Human Rights, International Ethics and Women

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Human Rights, International Ethics and Women

The purpose of this literature review is to explore and analyse selected texts while aiming to address the question of whether rights conventions are appropriate in international ethics. I will write this essay in a feminist perspective and reframe the question to focus specifically on whether international rights conventions are appropriate in international ethics when it comes to women. The primary issue this essay focuses upon is whether an international human rights framework can better deal with issues of injustice than the internal domestic laws and cultures of states and I assert that the latter is more appropriate when it comes to dealing with issues of injustice. I will analyse some selected discourses within the framework this issue. Feminists Hilary Charlesworth, Christine Chinkin & Shelley Wright (1991) argue that human rights are masculine and patriarchal and so in endorsing the universality of rights would be to reproduce male thinking. These authors believe that the whole conception of ‘rights’ is masculine in that it is men think in terms of rationality, rights and reason, whereas females think in terms of context and relationships (Charlesworth, Chinkin & Wright 1991). However, this line of thought is based upon their support of Carol Giligan’s model of development theory, which in itself is controversial as it ignores cross-cultural empirical realities and ignores that women too think in terms of rationality and reason. Furthermore, the conceptual ideal of rights has been contested by men in Western discourses as well as non-Western discourses. For example, when the conception of ‘natural rights’ was created, Jeremy Bentham (cited in Bedau 2000, p. 263) opposed the idea of rights stating that it was, ‘nonsense upon stilts’. In a contemporary non-Western setting former leader Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore and Mohathir Mohamad of Malaysia stated that there is an incompatibility with Asian values and human rights values because Asian culture values stability over public dispute and collective interests rather than individual interests (Beitz 2006). Similarly, Jack Donnelly (1998) puts forward the view that ‘human rights’ can be conceived by the non-Western states a form of hegemony in that human rights are symbolic of a new standard of civilisation. Charlesworth, Chinkin and Wright (1991) also argue that human rights do not necessarily benefit women because they are androcentric in nature. That is, they do not have rights specific to women, for example the right to reproductive freedoms. Although they criticise the universal declaration of human rights, they do however acknowledge that the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) is more beneficial in terms of dealing with issues which women face. Their recommendation is that the international legal framework should develop a court which enforces CEDAW principles onto member states which have signed and ratified the convention. One of the issues with this recommendation is that there is the problem of enforcing such principles onto CEDAW states which have ratified the convention with attached reservations. For example, Saudi Arabia has ratified CEDAW with the reservation that, ‘In case of contradiction between any term of the Convention and the norms of Islamic law, the Kingdom is not under obligation to observe the contradictory terms of the Convention’ (United Nations 2000-2009). This issue deals with one of the central debates regarding the justification of human rights, which is moral universalism versus cultural relativism. Given that human rights claim to apply equally to all human beings everywhere without distinction of race, gender, religion and so fourth implies an underlying universality in its expressed principles. During the World Human Rights conference in 1993, the Vienna Declaration and Program of Action stated with regard to human rights that, ‘the...
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