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  • Print publication year: 2010
  • Online publication date: July 2011

2 - Feminist theories on international law and human rights



Animating feminist theories of the international legal system is the exclusion of women from mainstream human rights norms, processes, and institutions. While there is general agreement among feminist scholars that the international human rights legal system could do more to address the particular concerns of women, there is far less agreement as to the reasons for women's exclusion, how the system may be reformed to be more inclusive, or whether it is capable of being transformed. In this chapter I explore four of the principal feminist critiques/themes of international law and international human rights law, setting out also some of the main internal contradictions and disagreements surrounding these themes within feminism. This chapter forms the theoretical framework for the remainder of the book, which is concerned with how international human rights law has responded to women's concerns in the particular context of violence against women.

In this book I adopt Janet Halley's three-tiered definition of feminism. First, to qualify as a feminist argument, a distinction must be made between men/male/masculine (which she refers to as ‘m’) and women/female/feminine (which she refers to as ‘f’). Second, feminism must posit some kind of subordination between m and f, in which f is the disadvantaged or subordinated element. Third, in opposing this subordination and in attempting to eradicate it, ‘feminism carries a brief for f’.