[Human Rights of Women: National & International Perspectives]

Article excerpt

In recent years the rights of women have received special attention in discourses dealing with human rights internationally. The notion of human rights as proclaimed by the UN Declaration of Human Rights (1948) implies that all human beings, irrespective of gender, class, race, religion, and culture, are equal. In practice, however, national laws in many countries as well as international human rights laws have androcentric world views. Human Rights of Women: National and International Perspectives presents a feminist critique of this world view and constitutes a definitive source book of diverse experiences women face cross-culturally in their quest to claim rights.

The 22 essays in this book were originally presented at the Women's International Human Rights meetings held at the University of Toronto from August 31 to September 2, 1992, and reflect the various experiences of its contributors, who are mostly members of the legal profession from Africa, Asia, Australia, the Americas and Europe. The book is aimed at providing multiple perspectives of women's human rights, promoting legal strategies to protect women's rights and making international human rights laws more effective for women. In her introduction, editor Rebecca J. Cook identifies three feminist approaches -- liberal feminism, cultural feminism, and radical feminism -- which recharacterize women's human rights and take into account specific socio-cultural contexts. Most of the essays, however, are slanted towards a liberal feminist approach. Cook also raises a number of critical issues in rights discourse, including various implications for women in the North and the South and for the public/private dichotomy. Like many contributors in the volume, Cook contends that it is the state that should provide effective protection against violation of women's human rights, irrespective of public/private contexts.

The book is divided into five parts. Part I provides a broad overview of the content, based on the general issues addressed and consensus reached at the meetings. The essays in Part II entitled "Challenges" raise a number of questions that challenge rights discourse in many societies. For example, Radhika Coomaraswamy, citing a number of well publicized case studies in South Asia, raises a fundamental feminist issue -- how "ethnic identity" and "cultural practices" violate women's fundamental human rights, such as the right to live in dignity. In Part III, entitled "International and Regional Approaches," Abdullahi An-Na'im points out that in some countries, the source of rights discourse is religion and women's organizations are working within the established religious framework. This leads to another key question: do feminists need to recognize epistemological, cultural, ethnic, and regional differences to deal with women's fundamental human rights? …