Human Rights of Women: National and International Perspectives

By Rebecca J. Cook | Go to book overview

Chapter 3
What are "Women's International Human Rights"?

Hilary Charlesworth


Introduction

What does a category of women's international human rights mean and what are its implications? This chapter considers these questions, arguing that the development of women's international human rights has the potential to transform human rights law generally.

Human rights law challenges the traditional scope of international law. It gives individuals and groups, otherwise without access to the international legal system, the possibility of making international legal claims and thus expands the state-centered discourse of international law. International human rights law is a product of the post -- World War II order. The United Nations Charter recognized in principle the centrality of the importance of the protection of human rights,1 and a great range of both general and specific international instruments have since given definition and texture to this commitment.2

The development of human rights law is often, if controversially, described in terms of "generations": the "first" generation of rights covers civil and political rights, still regarded by many Western commentators as the paradigm against which all newer claims of rights must be measured (indeed some assert that civil and political rights are the only possible form of international human rights);3 the "second" generation of rights means economic, social, and cultural rights; and the "third," most recently defined, generation encompasses group or peoples' rights. The generational metaphor is controversial because it implies a hierarchy in the development of human rights within the United Nations system. Western states, once the dominant players in the international community, have typically regarded civil and political rights as the most crucial for international protection. Socialist and

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