Academic journal article Kadin/Woman 2000

More Human Rights for Women: A Linguistic Perspective

Academic journal article Kadin/Woman 2000

More Human Rights for Women: A Linguistic Perspective

Article excerpt

Abstract

The key concept of the current essay is sexist language usage as a form of unequal linguistic representation of women and men. The paper proceeds from the assumption that sexist language can be viewed not only as a socio-linguistic category, but also a socio-economic factor, which may affect position of women in society and their status in the labour market. Hence, linguistic sexism is regarded here as a public policy issue. The main aim of the paper is twofold: on the one hand, to offer a rights-based approach to the problem of linguistic inequality of the sexes, and on the other hand, to develop a gender-based approach to the concept of linguistic human rights. Current work testifies that the theory of linguistic human rights will gain more accuracy and validity if it is further developed from gender perspective and in terms of women's linguistic empowerment. It introduces the notion of gender-sensitive (or gender-based) linguistic rights as fundamental human rights for women and men, and accentuates the need to identify women's linguistic rights as a separate category of linguistic legislation.

Key Words: Feminism and language change, linguistic gender sensitisation, Linguistic human rights, sexist language usage.

Introduction

From the earliest days of the women's liberation movement feminist activists have focused on promoting equal rights and opportunities for women and men both nationally and internationally. The World Conference on Human Rights held in Vienna in 1993 legitimized women's rights as an integral, inalienable and indivisible aspect of human rights. Subsequent years have shown notable progress in the advancement of gender justice and women's rights worldwide. A number of important events were held and a variety of important documents were adopted to promote gender democracy globally. Transnational organizations like the United Nations Organization (UN), Council of Europe (EC), European Parliament (EP), Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and their member states have made strong commitments to ensure gender balance in their policies and practices. However, despite the convincing progress in the advancement of women's rights internationally, significant gender asymmetries in the promotion of human rights persist worldwide and full gender equality still remains an elusive goal. Therefore, a more positive action in the protection of women's rights is required and it must be accompanied by strong implementation and monitoring mechanisms. It should be taken into consideration that new kinds of social reality bring about new kinds of discrimination and create new areas for the abuse of women's rights. So, at each new stage of social evolution a new range of problems should be included in the legislation and become a focus of attention for human rights protection.

Current work advocates a rights-based approach to the problem, which has hardly been examined in the framework of human rights paradigm: rights of women for equal representation in language, speech and communication with men. The paper examines usage of men-centered language as an instance of breach of women's rights for equality in linguistic self-representation, i.e. their linguistic human rights. The key concept of the current essay is sexist language usage (2) as a form of unequal linguistic representation of women and men. It is argued that the abuse of women's linguistic rights is a global trend and for this reason it should be addressed in the framework of international legislation.

Language, Sexism and Feminism in Historical Perspective

Language has always been an area of concern for feminist scholars and activists. From the very inception of the feminist movement its activists took an issue with unequal linguistic treatment of the sexes. Historically, the first major challenge to "the men as a prototype for human representation" (Pauwels, 2003: 553) was posed by feminist linguistic activism in the 1970s. …

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