Rights and justice in international relations
Rights and justice in international relations

Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

Free course

Rights and justice in international relations

5.5 Feminist critiques of international rights

The second source of criticisms that we would like to explore comes from feminist critiques. Some feminists argue that the universal notion of rights makes invisible the special problems faced by women as a group, and that, thereby, specific articles of the various human rights declarations and conventions reinforce traditional gender roles in the family and the workplace. This criticism comes in at least two forms.

The first is that rights for women (as for other disadvantaged groups) may be particularly difficult to enforce against the claims of the powerful and the dominant. An example is the poor pay and conditions, and isolation faced by women ‘home-workers’ in developing countries. Catharine MacKinnon (1993) documents forms of gendered ill-treatment and harm to women, including sexual and reproductive abuses, rape as a weapon of warfare, forced motherhood in Ireland, domestic violence against women as part of the honour code in Brazil and Italy, and suttee in India. Such human rights abuses are not prevented by universalistic human rights conventions. Further examples concern the sexualization of women's and children's bodies in international prostitution. Examples include the market for sex workers for tourists in the Philippines or Barbados, sex workers to service American bases, and the influx into Western Europe of prostitutes from Eastern Europe by mafia gangs.

The second form of this feminist criticism is more far-reaching, arguing that making effective a given right, say, the right to employment, may have different implications for men and women. In a context of pre-given unequal distribution of domestic and reproductive labour, equal employment rights for men and women may involve a transformation in childcare arrangements, for example. Without such a transformation, equal rights may perpetuate inequalities. The rights regime needs to recognise the impact of rights in structuring and maintaining inequalities.


Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has 50 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to University-level study, we offer two introductory routes to our qualifications. You could either choose to start with an Access module, or a module which allows you to count your previous learning towards an Open University qualification. Read our guide on Where to take your learning next for more information.

Not ready for formal University study? Then browse over 1000 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus371