Tuesday, April 12, 2016
Location: Massachusetts Historical Society
Katherine Marino, American Academy of Arts and Sciences
The Origins of “Women’s Rights are Human Rights”: Pan-American Feminism and the 1945 United Nation Charter
Comment: Kirsten Weld, Harvard University
In June, 1945, at the conference in San Francisco that created the United Nations, a group of Latin American feminists pushed “women’s rights” into the category of international human rights in the founding documents of the UN and proposed what became the UN Commission on the Status of Women. The Brazilian delegate and feminist Bertha Lutz called their work a “Latin American contribution to the constitution of the world.” This paper examines what “women’s rights” and “human rights” meant to these Latin American activists and how a movement of transnational, Pan-American feminism shaped their ideas and activism. It argues that the notion that “women’s rights are human rights,” often assumed to be a product of U.S./Western European liberal democratic and feminist thought, was in fact forged through transnational collaboration in a context of fraught U.S./Latin American relations.
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As usual, there will be four programs in this series, two each at the Schlesinger Library and the Massachusetts Historical Society. The complete schedule is available at http://www.masshist.org/2012/calendar/seminars/women-and-gender
Each seminar consists of a discussion of a pre-circulated paper provided to our subscribers. (Papers will be available at the event for those who choose not to subscribe.) Afterwards the host institution will provide a light buffet supper.
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Monday, April 4, 2016
Pok Yin Stephenson Chow (Nottingham), Has Intersectionality Reached its Limits? Intersectionality in the UN Human Rights-Treaty Body Practice and the Issue of Ambivalence, Human Rights Law Review, 2016 (Forthcoming)
Over the past two decades, ‘intersectionality’ has become one of the most celebrated notions in international human rights law and discourse. Outside of the US where the concept originated, the sweeping influence of intersectionality has extended to the UK and other members of the European Union where intersectionality has ‘become part of policy initiatives’. It was remarked that intersectionality ‘has acquired considerable conceptual purchase in international human rights law and activism’ and has become the standard multi-disciplinary approach ‘for analyzing subjects’ experiences of both identity and oppression’.
The recognition that intersectionality gained over the years was also evident in the express and implicit references across UN human rights treaty-bodies practice, where the concept was used to highlight how gender discrimination is often intertwined with discrimination on other grounds, such as race, ethnicity and socio-economic background, thus ‘complicating simplistic, singular understandings of the nature of women’s disadvantage.’ In particular, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (‘CEDAW’) acknowledged intersectionality as a ‘basic concept for understanding the scope of the general obligations of States parties [of the Convention]’. Nevertheless, despite such express acknowledgements, the effectiveness of the concept remained uncertain. In particular, it remained unclear whether the juridical understanding of ‘intersectionality’ could fully honor the complexity that intersectional analysis demands. Conaghan thus argues that although intersectionality has contributed tremendously to the feminist movement, the concept has ‘reached the limits of its theoretical potential’. She argues that inequality is a sophisticated and multi-dimensional phenomenon, and that intersectionality, having its roots in law, does not seem to fully address that complexity.
The limitation of intersectionality is exemplified in the works of the UN human rights treatybodies in the context of minority women. Many often cultural and religious practices are deemed ‘harmful’ and discriminatory, but the women who practice them may not agree that these practices are discriminatory. This raised difficult issues regarding whether human rights law could properly accommodate their multiple identities (both as women and as members of their cultural group). Moreover, it is increasingly recognized that the engagement of such practices is often characterised by a form of ‘ambivalence’, i.e. a feeling of ‘open-endedness, incompleteness [and] uncertainty’. Niec observed that while individuals may identify certain manifestations of their traditions as violations of their rights, they may at the same time seek to preserve the group’s culture and religion, because it is the latter that ‘shaped and defined [her] identity as a member of that collective’. Radhika Coomaraswamy, UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, its Causes and Consequences, remarked that even in situations where women have migrated from the community of their birth, the vast majority continued to retain a deep emotional attachment to group identity, and in this respect, the advocacy of the prohibitionof certain practices might offend their sense of dignity and belonging. While it may be reasonably expected that intersectionality could play a greater role in resolving such conflicts – that the application of intersectionality would better address the multiple identities of minority women – the concept have only yielded partial solutions, as shall be demonstrated below.
This article examines the application of intersectionality across the practice of the UN human rights treaty-bodies. Echoing the concerns raised by Conaghan, it ponders the question: whether intersectionality has reached its limits? In particular, it seeks to examine whether intersectionality as applied by the UN treaty-bodies offer a satisfactory solution to situations of ‘ambivalence’.
Monday, March 21, 2016
Douglas NeJaime & Reva Siegel, Conscience Wars in Transnational Perspective: Religious Liberty, Third-Party Harms, and Pluralism
Abstract:Those who believe contraception, abortion, and same-sex relationships are sinful are increasingly seeking religious exemptions from laws protecting these practices. This essay examines the spread of culture-war conscience claims in the United States and across borders.Religious liberty claims asserted in these culture-war contexts differ from claims for the accommodation of religious ritual observance in ways that warrant principled legal response. When a person of faith seeks an exemption from legal duties to another in the belief that the citizens the law protects are sinning, granting the religious exemption can inflict material and dignitary harms on those whom the law protects. Employing cross-borders comparisons to illustrate, we argue that religious accommodation of such claims serves pluralist ends only when the accommodation is structured to shield other citizens from harm. Our analysis includes the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores and its forthcoming decision in Zubik v. Burwell and reaches beyond U.S. borders to the European Court of Human Rights, including its decision in Eweida and Others v. United Kingdom.
Thursday, March 17, 2016
Call for Papers: Displacement
Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society invites submissions for a special issue titled “Displacement,” slated for publication in spring 2018.
The current refugee crisis gives new urgency to questions of gendered displacement. The United Nations’ most recent statistics place the number of registered Syrian refugees at 4.7 million, 50.7 percent of whom are women and over half of whom are children under eighteen. During the same period, tens of thousands of Central American women and children have crossed the Rio Grande into the United States. Feminists have already responded to concerns about sexual violence in refugee camps and during refugees’ journeys and to the gendered response to the crisis on the part of receiving states (i.e., demographic concerns surrounding gender ratios of migrants admitted). What are the larger questions of “displacement” that require an interdisciplinary and transnational feminist lens?
This special issue of Signs seeks submissions reflecting multifaceted, innovative, and interdisciplinary approaches to the question of displacement, as well as the potential for attention to displacement to address and transform central questions in feminist theory, including how feminists approach larger questions of space, place, and subjectivity. Feminist scholars have a long history of engagement with the question of displacement; across disciplines, feminist scholars have described, theorized, and critiqued gendered forms of displacement and how these displacements have shaped and reshaped geopolitics, national borders, political discourses, narrative form, and ethnic and racial formations both contemporarily and historically. Questions of place and belonging have long been at the heart of cultural work in literature, theater, visual culture, and the arts. We invite submissions on the theme of displacement widely conceived and at multiple scales—the subjective, the family, the city; regional, national, transnational, and global. Possible subjects include:
- How humanitarian and state responses to displaced persons depend on, reinforce, or transform gendered, racial, and sexual norms.
- Visual and narrative representations of displacement in relation to gendered and racialized subjectivities.
- Cultural representations of displacement, migration, belonging, and exile. Critical and historical investigations and comparisons of feminist ideas of these subjects.
- Reverberations of historical displacements in the contemporary world.
- Claims to space and place as forms of resistance to displacement or as the basis for social movements (i.e., landless movements, right to the city).
- Dispossession and displacement as central to neoliberalism, capitalist development, colonization, and slavery. How are dispossession and displacement related?
- How experiences of displacement reshape constructions of “home” or the nation.
- Critical assessments of homophobic and gender-based violence as sources of displacement.
- Gendered figurations of internally and externally displaced persons as threats to national sovereignty or borders. The production of new forms of intimacy through displacement or the creation of new social movements through and in response to displacement.
- The way that ethical norms and perspectives ignore or undervalue the importance of gender and gendered perspectives with regard to displacement.
Pieces that critically examine or call into question distinctions between migrants, refugees, and internally displaced persons are also welcome.
Signs particularly encourages transdisciplinary and transnational essays that address large questions, debates, and controversies without employing disciplinary or academic jargon. We welcome essays that make a forceful case for why displacement demands a specific and thoughtfully formulated interdisciplinary feminist analysis and why it demands our attention now. We seek essays that are forceful, passionate, strongly argued, and willing to take risks.
The deadline for submissions is September 15, 2016. Denise Horn, Assistant Professor of Political Science and International Relations at Simmons College, and Serena Parekh, Associate Professor of Philosophy at Northeastern University, will serve as guest editors of the issue.
Manuscripts may be submitted electronically through Signs’ Editorial Manager system at http://signs.edmgr.com and must conform to the guidelines for submission available at http://signsjournal.org/for-authors/author-guidelines/.
Thursday, February 18, 2016
Ciara O'Connell, Engendering Reproductive Rights in the Inter-American System, in Gender, Sexuality and Social Justice: What's Law Got to Do With It?, Kay Lalor, Elizabeth Mills, Arturo Sánchez García and Polly Haste, eds., p. 58, Institute of Development Studies, 2016
Abstract:The challenge of including a gender perspective within human rights work has been a project only recently undertaken by the international human rights community. It is undeniable that much progress has been made over the past two decades in regard to advocacy and legal efforts to protect, promote and fulfil women’s human rights. However, there remain significant shortcomings in how the law is used to address systemic conditions that cause the subordination of women. This article seeks to explore the gap that exists between women’s rights rhetoric and implementation at the national level. An examination of women’s reproductive rights in the Inter-American System of Human Rights serves as a lens by which to explore how international human rights bodies fall short in addressing the gendered implications of women’s rights violations as they are embedded in national cultures.
Thursday, February 11, 2016
Natali Nanasi (SMU), Domestic Violence Asylum and the Perpetuation of the Victimization Narrative
Abstract:Pitiful. Helpless. Powerless. The words often used to describe survivors of domestic violence conjure a vivid and specific image of a woman lacking both strength and agency. These (mis)conceptions stem from the theories of “Battered Woman Syndrome” and “learned helplessness,” developed in 1979 by psychologist Lenore Walker, who hypothesized that intimate partner abuse ultimately causes a woman to resign herself to her fate and cease efforts to free herself from violence or dangerous situations.
Although widely criticized, learned helplessness has permeated the legal establishment, for example, serving as the foundation for mandatory arrest and “no drop” policies in the criminal sphere of domestic violence law. Legal scholars have examined the problematic impacts of both the theory of learned helplessness itself and its effect on survivors in the criminal and civil justice systems. This article adds to that important conversation by exploring the previously unexamined area of learned helplessness’ impact on immigration, specifically asylum, law.
Through a series of cases from 1996 to 2014, it is now established that a woman may receive asylum protection if she can establish that she is “unable to leave” a violent domestic relationship. This formulation fits squarely within Walker’s framework, as it requires a victim to advance a narrative of helplessness if she is to obtain refuge in the United States. Furtherance of the notion of Battered Woman Syndrome in asylum law is troubling for a number of reasons, namely, as this piece details, in the harms that can result when survivors of domestic violence are required to conform to a specific “stock story” (including injury to both those who fit the stereotype and those who do not). Additionally, continued adherence to and reliance on learned helplessness poses challenges for client-centered lawyering, perpetuates the tendency of victim-blaming, ignores the realities of the dangers of separation violence, and furthers the damaging dichotomy of “worthy” and “unworthy” immigrants.
By identifying these concerns and proposing alternative bases for protection that would encompass not just pitiable and vulnerable victims of domestic violence, but strong, empowered and capable fighters against domestic abuse, this article seeks to critique, rebut and prevent the infiltration of static and stereotypical images of battered women in the realm of immigration law.
This Executive Summary (8 pages) outlines findings and recommendations from research to identify the experience of women who are subject to immigration control and experience domestic abuse in the UK. Focussing on one immigration rule, ‘no recourse to public funds,’ it concludes that the fundamental rights of women in the UK, to life, and to freedom from torture, are being violated. The state does not uphold the rights of these women, nor is it neutral. Rather, the role of the state prolongs the abuse and makes it worse. This summary also summarises recommended changes to law and policy
Thursday, February 4, 2016
Karin Paparelli, Gender Equality and Women at Law in Cuba
Gender equality and more specifically, the role of women in the legal profession in Cuba, presents a paradox of cultural restraint amid progressive policies. In a traditionally patriarchal society, Cuba has actually outpaced the United States and other nations when it comes to gender equality. Cuban women are found in staggering numbers in the legal profession, politics and high-level ministerial positions. ***
Curiously, traditionally “male” professions in Cuba include science, engineering, information technology, and mathematics and exclude medicine, education and law. Nearly 70 percent of health care workers including doctors, 80 percent of the education workforce, and surprisingly, 66 percent of all lawyers and judges in Cuba are women.
Monday, January 4, 2016
A groundbreaking law on domestic abuse takes effect today in England and Wales. It expands the meaning of domestic violence to include psychological and emotional torment. So it is now a crime there to control your spouse, say, through social media or online stalking. Experts in domestic violence say it represents a new way to look at the whole issue of abuse.
Until recently, the only way police there could arrest someone for domestic violence was if the person assaulted or threatened their spouse. After a lot of research with victims, authorities realized that abuse often starts earlier and is more pervasive than they thought.
The new law makes illegal all sorts of controlling and coercive behavior in a relationship. This can include stealing money from a spouse, limiting financial freedom, Internet stalking or restricting access to friends and family. Prosecutors will have to show a pattern of abuse and that it has real impact on a victim's life.
Police around England and Wales are now being trained to spot signs of controlling behavior and enforce the law. Violators could face a sentence of up to five years behind bars.
When Chinese survivors of domestic violence summon the courage to go to the police, they often hear one thing: That's a private matter, go home.
That, at long last, may change.
After years of feminist organizing and advocacy, China's legislature this weekend passed a domestic violence law. For those who worked to make it happen, it's a hard-earned victory — an achievement "worth celebrating," according to veteran campaigner Feng Yuan.
At the same time, advocates say, the law is deeply flawed, a sort of field guide to enduring stereotypes and societal blind-spots. It fails to account for sexual violence, for one. And it is silent on the matter of same-sex couples.
"The law is very necessary to combat the epidemic of domestic violence, but there are a lot of problems with this legislation," said Leta Hong Fincher, author of “Leftover Women: The Resurgence of Gender Inequality in China."
"And," she said, "we will have to see how it's enforced."
The law was a long time coming. Women's groups here have for more than a decade campaigned to take domestic violence out of the shadows and into the courts.
Wednesday, December 30, 2015
The Atlantic, Gender Equity Requires Changes in Law, Not Just Culture
Women’s labor-force participation doesn’t alone signify economic freedom, but it is one of the mechanisms by which women can build wealth and gain financial independence. A new report from the World Bank takes a look at the legal status of women around the world and finds that while there has been progress in many countries when it comes to making financial freedom more accessible, laws still exist that can make women especially economically vulnerable.
Legal barriers that restrict women’s opportunities to work are the most obvious culprits of gender inequality across the globe. In Russia, for instance, researchers found that women are legally barred from working 456 different (and pretty specific) jobs including woodworking and driving trucks that carry agricultural goods. Similar laws are also prevalent in the Middle East, Sub-Saharan Africa, and North Africa. And while wealthier, more developed nations are less likely to have explicit legal prohibitions on women working, they do exist. Eight of 32 OECD high-income countries, including Israel, France, the Republic of Korea, and Japan, have laws that bar women from certain jobs. French law prohibits women moving loads that weigh more than 45 kilograms via a wheelbarrow. And in Argentina, women are barred from loading and unloading ships, the paper finds.
Friday, December 11, 2015
Five women are suing the government of Japan over a law requiring spouses to adopt the same surname.
“By losing your surname ... you’re being made light of, you’re not respected ... It’s as if part of your self vanishes,” said Kaori Oguni, a translator and one of the five women involved in the lawsuit.
A decision by the supreme court, due on 16 December, coincides with prime minister Shinzo Abe’s push to draw more women into a shrinking workforce. Despite that, many in his conservative ruling party are opposed to any legal change.
An 1896 law says spouses must adopt the same surname to legally register their marriage. The law does not specify which one, but in practice, 96% of women take their husband’s name, a reflection of Japan’s male-dominated society.
Conservatives say allowing couples to choose whether they share the same surname or not could damage family ties and threaten society.
“Names are the best way to bind families,” Masaomi Takanori, a constitutional scholar, told NHK public television.
“Allowing different surnames risks destroying social stability, the maintenance of public order and the basis for social welfare.”
H/T Joanna Grossman
Friday, November 27, 2015
While the world has made progress closing the gap between women and men in health, education, economic participation, and political empowerment over the last decade, the United States is not keeping up.
The World Economic Forum (WEF) just released its 2015 Global Gender Gap report, which showed that the gap has dropped by 4 percent in the last ten years. While this marks progress, it could take another 118 years to completely close the gap. Gender equality will not be reached until the year 2133 at this rate.
Progress also isn’t even across the globe. Over those 10 years, Nordic countries have consistently been doing the most to close the gender gap. Iceland came in at number one over the past six years, followed by Norway, Finland and Sweden.
The United States, on the other hand, has actually moved backward. On the list of 145 countries, the United States has never broken into the top 15 countries with the lowest gender gap. Worse, it fell eight places over the last year, to a rank of 28 for overall gender equality. The authors of the study credit this fall to slightly “less perceived wage equality for similar work and changes in ministerial level positions.” Though the U.S. has nearly closed the gender gap in education and health, the largest gaps stills remain in labor force participation, wage equality for similar work, and political empowerment.
Tuesday, November 10, 2015
Melanie Randall (W. Ontario), Particularized Social Groups and Categorical Imperatives in Refugee Law: State Failures to Recognize Gender and the Legal Reception of Gender Persecution Claims in Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States, 23 American J. Gender, Social Policy & Law 529 (2015)
Thursday, November 5, 2015
Trudeau on Wednesday continued his hot streak by introducing his 30-person cabinet that had just as many women as men—a first for the country.
From the Globe and Mail:Justin Trudeau is ushering in a new era in Canadian politics with a cabinet that is reflective of the country’s ethnic diversity, peppered with rookie politicians, and composed of more women than ever before… After the swearing-in ceremony, Mr. Trudeau addressed reporters and other members of the public outside Rideau Hall saying he was proud to “present to Canada a cabinet that looks like Canada.”
When asked why he opted for gender equity, Trudeau responded: “Because it’s 2015.” The current 16-person cabinet in the Obama administration, by comparison, is made up of just 25 percent women.
Sunday, November 1, 2015
A court has granted a divorce to a man who was responsible for the breakup of his marriage by cheating on his wife, overturning the lower court's ruling.
It is the first court decision that allowed a divorce sought by a cheating spouse after the Supreme Court's ruling in September that expanded the grounds for divorce in limited cases, although it largely upheld the legal principle that bans a party responsible for destroying the marriage from filing for divorce.
Following the ruling, similar divorce requests are expected from estranged couples who have been barely maintaining a paper-only marriage relationship.
Wednesday, October 28, 2015
Hundreds of women, some of them pregnant or domestic servants who are victims of rape, are being imprisoned in the United Arab Emirates every year under laws that outlaw consensual sex outside marriage, according to a BBC Arabic investigation.
Secret footage obtained by BBC Arabic show pregnant women shackled in chains walking into a courtrooms where laws prohibiting “Zina” – or sex outside marriage – could mean sentences of months to years in prison and flogging.
“Because the UAE authorities have not clarified what they mean by indecency, the judges can use their culture and customs and Sharia ultimately to broaden out that definition and convict people for illicit sexual relations or even acts of public affection,” said Rothna Begum, women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch in London.
While both men and women could in theory be imprisoned for having sex outside marriage, the investigation – which will air at the opening of BBC Arabic festival on 31 October – found that in reality pregnancy is often used as proof of the “crime”, with domestic female migrant workers – numbering about 150,000 in the UAE – left most vulnerable.
Saturday, October 24, 2015
Forty years ago, the women of Iceland went on strike - they refused to work, cook and look after children for a day. It was a moment that changed the way women were seen in the country and helped put Iceland at the forefront of the fight for equality.
When Ronald Reagan became the US President, one small boy in Iceland was outraged. "He can't be a president - he's a man!" he exclaimed to his mother when he saw the news on the television.
It was November 1980, and Vigdis Finnbogadottir, a divorced single mother, had won Iceland's presidency that summer. The boy didn't know it, but Vigdis (all Icelanders go by their first name) was Europe's first female president, and the first woman in the world to be democratically elected as a head of state.
Many more Icelandic children may well have grown up assuming that being president was a woman's job, as Vigdis went on to hold the position for 16 years - years that set Iceland on course to become known as "the world's most feminist country".
But Vigdis insists she would never have been president had it not been for the events of one sunny day - 24 October 1975 - when 90% of women in the country decided to demonstrate their importance by going on strike.
Friday, October 23, 2015
Tokyo’s Shibuya ward said Friday that it will start accepting applications for same-sex partnership certificates beginning next week after passing an ordinance earlier this year that permits the ward to recognize the partners equivalent to those married under the law.
According to the ward, same-sex couples applying for a certificate must both reside in Shibuya and be at least 20 years old. They must also be unrelated and have no spouses or other same-sex partners. The ward will also require that the couple submit notarized documents proving their relationship.
The ward said it will start issuing the certificates beginning Nov. 5.
Wednesday, October 21, 2015
Around the world, women in 155 countries face legal restrictions on the economic opportunities available to them, according to the recent World Bank Group's reportWomen, Business and the Law 2016, which highlights the challenges women face in the global economy and underscores the need for legal reform.
These legal barriers are just the beginning of the obstacles women face to accessing economic opportunities. Establishing women's equality in the law is critical, but more work is needed to dismantle the social and cultural norms that prevent women from knowing and accessing their rights.
Friday, October 16, 2015
It’s not novel that minors in the US can, in very rare cases, be sentenced to reform programs or secure confinement for actions that wouldn’t be illegal if adults did them. But the system used to punish youth for the likes of skipping school or drinking has never been used systematically to address cases where minors engage in survival sex – meaning, youths who exchange sex for money, shelter, food, drugs or other needs.
That is about to change, even though treating juveniles charged with prostitution like truants will increase arrests and extend court-involvement and institutionalization of victims.