Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Women’s rights are human rights (by Suzie)

If there is one message that echoes forth from this conference, let it be that human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights once and for all.
-- Hillary Rodham Clinton on Sept. 5, 1995 at the U.N. 4th World Conference on Women in Beijing.

This may sound like common sense, but it took women around the world to push for this understanding. The idea got traction in the early ‘90s, according to an excellent essay by Charlotte Bunch and Samantha Frost, experts on global women’s rights. I remember when Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch began to pay more attention to women’s rights.

Not everyone has gotten the memo, however. Some liberal/leftist men continue to see rights specific to women as secondary to fears about governments intruding on their own rights. A prime example are supporters of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange who don’t understand that sexual abuse infringes on women’s human rights.

In Britain, Assange has hired a team of human-rights lawyers to replace his previous attorneys. Last month, one of his new lawyers, Ben Emmerson, was appointed the UN special rapporteur on counterterrorism and human rights. I don't expect him to care about the rights of women, judging from his performance this week in court, where Assange appealed his extradition to Sweden.

In the July 7 Nation, Assange fan Tom Hayden wrote: “The original heroic narrative about revelations of war crimes and government secrets is frequently diverted today by speculation about sex crimes …” He then lists important revelations from WikiLeaks. He didn't list statistics on sex crimes. A summary of Bunch and Frost's essay puts his writing into perspective:
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948 [applies] to women. However, tradition, prejudice, social, economic and political interests have combined to exclude women from prevailing definitions of "general" human rights and to relegate women to secondary and/or "special interest" status within human rights considerations.
Many societies separate what happens in public and in private. On both sides of the political spectrum are people who want to limit how much the government meddles in their private lives. Human-rights activists have focused on the public sphere, specifically on how governments have abused citizens. The problem for women is that they are more likely to be abused by men in private, with mostly male authorities ignoring those abuses.
[W]omen have traditionally been relegated to the "private" sphere of the home and family; the typical citizen has been portrayed as male, and thus the dominant notions of human rights abuse have implicitly had a man as their archetype. Thus, abuses done to women in the name of family, religion, and culture have been hidden by the sanctity of the so-called private sphere …
Conservatives have been skeptical of social and economic rights, such as health care, decent housing and proper nutrition, saying this smacks of socialism. I’d add that some liberal men have argued that social and economic rights take precedence over civil and political rights – not for them – but for women, especially poor ones. The argument goes like this: Poor women in X country need food and shelter; they don’t have time to worry about sexism. Men making this argument don’t get that gender discrimination hurts women’s abilities to secure housing, work, shelter, etc.

They are thrilled that WikiLeaks exposed government abuses, but they don't understand, or choose not to understand, that it's a basic human right for women to have control over their bodies, without being raped; without acquiescing to sex because they feel like they have no choice; without men disregarding their desire to wear a condom.