Gender, Cultural Differences and Human Rights (LAW-725B-001)
Ingrid Nifosi Sutton
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This course exposes students to the intricate protection of women’s rights at the UN and regional levels as well as its achievements and gaps. We will begin with an analysis of key concepts that underpin the international legal protection of women’s rights: gender, gender/sex-based discrimination, culture and human rights. Second, we will carry out a detailed analysis of the normative contents of the 1979 UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (UNCEDAW). We will highlight the Convention’s significance under international law and at the domestic level, and discuss whether there are aspects relating to the realization of the principle of gender equality in the enjoyment of women’s rights that the Convention overlooks. Subsequently, we will focus on the body that monitors State parties’ compliance with the UNCEDAW, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). To this aim, we will appraise the import of recommendations the Committee has issued following examination of State reports on the adoption of measures giving effect to the UNCEDAW domestically. Also, we will critically look at CEDAW’s approach to the consideration of communications alleging violations of the UNCEDAW in the workplace and in the field of reproductive rights, and against asylum seeker women persecuted on account on their sexual orientation. We will consider whether CEDAW is an effective international remedy that women who have experienced unequal access to rights can use to seek justice and put an end to gender-based discrimination affecting their rights. Furthermore, we will canvass General Recommendations in which CEDAW sheds light on fundamental aspects of the domestic implementation of the Women Convention. Importantly, we will emphasize how cultural and religious relativism can curtail the realization of women’s rights as set out in the UNCEDAW, result in especially serious violations of the Convention and undermine the Convention’s effectiveness and raison d'être. Our analysis of the interplay between culture and women’s rights will also underscore the importance of realizing women’s cultural rights and their centrality to women’s empowerment. Next, we will become familiar with the relevant practice of other UN human rights monitoring bodies and regional human rights bodies. We will examine these bodies’ contributions to the eradication of pervasive forms of sex/gender-based discrimination hampering the enjoyment of the human rights of girls and women, women and girls with disabilities, transgender women, adulterous women in Iran, indigenous women in the Americas, and women and girls in member States of the ASEAN. We will also see how some of these bodies have interpreted and applied regional human rights Conventions to decide cases involving egregious violence against women and girls; violations of fundamental civil and political rights of women activists; violations of the civil rights of transgender women; violations of the rights to privacy and family life of lesbian women; and violations of marriage rights of women and girls in Mali. We will assess the notion of women’s vulnerability under human rights law, and conclude with a critical appraisal of the effectiveness of the international legal protection available to women and a reflection on current developments in women’s rights advocacy.
Textbooks and Other Materials
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First Class Readings
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