Human Rights of Women: National and International Perspectives

By Rebecca J. Cook | Go to book overview

Chapter 2
To Bellow like a Cow: Women, Ethnicity, and the Discourse of Rights

Radhika Coomaraswamy

"Why have you appeared before this gathering?
Why do you bellow like a cow in labor?
Your time must be near.
Shameless women with no sense of decorum
Bellow in gatherings of respectable men."

-- Addressed to Bhola Moiraon Poetess Jogeswari and her female troupe, nineteenth century


Introduction

In The Politics of Rights, Stuart Scheingold writes:

The appeals made by the myth of rights for the support of Americans are rooted in traditional values and closely associated with venerable institutions. The symbolic voice of the myth of rights can, moreover, be easily understood and readily adapted to political discourse. But just how compelling is it? How pervasive and widespread and uniform a grip do legal values have on the minds of Americans?1

Implicit in this argument is that, for human rights to be effective, they have to go beyond the normative, textual essence and become a part of the legal culture of a given society. They must strike a responsive chord in the general public consciousness with regard to political and civil issues. This resonance is therefore the clue to whether the "myth of rights" works in a given society to ensure the political and civil rights of all persons.

This chapter argues that in the area of women's rights as human rights there is the least amount of resonance, especially in the countries

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