Protecting the Rights of Women


I was considering the issue relating to the tensions that were and remain inherent in recognising women’s rights. I was especially intrigued by Charlotte Bunch’s argument that ‘sexism kills’. Empirical evidence does seem to suggest that women are discriminated against not only on the basis of their membership of a particular ethnic group, race, class, or political persuasion but also because of their gender.

I would support Bunch’s observation that there is ‘increasing documentation of the many ways in which being female is life threatening.’  Survivors of the massacres of villages in the Rakhine state in Myanmar recounted to journalists of the New York Times of girls being singled out by the military and being gang raped ( NYT, Oct 12, 2017) .

Prior to the ruling of the Indian Supreme court on the illegality of sex with child brides, generations of female children were given in marriage to men who relied on the Indian legal code that stated that ‘a man could have sex with a girl as young as 15, as long as she was his wife.’ (NYT, Oct 11, 2017).

It is arguable that these and other examples of oppression of women highlight the violation of a number of rights of women as ‘political prisoners, members of persecuted ethnic groups’ ( Bunch) as well as the violation of their rights to bodily integrity and life as evidenced by gender related sexual abuse.

What exactly is the nature of the correlation between the violation of rights of women for instance to life, bodily integrity, freedom against slavery in the form of human trafficking ,  education, employment,  and the female gender which certain feminist socialist theorists such as Messerschmidt argue is a social construction involving the way in which men and women perceive their masculinities and femininities mediated by power relations between the genders, the socio-cultural ideologies underpinning class, race and even patriarchy.

In societies like those of India, child marriage is not uncommon especially since the payment of dowries to fathers of female brides  is still part of the custom practised in some villages.Practices such as child marriage are perceived by some lawmakers as inevitable since they provide financial assistance to the poorer rural families and provide a degree of protection for vulnerable women and children.

Coomaraswamy ( writing in ‘Human Rights of Women, Cook) discusses the prevalence of similar paternalistic attitudes underlying the Sri Lankan constitution’s non discriminatory clause that groups women together with children and disabled persons. She asserts that ‘in this paternalistic project , women along with children and the mentally disabled are denied agency .’

One gets the sense that the needs, aspirations and rights of women are determined by some societies against the backdrop of preconceived perceptions influenced by the historical, political and socio-cultural make-up of these societies. In this context , one wonders how the human rights of future generations of women in relation to issues for instance on bodily integrity,  poverty , education, marriage will be expanded and protected.

I am inclined to support Prof Fredman’s view that  ‘giving rights to current generations can enhance and facilitate the rights of future generations’. There however need to be a prioritization of women’s rights as human rights and the allocation of the necessary resources for such an endeavour through changes to socio- cultural attitudes , state policies and laws in ‘reconceiving the needs and hopes’ of the human rights of current and future generations (Bunch).

Ensuring that duty bearers of a state recognise and uphold the rights of women not to be subject to violence within marriage or to be protected against sexual slavery and human trafficking for instance by introducing laws that criminalize marital rape and sexual exploitation will safeguard future generations of women from violence within marriage. The reality is , that nation states like Singapore and India have yet to recognise marital rape as an offence although Singapore has recently introduced the Prevention of Trafficking Act 2014 to deal with the sexual exploitation of women and children.