Human Rights of Women: National and International Perspectives

By Rebecca J. Cook | Go to book overview

Chapter 6
Why Rethinking the Sovereign State is Important for Women's International Human Rights Law

Karen Knop


Introduction

This chapter argues for a re-examination of the relationship between international law and women's international human rights law, more specifically, the relationship between the current conceptualization of state sovereignty in international law and the participation of women in the creation of women's international human rights law.

International law structures women's international human rights law, yet, for reasons ranging from lack of knowledge to realism to the rejection of authority as antithetical to feminist perspectives, women are only beginning to explore these underlying structures.1 This chapter focuses on two fundamental aspects of contemporary international law: (1) its statism and (2) the centrality of the sovereign state in the international legal system.

By statism, I mean the view of international law that regards state sovereignty as a function of political power, rather than justice; as the acknowledgment of political control by a government over a people and territory, rather than the judgment that a government justly represents the people. While the centrality of the sovereign state in international law is related to statism, it is not the same thing. The centrality of the sovereign state reflects the understanding that despite the growing cast of characters on the international scene, the state continues to be the only actor in international law that really matters, that is, the actor that plays the decisive role in making, interpreting, and enforcing international law.

By and large, mainstream international human rights discourse on

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