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Women's Rights:

Women’s rights have received distinctively different treatment from human rights in general. Many international human rights documents have been criticized because of their lack of attention to women’s issues. This, in turn, created blind spots in the international human rights regime. By ignoring these issues, the world was turning a blind-eye to issues that adversely affect half of the world’s population. Furthermore, women’s circumstances in the world are highly interconnected to social, economic and political issues; therefore, without recognizing the special needs of women certain injustices will never be rectified. When one focuses on the interrelatedness of women’s issues with other social issues it becomes obvious that the problem is systemic and special measures are needed to address it. In 1981 the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women was made effective to directly address the plight of women worldwide.

According to indicators of social well-being and status such as political participation, legal capacity, access to economic resources and employment, wage differentials, levels of education and health care, women fare significantly and sometimes dramatically worse than men. The following statistics reveal the magnitude of the problem:

  • In South Asia, female literacy rates are only around 50% those of males. In Nepal they are 35% and in Sudan they reach a mere 27%. Women make up two-thirds of the world’s illiterates. In Sub-Saharan Africa, enrollment rates for tertiary education of women are only a third of rates for men.
  • The employment rates of women in developing countries are on average only 50% those of men. In South Asia they are 29% those of men, and in the Arab States only 16%.
  • Wage discrimination in industrialized countries such as Japan occurs to the degree that women receive only 51% the average male wage.
  • Women tend to live longer than men but, in some areas of Asia and North Africa, neglect of women’s health and nutrition has led women to have a shorter life expectancy.

Women around the world also are held to separate and arbitrary sexual standards. They face shame, ridicule and sometimes harsh physical punishment if they admit to being raped. In some places such as Brazil, rape is defined as a crime against custom, not against the individual. Female genital mutilation also haunts women in some parts of the Middle East and areas of Africa. Women are also most frequently the victims of physical domestic abuse.

The trouble for women continues with practices such as bride burning, aborting female fetuses, and female infanticide. Women suffer from what is widely known as the “feminization of poverty.” It is the result of disproportionate regard for women. On average women have significantly less access to food, resources, legal recourse, and political rights. All these things continue to perpetuate the disenfranchisement of women.
It is important that protection from arbitrary deprivation of life or liberty be specifically addressed in the context of issues that women currently face. CEDAW is one such instrument that addresses these issues. While acceptance of this covenant spreads slowly, it must be noted that more states have entered reservations to the ratification of CEDAW than to any other human rights treaty (158-180).

*Steiner, Henry J. & Philip Alston. International Human Rights In Context: Law, Politics and Morals. Oxford Press. 2000.

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Copyright © Laura Rowe.