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Feminisms, Women's Rights, and the UN: Would Achieving Gender Equality Empower Women?



Although all theories that oppose the subordination of women can be called feminist, beyond this common denominator, feminisms vary in terms of what they see as the cause of women's subordination, alternatives to patriarchal society, and proposed strategies to achieve the desired change. This article offers a critical examination of the interaction of feminist theories and the international human rights discourses as articulated at the UN forums and documents. It contends that although a range of feminisms that elucidate the diversity of women's experiences and complexities of oppression have been incorporated into some UN documents, the overall women's rights approach of the UN is still informed by the demands and expectations of liberal feminism. This is particularly evident in the aggregate indicators that are employed to assess the “empowerment of women.” In addition to explaining why liberal feminism trumps other feminisms, the article addresses the problems with following policies that are informed by liberal feminism. Noting that the integrative approach of liberal feminism may establish gender equality without empowering the majority of women, it criticizes using aggregate indicators of empowerment for conflating sources of power with empowerment and making false assumptions.


Corresponding author

Zehra F. Kabasakal Arat is Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Connecticut, 365 Fairfield Way, U-1024, Storrs, CT 06269-1024 (


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