Women’s rights as human rights
In addition to addressing the particular needs of women, international feminisms have insisted that human rights be understood from women’s perspective. In a sense, this strategic move helps to resolve the Western tension between universal and particularist claims by redefining the universal as the female. In some cases, the impact on world and local politics has been transformative. For example, in response to a campaign by the Women’s Caucus for Gender Justice, the 1998 Rome Statute that created the International Criminal Court outlawed gender-based violence in wartime. Despite strong opposition, the caucus succeeded in including as war crimes rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy, and enforced sterilization, and it acknowledged the vulnerability of men, as well as women, to sexual violence. Equally transformative, the statute required that the court include both female and male judges who had expertise on violence against women and children.
Another measure of the transformative impact of international feminisms can be found in the arena of electoral reform. The current French system of parite withholds state funding for political parties that do not nominate equal numbers of male and female candidates. A related mechanism of reserving a proportion of electoral seats for women can be found throughout the world. The recent Afghan and Iraqi constitutions, for example, not only require woman suffrage but also propose quotas for female political participation as one means of implementing democratic reforms in cultures in which women previously have been denied access to the political sphere.
The case of India illustrates the transformative implications of electoral reform. Because a proportion of seats on municipal councils are reserved for female and lower-caste candidates, today close to a million poor, rural women now hold village offices. Once elected, one study has found, these women try to allocate village resources to address the most pressing needs of poor women by creating better water and sewage infrastructure.14 This structural reform is critical to feminist goals for it allows girls to spend less time hauling water and more time attending school. Education helps close the literacy gap (two-thirds of those who are illiterate throughout the world are female, and the figure is higher in rural South Asia). In turn, female
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education correlates highly with family planning. Rooted in feminist goals, both female literacy and family planning enable not just women but also their entire families to escape poverty. In a world in which 70 percent of those living in poverty are female, these political reforms can help narrow the global gap between the wealthy and the poor. In short, the particularist strategy of empowering women can have universal consequences; instead of serving as a justification for exclusion from rights, women’s difference has become a basis for redefining rights, with implications for all.