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Gender and Culture at the Limit of Rights

Gender and Culture at the Limit of Rights

Edited by Dorothy L. Hodgson
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 312
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  • Book Info
    Gender and Culture at the Limit of Rights
    Book Description:

    An interdisciplinary collection, Gender and Culture at the Limit of Rights examines the potential and limitations of the "women's rights as human rights" framework as a strategy for seeking gender justice. Drawing on detailed case studies from the United States, Africa, Latin America, Asia, and elsewhere, contributors to the volume explore the specific social histories, political struggles, cultural assumptions, and gender ideologies that have produced certain rights or reframed long-standing debates in the language of rights. The essays address the gender-specific ways in which rights-based protocols have been analyzed, deployed, and legislated in the past and the present and the implications for women and men, adults and children in various social and geographical locations. Questions addressed include: What are the gendered assumptions and effects of the dominance of rights-based discourses for claims to social justice? What kinds of opportunities and limitations does such a "culture of rights" provide to seekers of justice, whether individuals or collectives, and how are these gendered? How and why do female bodies often become the site of contention in contexts pitting cultural against juridical perspectives? The contributors speak to central issues in current scholarly and policy debates about gender, culture, and human rights from comparative disciplinary, historical, and geographical perspectives. By taking "gender," rather than just "women," seriously as a category of analysis, the chapters suggest that the very sources of the power of human rights discourses, specifically "women's rights as human rights" discourses, to produce social change are also the sources of its limitations.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0461-2
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Introduction: Gender and Culture at the Limit of Rights
    (pp. 1-14)
    Dorothy L. Hodgson

    Since Charlotte Bunch (1990, 1995) and others first argued in the early 1990s for the need to reframe “human rights” to include, recognize, and support “women’s rights,” “women’s rights are human rights” has become a global mantra, circulated and supported by a vast network of feminist activists, women’s organizations, donors, multilateral institutions, and even nation-states.¹ As a result, women (and men) around the world have reframed their often long-standing demands and needs (for political power, economic security, reproductive freedom, and more) in the (seemingly) more powerful language of rights in order to expand the visibility (and thus recognition) of their...


    • Chapter 1 Gender, History, and Human Rights
      (pp. 17-31)
      Pamela Scully

      Human rights has become a dominant ideological prism through which many activists at both the international and local level understand issues of justice and governance. In this context, the international order is finally taking violence against women seriously, particularly in the context of war, and in societies recovering from civil conflict.¹ Yet a long historical view of the humanitarian interventions in Africa suggests reasons to be very self-reflective about the methodologies and rhetoric of Human Rights work. As Sally Engle Merry has demonstrated, human rights itself is a form of “cultural practice” (2006: 228). This is particularly important with regard...

    • Chapter 2 Between Law and Culture: Contemplating Rights for Women in Zanzibar
      (pp. 32-54)
      Salma Maoulidi

      Culture, as embodying the personality of a society, constitutes the interplay between human relations and gender boundaries. It is an expression of historical phenomena defined in place and time, in which experience and expression is deeply gendered. In colonial and post-colonial Africa, the defense of culture mollified a people’s sense of domination and violation against that which was viewed as foreign, alien. Great effort was thus made to present culture as entrenched, immutable, and static, exacting loyalty to preserve what was perceived as authentic against encroaching elements or influences personified by colonialism and recent migrations.

      The defense of the cultural...

    • Chapter 3 A Clash of Cultures: Women, Domestic Violence, and Law in the United States
      (pp. 55-78)
      Sally F. Goldfarb

      For centuries, the American legal system condoned or ignored violence committed against women by their intimate partners. One of the major accomplishments of the American feminist movement during the past forty years has been the enactment of ambitious legal reforms designed to prevent and redress domestic violence. Yet it is widely acknowledged that these reforms have fallen short of achieving their goals. Although rates of domestic violence have declined in recent years, battering continues at epidemic levels. Moreover, many battered women choose not to utilize available legal remedies.¹ Examining battered women’s legal rights through the lens of culture is one...


    • Chapter 4 Making Women’s Human Rights in the Vernacular: Navigating the Culture/Rights Divide
      (pp. 81-100)
      Peggy Levitt and Sally Engle Merry

      Culture and rights usually seem at war with each other. They are portrayed as opposites, such that the advance of one means the retreat of the other. Anthropologists have criticized this opposition for some time, yet it persists in popular culture (e.g., Wilson 1996; Cowen, Dembour, and Wilson 2001). Both popular discussions and human rights debates end up juxtaposing these two ideas. Cultural practices undermine and diminish rights. Rights concepts disrupt and weaken culture and social order. The two seem irreconcilable. One of the most vivid illustrations of this opposition is the portrayal of the Taliban political movement in Afghanistan...

    • Chapter 5 The Active Social Life of “Muslim Women’s Rights”
      (pp. 101-119)
      Lila Abu-Lughod

      “Muslim women’s rights”—something to fight for, debate, consider historically, see cross-culturally, make happen, organize around, fund, and examine in action (as expressed or as violated)—have an extraordinarily active social life in our contemporary world. As the concept circulates across continents, traveling in and out of classrooms and government policy offices; UN forums in New York and Geneva and local women’s organizations in Egypt, Malaysia, and Palestine; television soap operas and mosque study groups; model marriage contracts developed in North Africa and popular memoirs sold in airport bookstores and instantly recognizable by the veiled women stamped on their covers,...

    • Chapter 6 How Not to be a Machu Qari (Old Man): Human Rights, Machismo, and Military Nostalgia in Peru’s Andes
      (pp. 120-137)
      Caroline Yezer

      Over the ten years of relative peace following the end of Peru’s dirty war, fought between the state and the Maoist rebels known as Shining Path (1980–2000), indigenous peasant communities of the Ayacucho highlands have undergone fundamental changes in the ways rights are understood and claimed. Far-flung villages that had been under martial law since the early 1980s became the focus of aid organizations, human rights groups, and other postconflict projects funded by or coming from abroad. Following these changes, military reform, disarmament, and the retreat of state troops and army bases from much of Ayacucho marked a sharp...

    • Chapter 7 “These Are Not Our Priorities”: Maasai Women, Human Rights, and the Problem of Culture
      (pp. 138-158)
      Dorothy L. Hodgson

      “MWEDO urged to step up fight against female genital mutilation,” read the headline in the Arusha Times, a weekly newspaper in northern Tanzania (August 19–26, 2006). Since Tanzania made female genital modification (FGM)¹ illegal in 1998, there have been constant articles in the English and Swahili language press outlining the dangers of FGM, announcing yet another campaign to stop it, praising the successful eradication efforts of local, national and international women’s organizations, and lamenting the stubborn persistence of the practice among certain ethnic groups, most notably Maasai.² So as one of the two main NGOs working with Maasai women,...


    • Chapter 8 The Rights to Speak and to Be Heard: Women’s Interpretations of Rights Discourses in the Oaxaca Social Movement
      (pp. 161-179)
      Lynn Stephen

      This chapter highlights the process by which several hundred women in Oaxaca City, Mexico, from different types of backgrounds took over state and then commercial media for a period of several months and in the process came to a gendered analysis of human rights. Their thinking centered on what they called the rights “to speak,” “to be heard,” and “to decide who governs.” Through an event-centered analysis I will argue that the appropriation of human rights discourses became gendered through the process of the media takeover. Through their experience running state television and radio stations and subsequently commercial stations, women...

    • Chapter 9 Muslim Women, Rights Discourse, and the Media in Kenya
      (pp. 180-199)
      Ousseina D. Alidou

      The proliferation of private media broadcasting stations, private newspapers, and magazines resulting from democratization processes in most African countries has created an outlet for the pluralistic voices in various national constituencies, but also ideologically divergent affirmations in Muslim polities. This development in old and new information and communication technologies (ICTs)—radio, audio cassettes, television, satellite, internet, and magazines—plays a key role in shaping the sociopolitical discursive practices in Muslim societies (Alloo 1999; Eickelman and Anderson 1999; Salvatore 1999; Haenni 2002; Schulz 2005). This interplay between democratization and the media phenomenon is especially significant as educated Muslim women become active...

    • Chapter 10 Fighting for Fatherhood and Family: Immigrant Detainees’ Struggles for Rights
      (pp. 200-217)
      Robyn M. Rodriguez

      In his poem, an immigrant detainee from England writes “Oh Lord I Plead, Trying to be part of this nation, For what the wicked done to us, This government is so unjust (WHY), In a jail cell I sit, And ask myself why, Do broken spirit die, The voice of my son cry, Daddy why why, Daddy why (WHY)?” The poem featured prominently in a report by the New Jersey Civil Rights Defense Committee (NJCRDC), Voices of the Disappeared: An Investigative Report of New Jersey Immigrant Detention (NJRDC 2007).

      Voices of the Disappeared is aimed to counter a late 2006...

    • Chapter 11 Defending Women, Defending Rights: Transnational Organizing in a Culture of Human Rights
      (pp. 218-234)
      Mary Jane N. Real

      This is a self-reflexive essay to introduce the Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition (WHRD IC), for which I serve as coordinator. Using the Coalition as a point of reference, the chapter examines the complexities of transnational organizing for women’s human rights. It provides an overview of the global-local articulation of human rights within which the Coalition operates, and points to the power of mobilizing under the appeal of a culture of “universality” of human rights while exposing the difficulties and dangers of advancing a women’s human rights agenda within a fundamentally androcentric framework and a pervasive culture of patriarchy....

  7. Notes
    (pp. 235-252)
  8. Bibliography
    (pp. 253-282)
  9. List of Contributors
    (pp. 283-288)
  10. Index
    (pp. 289-300)
  11. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 301-301)