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Feminist Influences on the United Nations Human Rights Treaty Bodies

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Abstract

More than ten years ago, feminist legal theorists drew attention to some of the pervasive gender biases within the systems of international law. This paper will investigate whether anything has changed in the day to day activities of the human rights treaty bodies that might be interpreted as a response to the feminist critiques. This paper will argue that although much work still needs to be done, the gender mainstreaming efforts of the treaty bodies are having a relevant and positive impact that can be seen in the dialogues with state parties.

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... Principles developed by international review bodies through activities such as examining State reports ultimately have a direct effect on domestic policies and laws (Helfer and Voeten 2014). Indeed, feminists have argued that if women's rights were only to be considered under the CEDAW it would reinforce the idea that men's rights are universal while women's rights are an afterthought (Johnstone 2006, Charlesworth 2005). The effect would be the same regarding the rights of persons with disabilities. ...
... It is to these questions that we now turn. are the " most visible and publicized expression of a committee's view on the situation of human rights in a state party " (Brautigam 1997), constitute the main avenue for treaty bodies to monitor and assess State compliance with human rights conventions, and are used as reference points for other UN actors and advocacy groups (O'Flaherty 2006, Johnstone 2006). Hence, while the issuing of COs are not the only activity of a treaty body, they should give a good indication of mainstreaming practices. ...
... The CEDAW and CRC Committees were also selected for analysis due to the fact that disability is explicitly recognized as contributing to multidimensional discrimination in the case of women and children (Disability lacks explicit protection in the CEDAW treaty text, nevertheless the CEDAW Committee has most often and consistently addressed multiple or intersectional discrimination (Vandeholde 2005 and Makkonen 2002, cited in Degener, 2011). This is not a surprising development in light of advocacy from the feminist movement that argued strongly regarding the importance of mainstreaming women's rights (Johnstone, 2006). Multiple discrimination against women with disabilities is acknowledged in its limited General Recommendation on disability (CEDAW Committee, 1991). ...
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As of the beginning of this century, the United Nations (UN) human rights system had comprehensively elided persons with disabilities from its purview. The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) responded to this lacuna in 2006. The CRPD obligates States parties to mainstream disability by protecting and promoting the human rights of persons with disabilities in all policies and programs, and intersects disability with other discriminated-against populations. This Article investigates the success of the UN in mainstreaming disability throughout its human rights treaty bodies over the period 2000-2014 by comparing the seven years before and the eight years after the CRPD's adoption for six core UN treaty bodies. In doing so, the Article provides initial and unique insight into how well the UN implements human rights norms into treaty bodies, and provides a template for future research on the inclusion of vulnerable group-based rights in the UN and beyond. Despite some significant variations between treaty bodies, we find an overall dramatic increase in the quantitative incidence of disability rights being referenced. Nevertheless, a closer look into the practices of two treaty bodies shows that the human rights of persons with disabilities, while noted by those bodies, are included fully only on occasion. For the UN to truly mainstream disability (or other) human rights, those rights must go beyond mere formal references and also be substantively integrated.
... Selon Bunch (1993), « [...] the question is not whether women's rights are human rights, but why they were excluded before and how to gain wider recognition and implementation of these rights » (dans Desai, 1996 : p. 111). Les activistes féministes ont souligné la présence d'inégalités basées sur le genre et de valeurs «androcentristes» (Johnstone, 2006) dans le système international des droits de l'Homme, démontrant ainsi la catégorie secondaire ou distincte accordée aux femmes (Bunch and Frost, 2000). Les activistes et groupes de femmes se sont entre autres interrogés sur les impacts de la dichotomie entre la sphère privée et la sphère publique, la priorité accordée aux droits politiques et civils, le lien entre la culture et les violations des droits des femmes ainsi que sur le rôle central accordé à l'État dans la protection des droits humains. ...
... À moins que tous les individus concernés puissent participer et se retirer lorsqu'ils le désirent, « [...] we cannot be sure that the human rights of individuals or subgroups within a community will be protected in a communitarian dialogue that is dominated by privileged male elites ». (Reilly, 2009: p. 35 (Cook, 1994 : p. 9) et bien souvent, les droits culturels et religieux ont dominé le droit à l'égalité (Charlesworth, 1994;Philipps, 2010). Johnstone (2006) avance que les arguments qui privilégient les valeurs culturelles avant l'exercice des droits sont une façon de créer une autre sphère privée qui tente de limiter ainsi l'intrusion des acteurs externes sur ces questions. Il s'agit également d'une stratégie pour conserver le contrôle sur les femmes et les rôles traditionnels dans la société (Friedman, 2003). ...
... Abusive or disrespectful behaviour towards labouring women is then measured against deviation from normalized standards and expectations that health care services respect the human rights of each individual woman (Erdman, 2015). Though there are legal frameworks and charters to support the implementation of basic human rights for all women, enforcement is difficult as there are limited mechanisms that can be used by the international community and each country's response is dependent upon the adoption and execution of domestic legislation (Johnstone, 2006). ...
... The application of a human rights framework to the issue of obstetrical violence provides a mechanism in which international standards and norms can be used to hold individual governments accountable for their failure to provide appropriate, rights-based care to pregnant women (Alyne, n.d.). Though international law lacks formal enforcement mechanisms (Bunch, 1990;Johnstone, 2006), it can be used to maintain accountability amongst member states and provide a foundation to address the unique health care needs of women. ...
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