organizations do not seem to, even if the organization has an international focus. For example, the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (n.d.) does not use the language of human rights but, instead, describes itself as working "to achieve through peaceful means world disarmament, full rights for women, racial and economic justice, an end to all forms of violence, and to establish those political, social, and psychological conditions which can assure peace, freedom, and justice for all" (www.wilpf.org/history/about1.htm). Even though the ends of the organization are consistent with the aims of CEDAW and women's rights as human rights, the group does not make the connection that would enable the very coalition building that global feminism envisions.
Externalization. Some organizations do recognize the intersection between women's rights and human rights. However, even in cases where the connection is recognized, it is not internalized or brought home. For example, the only time the National Organization of Women (NOW, n.d.) mentions human rights is either in terms of its "going global" campaign or its efforts to pass CEDAW (www.now.org/issues/global/). For example, it notes "Women Around the Globe Face Threats to Human Rights" (www.now.org/nnt/fall-98/global.html, emphasis added). In other words, the only time human rights rhetoric is present is when the issue has global ramifications. Of course, this ignores CEDAW's tremendous domestic implications.
The Feminist Majority Foundation (n.d.), although leading the way in drawing attention to the abuses of women in Afghanistan, also tends not to embrace a human rights perspective, unless discussing abuses of women that occur in countries other than the U.S. Although the group sees itself as part of "a global movement dedicated to equality and seeks to eliminate discrimination of all kinds--sex, race, sexual orientation, age, religion, national origin, disability, and marital status" (http://www.feminist.org/welcome/index.html), the only time human rights appears as a phrase is in relation to Afghan women fleeing the Taliban (www.feminist.org/afhan & email@example.com).
Tokenization. Occasionally, however, one does find mention of women's rights as human rights in reference to domestic issues. However, as feminists are well aware, a passing reference does not a paradigm shift make. In other words, simply saying "human rights," does not mean you have adopted a transformative paradigm. Instead, a token effort for inclusion is offered in order to appease. Amnesty International is one such case. It has a separate page on "Women's Human Rights" (http://www.amnesty-usa.org/women/) that explains, "The Women's Human Rights Program focuses on promoting women's human rights within Amnesty's mandate. It seeks to stop the particular violations of civil and political rights that women and girls experience." What is most telling in this description is that the narrow focus of U.S. understandings of human rights, as "civil and political," dominates this page. The page focuses not on cultural, systemic abuses of women but, instead, on government sponsored torture and imprisonment.
Interestingly, other Amnesty International documents do paint a picture that recognizes that human rights can be violated by more than just governments. For example, in the document It's about time/ Human rights are women's rights, Amnesty International, U.S.A. (1995) recognizes that "responsibility for abuses against women goes beyond governments" (p. 4), but it also proceeds to explain that its "mandate for action is directed at governments and armed political groups, not private individuals and organizations and therefore does not include such abuses" (p. 12). It also notes: "It is the task of the international human rights movement to ensure that all the human rights of women--civil and political, as well as social, economic and cultural-are upheld" (p. 8). However, this does not mean that Amnesty International has embraced the transformative concept of women's rights as human rights outlined by Bunch (1990), wherein "barriers be broken down between public and private, state and governmental responsibilities" (p. 497).
Infusion. If the global movement of women's rights as human rights is to have any success, the goal toward which we should be working is infusion, where the paradigm shift of conceiving women's rights as human rights is integrated throughout all our thinking, whether it be in reference to domestic concerns, critiques of foreign policy, or development of our advocacy. Fortunately, an example of this exists. Human Rights Watch (1999) does address women's rights as human rights. This site employs a broader understanding of women's human rights (http://www.hrw.org). It discusses sexual violence, state-sponsored or not, as well as general violence and discrimination against women. In terms of all the organizations analyzed, this is perhaps the only one that embraces Charlotte Bunch's concept of women rights as human rights.
Another site that connects women's rights to human rights emerged in the fall of 1999: the Women's Human Rights Net (http://www.whrnet.org). Human Rights Watch is one of the sponsors of the site as well as the U. N. and a coalition of international women's organizations including U.S. organizations focused on asylum law and reproductive policy as well as development issues (Women, Law and Development International and International Women's Human Rights Clinic are two supporters of whrnet). The purpose of the website is to provide information about international issues affecting women's human rights and to connect organizations around the globe working on these issues. However, its power to influence the U.S.'s view of its own activities is, as yet, unclear. The U.N. also created a web page specifically addressing women's rights as human rights in 1996 (http://www.unhchr.ch/women). In her welcoming statement on the web page, Mary Robinson, the high commissioner of human rights for the U.N. writes "there can be no human rights without women's rights and I am committed to ensuring that the United Nations remains the uncompromising guardian of women's human rights."
As indicated earlier, this overview of websites is not meant to be exhaustive, but what it does suggest is that domestic women's advocacy groups seem to separate women's rights issues in the United States from women's human rights issues abroad. Further, as the Amnesty International example shows, some organizations limit their focus to governments rather than addressing the wider social context and social, economic and cultural rights of women. Models of integration such as Women's Human Rights Net have not yet substantially altered this rhetorical stance of avoiding human rights discourse when presenting domestic issues affecting women or limiting its scope to government policies. The question then becomes why do domestic women's advocacy groups and some domestic human rights groups fall into separating human rights issues affecting women abroad from women's rights issues at home. Why is this human rights language absent or used sparingly and primarily to call attention to abuses faced by women abroad, particularly in developing nations and to abuses connected to governments and political groups? The reasons for this seeming reticence to link human rights and women's rights language more broadly by the government and feminist and human rights organizations are probably manifold, but in the following section we suggest a few possibilities. These include a focus on civil and political rights at the expense of social and cultural rights in the United States as well as a concern by feminists of falling into the trap of essentializing women.
Why Women's Rights as Human Rights Rhetoric Has Failed
The absence of human rights rhetoric in domestic activism is not that surprising. We have identified five possible reasons why this seems to be the case. First, both the U.S. domestic vocabulary repertoire in relation to human rights, as well as the continuing externalization of human rights concerns, contributes to a shallow understanding of the issues involved with women's rights as human rights. For example, in the formative U.N. document, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (adopted in 1948), the range of rights which compose the "inherent dignity" and "the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family" include "freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want" (International human rights instruments of the United Nations, 1948-1982, 1983, p. 5). The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (adopted in 1966) renames these basic freedoms as "civil and political rights [and] economic, social and cultural rights" (International human rights instruments of the United Nations, 1948-1982, 1983, p. 91).
Second, we suggest, as others have argued (see Zoelle, 2000), that the unique history of the U.S. as a country built on the predominant ideologies of public democracy, capitalism, and the family as personal, create a context in which the women's rights as human rights campaign is not understood or valued. Historically, the U.S. has been primarily concerned with civil and political rights, those things that can be protected through procedural equality (or legal means) (Randall, 2002), and have delegated the substantive concerns of economic, social and cultural rights to a secondary concern (e.g. Farha, 2000). In fact, communication scholar Diane Hope goes so far as to argue that a dissociating of American civil rights and natural human rights has resulted (Hope, 1985). Given that much of the women's rights as human rights campaign has focused more on economic, social and cultural rights than on civil rights, it makes sense that little of the campaign resonates within the U.S.
Furthermore, the cultural distinction between public and private has made invisible many of the abuses of women's human rights (Bunch & Frost, 2000). Because the U.S. operates with a narrow definition of human rights, which views human rights "as solely a matter of state violation of civil and political liberties" (Bunch, 1990, p. 488), it becomes difficult to recognize the systemic and cultural violations of women's human rights, such as forced pregnancy, sex selection, girlhood malnutrition, and the feminization of poverty, as well as discriminatory policies such as encouraging heterosexual marriage and traditional family structures as a way to alleviate poverty and crime in inner city neighborhoods (Bunch, 1990; Crooms, 2000). As indicated from this list, the women who suffer most from such a narrow perspective are women who fall below the poverty line.
A part of the U.S. perception that concerns basic physical safety as a human right that only exists outside the country may be a result of the fact that there have been no wars on U.S. soil in contemporary history. As indicated in the introduction, the recent Senate hearings on confirmation of CEDAW (with the tacit approval of the Bush administration) have focused on the importance of the U.S. signing in order to help women in other parts of the world. Senators' Joseph Biden and Barbara Boxer (2002) argue for ratification of the treaty because "the horrendous plight of women in Afghanistan under the Taliban reminds us that the battle for equal treatment for women is far from won." (p. 1) What the Senators do not seem to recognize is that CEDAW will help women in the U.S., too. To recognize there are human rights violations against women and children in the U.S. every day would be to reveal flaws in a country that bases its credibility and identity on democracy.
Third, even if political rights were the only focus, the low representation of women in Congress, with 13% in the Senate and 14% in the House (White House project, n.d.) and the conservative stance (Eisenstein, 2001) of the Bush administration (e.g., as evidenced by an anti-abortion choice stance) create a lack of adequate representation for women's concerns on the national level, which clearly impacts the way women's issues are dealt with or even acknowledged in public policy-making on both the domestic and international fronts. One of the U.N. indicators for progress on implementing the Beijing Platform for Action was at least a 30% share of seats for women in parliaments and legislative bodies (International Women's Tribune Center, 2000). The U.S. Congress clearly falls short of this goal. In addition, the continued conservative movement in the U. S. poses a formidable barrier to advancing women's rights as human rights because women's rights are still generally perceived as anti-family and anti-religion (Faludi, 1991; Howard and Tarrant, 1997). Already, conservative forces have been actively speaking out against approval of CEDAW using groundless arguments about the Treaty's impact on U.S. institutions similar to those mounted against the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s and 1980s. (6) For example, Phyllis Shlafly, one of the organizers of the assault on the ratification of the ERA in the 1970s is already claiming that ratification of CEDAW will result in national daycare centers and textbooks that conform to feminist ideology (Hoffman, 2002).
Fourth, Charlotte Bunch, a primary organizer of the Celebrate and Demand Women's Human Rights campaign, outlines other barriers due to sexist cultural norms. She argues that governments and human rights organizations present a number of excuses as to why women's rights cannot, and should not, be seen as human rights:
(1) sex discrimination is too trivial, or not as important, or will come after larger issues of survival that require more serious attention; (2) abuse of women, while regrettable, is a cultural, private, or individual issue and not a political matter requiring state action; (3) while appropriate for other action, women's rights are not human rights per se; or (4) when the abuse of women is recognized, it is considered inevitable or so pervasive that any consideration of it is futile or will overwhelm other human rights questions. (Bunch, 1990, p. 488)
Although Bunch argues that we need to transform the human rights concept from a women's perspective, her own assessment of the responses of governments and organizations highlights the rhetorical problems that transformation will face. The rhetorical problems Bunch outlines are ones current U.S. activists are failing to grapple with. For example, funding for international family planning and health programs has been severely cut because of the focus on abortion, reducing women's bodies to their reproductive capacities and ignoring the fact that such programs provide a wider range of vital health services for women and children around the world (see International Family Planning Cuts Undermine Human Rights, 1997).
And, fifth, academic Women's Studies and feminist theory, may be holding back progress due to the current focus on deconstruction (e.g. Anthias, 2002; Butler, 1992), and a related fear of constructing false universals (e.g. Maher & Tetreault, 2001; Richardson, Taylor, & Whittier, 2001). While these concerns are well founded, they have essentially bound the hands of the academic branch of feminist work. The focus on difference makes collective action seem impossible. It is difficult to argue for "women's" human rights when we are engaging in academic exercises that make us question the very category of what "woman" is. Contemporary academic practices may actually keep women from gathering strength through the sharing of oppressions, strengths and activist strategies (Duggan, 1998; Epstein, 1999; Gills, 1995; Squire, 1995).
From the 1980s on, a divergence has seemed to increasingly grow between global activists' focus on human rights and Western feminists' focus on postmodernist cultural context concerns (Okin, 1998), and the effect seems to be an even larger gulf between theory and practice. Okin (1998) points out that the academic focus on difference has: "... at times [been] carried to the extreme of asserting that no generalizations at all could or should be made about women, gender, mothering, or many other topics ..." (p. 43). At this same time, the international women's human rights community has been busy compiling comparative data and meeting across continents, finding that patterns of gender-based violence certainly did exist around the world (Bunch & Reilly, 1994). As Okin (1998) notes, one of the most significant innovations to come from the Platform for Action signed at the U. N. Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995 was the unprecedented rejection of "cultural" justifications for violating women's rights. Western feminists can learn from African women's non-governmental organizations who have consciously overlooked difference and established important coalitions across ethnic, religious, racial and other social divisions in order to build networks for peace and reconciliation in the face of fractionalism and civil war (Iripp, 2000).
Bringing the global home is a necessary perspective if we are to avoid what African American Studies Professor, Micere Githau Mugo (1997) terms the "external messiah syndrome," where feminists engage in "armchair activism" in which we decry the activities out in the world and perceive "the oppressed as helpless victims: objects who are totally devoid of agency" (p. 462). This also means we need to recognize the diversity of perspectives within feminism; we should not go global expecting everyone to be like us. Law professor Amede Obiora (1997) leaves us with an important caution: "Even if sincere, certain feminist strategies point up the hypocrisy inherent in professing high-sounding principles of global sisterhood and the politics of experience, while meting out a double standard that reinstates the very silencing and stigmatization of women which feminism was supposed to challenge" (p. 52).
Nor should we arrogantly operate as though human rights theory has nothing to offer us at home. As Iripp (2000) explains, Western feminists in emphasizing difference have also ended up theorizing difference in universalizing ways, and need to re-examine difference from a cross-cultural perspective in order to better understand its historical, cultural and political roots. We must attempt to include all women in our research and discussions and not shy away from studying other groups of women's experiences. To do so is not necessarily an attempt to speak for other women, but to speak with them and with a better understanding of ourselves.
Conclusions and Recommendations
Ultimately, the test of global feminism resides not in whether the U.S. exports feminism throughout the globe, but on whether we bring home the insights that a global perspective offers. Writing about "culturally challenging" practices, law professor Isabelle Gunning urges us to fight the tendencies of being arrogant perceivers. Instead, she argues, we should be world travelers. One characteristic of such travelers is that we would not only observe others, but also turn the same critical lens back upon ourselves. This is necessary both so that we do not obscure our own discriminatory practices, but also so we can begin "exploring similarities and interconnections across boundaries of nationality" (in James, 1998, p. 1037).
In this paper, we noted that the growing focus of the international women's activist movement, "Women's rights as human rights," has not become commonly used in related U.S. efforts. We and others, (e.g., Binion, 1995; Bunch, 1990) argue that if the campaign is to provide a more effective perceptual framework for the work of emancipating women here and around the world, it must also influence our work at home. The question we asked then, is why hasn't the campaign been well received here? To our knowledge, we are the first to ask this question. As outlined within this article, it seems government and nongovernmental organizations generally fail to use human rights language when discussing women's rights issues at home and part of the problem seems to be a false separation of issues affecting women in the U.S. and those affecting women abroad. What becomes clear is the need to remove the distinctions between public and private spheres, to understand boundaries as fluid particularly in the age of globalization, and to see that human rights violations against women abroad are not so different in kind from human rights violations against women in the U.S. The challenge for domestic women's organizations is to expand thinking beyond the limitations of civil and political rights and to infuse human rights language throughout their rhetoric in advocating progressive policies for women at home and abroad.
In the aftermath of September 11th and the acute helplessness felt by many, we propose that grassroots work addressing systemic violence is exactly what citizens in the U.S. need in order to feel we can all make a difference. This work may indeed be a primary means of recovery for a nation in mourning. Secondly, we propose that work to reduce cultural, systemic contributors to violence is essential to preventing the proliferation of terrorist acts and other forms of violence in the future. It is time to turn a global analysis on us and examine the ways in which the predominant US system contributes to the construction of global violence.
The adoption of CEDAW at city and state levels would help to assure this broadened perspective and follow-up actions. Feminist organizations must make their focus consistent with the language of human rights they profess to want (e.g. NOW, NARAL, Planned Parenthood, Feminist Majority). We need to call attention to the hypocrisy that when U.S. immigrant women get raped in their native countries it is more likely to be labeled a human rights crime, than if it happens in the U.S. where it is simply an individual crime (Anker, 2002). There needs to be accountability so that federally funded non-profit services organizations are using the language and policy of women's human rights. Western academic feminists have an opportunity to provide leadership in the global effort toward the emancipation of all women. But to do so, we must challenge ourselves to do work that is pragmatic and ethically accountable to global feminist movements. The women's human rights focus could do that. Actually, it will require a continued unbracketing [or de-essentializing] of what we mean by "women" in human rights discussions so that we not only include in our discussions of human rights women of developing countries, but white women as well as women of color in Western industrialized countries, too. The concept of "difference" remains an important theoretical and critical tool; however, we must be self-reflexive about our understanding and use of the concept.
In addition to needed governmental, non-governmental, and academic feminists' attention, we suggest that future efforts recognize the importance of also including the global marketplace in such a campaign. The infusion of women's rights as human rights discourse into policies and programs affecting women means also recognizing that the boundaries between government and corporations are not always distinct and the power of corporations to influence national and international policies is growing. (7) It is often private corporations rather than nations that have more impact on women's lives and the human rights abuses that take place, particularly, in Free Trade Zones where women work in factories to provide goods for the first world (Rana, 2000). For example, the proposed extension of the North American Free Trade Agreement into South America threatens to disproportionately impact women since 90 percent of workers in Free Trade Zones are women. This expanded agreement, titled the Free Trade Agreement of the America's (FTAA) will give trans-national corporations the right to sue local governments for loss of profits due to added costs of environmental regulations and labor protections. As a result, women may face poorer working conditions and environmentally damaged communities (Kruzynski, 2002).
Clearly a gendered analysis of domestic and global economy is needed and the transforming potential of the rhetoric of Women's Rights as Human Rights can only be realized if we expand the audience for this rhetoric to include multinational corporations and localized community institutions. Women's groups need to lobby the U.S. government and private corporations to sensitize themselves to women's rights as human rights issues, because their actions impact women's situations around the globe. As Angela E. V. King (2000), Assistant Secretary-General Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women at the U.N., explained, "The need to manage the globalization process to ensure that women do not bear the brunt of the impact of its negative effects is perhaps our primary challenge in the period beyond Beijing + 5 (p. 4)."
Ultimately, connecting women's rights to human rights can help to facilitate restructuring and rethinking on the part of governments including the U.S. government, the global marketplace, human rights organizations, women's organizations and academic organizations here and abroad. For both feminists academics and activists, working within a human rights paradigm helps to highlight the connections between women in an increasingly globalized economy and also call attention to the variety of ways difference matters and functions within various political, social and economic frameworks. As McFarland (1998) said, "By embracing the term human rights, feminists challenge the very conceptualization of human rights. The ultimate goal is to transform not only the human rights framework, but also the world itself" (p. 54).
(1) Two official statements were made by Bush, including his December 12, 2001, remarks on signing the Afghan Women and Children Relief Act of 2001. In 2002 Bush included longer commentary about Afghan women in four separate statements (Bush, G., 2001-2002).
(2) All but three of the countries that signed the convention have agreed to be bound by ratification, accession or succession; the countries that have not yet ratified the treaty are the United States (signed July 17, 1980), Afghanistan (signed August 14, 1980) and Sao Tome and Principe (signed October 31, 1995) (Lalwani, 2002, p. 742).
(3) For example, Colin Powell recently "unveiled the State Department's annual report on human rights. Not surprisingly, the report faults authoritarian regimes such as China, Iraq, and North Korea for imprisoning people without charge and for holding legal proceedings in secret. What it neglects to mention is that in the past year those two practices have also become widespread in the United States" (Gerstein, 2002, April 22, p. 22). The administration is more than willing to point the linger at others, forgetting that four other fingers are pointing back at us. A similar "not us" sort of move was typical of the reaction to Amnesty International's (Al) campaign launched in October 1998 focusing on human rights abuses in the United States. Representative Tom Lantos (D-Cal) "indicated that it was hardly the place of AI to look at human rights in this country, where rights are well known to be highly held and broadly observed" (Maran 1999, p. 49).
(4) According to McFarland (1998) these weaknesses include the lack of a structural analysis of how models of development impact women's position, a neglect of economic justice issues, a reliance on the false universals embedded within human rights law, and a lack of effectiveness of human rights law in general--and women's rights law in particular. (pp. 54-58)
(5) Diana G. Zoelle (2000) makes this argument in her book, Globalizing Concern for Women's Human Rights: The failure of the American Model. However, she does not analyze the organizations' discourse.
(6) For an overview of unsupportable arguments made on both sides of the ERA campaign, see Mansbridge (1984).
(7) The Bush administration's alleged links to Enron and other energy related businesses is one example of the connections between government and corporations and the power of corporations to influence policy. For an extended argument detailing the growing power of corporations see Korten (1995).
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Victoria Pruin DeFrancisco is Professor of Communication Studies at the U. of Northern Iowa. Her Ph.D. is from the U. of Illinois, Champaign/Urbana. Her research and teaching focus on interpersonal and intercultural communication with an emphasis on gender and feminist theory.
Margaret R. LaWare is an assistant professor in the English Dept. and the Program in Speech Communication at Iowa State U. Her scholarship concentrates on feminist rhetorical theory and criticism, gender and issues of war, peace and human rights, visual culture and public sphere theory.
Catherine H. (Cate) Palezewski is a Communication Studies Professor and the debate coach at the U. of Northern Iowa, where she also is an affiliate faculty in the Women's Studies Program. Her scholarship concentrates on feminisms and argument, as well as on the rhetoric of social protest.…