Women's International and Comparative Rights

By Marquez, Nikki | Stanford Journal of International Law, Winter 2013 | Go to article overview

Women's International and Comparative Rights


Marquez, Nikki, Stanford Journal of International Law


Women's International and Comparative Rights. By Susan W. Tiefenbrun, Carolina Academic Press, 2012 ($50.00).

Of the estimated 7,021,836,029 people in the world, approximately half are women. (1) Based on numbers alone, women's human rights have direct relevance and impact on half the world's population and an indirect impact on the other half through mothers, wives, sisters, daughters, and female friends. Despite the applicability of women's human rights, it is a subject that receives little consideration under the law and by law students. At the top law schools in the United States, (2) only a small number of classes are offered that focus on women's rights. (3) Working in this void, Women's International and Comparative Human Rights by Susan Tiefenbrun, provides an overview of international human rights law and how it specifically affects women. (4)

Recognizing the impossibility of covering women's international and comparative law in a single book, the author, through articles and summaries, provides an introduction and background to the subject and then focuses on a few of the most important issues that impact women's international human rights. (5) The author looks at human rights and international law through both a historical and a feminist lens to provide a context for examining several of the important and controversial issues in women's human rights. Specifically, the author focuses on the relationship between women's human rights and culture and religion, torture and rape, human trafficking, and armed conflict. In moving through the book, Tiefenbrun provides a historical background of international human rights law, addresses the relevant treaties and sources of international law, including custom, and explores different aspects of women's human rights through chapters that focus on specific issues. Each chapter contains articles written by authors who have worked on that issue.

First, Tiefenbrun provides an overview of international law, international human rights law, and an introduction to several feminist authors. This chapter is a useful glossary that gives a person with no background in international law an overview of the subject from which to move forward. The chapter ends with an article that looks at how international human rights law is gendered and male dominated. To be expected of a twenty-three-page summary of international law, human rights and feminist ideas, it is not comprehensive and at times the information provided is superficial or incomplete. For example, the book addresses regional human rights treaties and specifically identifies the American Convention of Human Rights, but does not refer to similar regional treaties such as the African Charter on Human Rights, the European Convention on Human Rights, or the Arab Charter on Human Rights. (6) The book does not address the American Charter of Human Rights in detail, so there is no substantive benefit in discussing in-depth these other regional treaties. But not identifying them, or at least recognizing that other regional treaties exist, provides an incomplete and skewed picture of regional efforts to address human rights. Relatedly, this chapter does not address several concepts useful for understanding international law and feminist theories. For example, the author takes an introductory tone when explaining international law, but assumes a basic background in treaty law, which can be seen in several instances where the author points out that the United States has signed but not ratified a treaty. (7) While ratification is explained in the introductory chapter on international law, the difference between signing and ratifying a treaty is not discussed.

Another way in which this chapter is limited by its glossary-like structure is that at times the brevity of a section can give the reader the impression that causation and correlation have been conflated. An example is in Chapter l(A)(7), which states that the United States is bound to the Covenant on Social, Economic, and Cultural Rights (ECOSOC) because it is part of international customary law and this is evident in how the United States provides its citizens with the protections outlined in ECOSOC.

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