Millions of women throughout the world live in conditions of
abject deprivation and attacks against their fundamental
human rights for no other reason than that they are women.
Considering this position, human rights for women, as for all
individuals, are protected in international law. The international
community has tried to play a decisive role in protecting human
rights of women. And in furtherance to this objective, vigilant
and concerted actions have been taken and which includes
documenting human rights violations, publicizing these as widely
as possible and campaigning to press government authorities
seeking an end to the abuses and confronting governments which
fail to protect fundamental human rights with full force of
International Instruments And Women
International instruments relating to women fall into three
distinct categories. The protective conventions, which came
earliest, seek to shield women in their employment conditions,
such as by prohibiting night work, employment in mines, and
certain types of plantation labor.
The second category of convention is corrective in nature,
intended to ameliorate a distinct social problem or restriction.
This type of convention covers matters such as loss of nationality
at time of marriage, restrictions on prostitution, sale of women
for forced labor, slavery and similar practices, child labor, and
other personal abuses.
The third category, which is the most recent, is intended to
prevent discrimination on the basis of sex in a wide variety of
fields, with normative sex-neutral provisions as the underlying
General Duties Of The State Under International Law
Generally, international conventions impose three types of duties
on the state. First, the state has a duty to respect rights.
Second, the state has a duty to protect rights - that is, to
prevent the violation of rights by private persons and
organizations who are not themselves bound by international
treaties. A state's failure
to organize the governmental apparatus and, in general, all the
structures through which public power is exercised, so that they
are capable of juridical ensuring the free and full enjoyment of
constitutes a breach of this duty. Third, the state has a duty to
fulfill rights. Upon ratifying international treaties, states must
take appropriate legislative, administrative, judicial, budgetary,
economic and other measures to achieve individual's full
realization of their human rights.
In addition, the duty to fulfill rights requires states to
alleviate persistent obstacles to the exercise of these rights.
Various International Instruments Relating To Women
Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948.
Nearly all international human rights instruments adopted by the
United Nations bodies since 1948 elaborate principles set out in
the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The drafters of the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights considered women as part of
?humanity? and granted them all rights as were granted to men.
Convention on the Political Rights of Women, 1952
The Convention on the Political Rights of Women provides for equal
political rights for women. Under this Convention, states are
obligated to ensure that women have the right to vote in
elections, to be elected to publicly elected bodies, and to
hold public office on equal terms with men. Women are entitled to
be free from discrimination in the exercise of these rights.
Though the Convention does not specifically mention affirmative
action for women to increase their participation in political as
well as public life, it does recognize the discriminatory
practices that hinder women's participation and obligates the
state party to equalize the status of men and women in the
enjoyment and exercise of political rights.
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966
The ICCPR, which was ratified in 1966, is a treaty of paramount
importance to the international community which sets forth
numerous provisions to ensure the enjoyment of civil and political
freedom for all people. The Civil Covenant assures women's civil
rights, as well as access to the political process.
International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights,
The Economic Covenant, in contrast, recognizes positive rights,
such as the rights to food, shelter, health care, and education.
The Economic Covenant is linked to distributive justice for the
most vulnerable, who are everywhere disproportionately female. The
Economic Covenant emphasizes the importance of non-discrimination
on the basis of sex by reiterating it in two articles (Articles 2
and 3), and it supports the concept of affirmative action.
Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination
against Women, 1967
In 1967, the United Nations promulgated the Declaration on the
Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women. This
Declaration recognized the particular nature of discrimination
against women as worthy of a separate legal response.
The declaration called for member states to submit reports on the
status of women in their own countries. The Indian government
released its report,
in 1971. The report illuminated the poor conditions of women in
India with regard to economic freedom, education, family and legal
rights and helped the more educated and politicized Indians to see
that something needed to be done to achieve full equality
in Indian society.
Declaration on the Protection of Women and Children in Emergency
and Armed Conflict, 1974The General Assembly had taken on a
true hybrid approach, citing both IHL and human rights law.
Through this Declaration, the Assembly demanded states abide by
the Geneva Conventions and
other instruments of international law relative to respect for
human rights in armed conflicts.
It specifically noted the relevance in armed conflict of the UDHR,
the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR),
the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
(ICESCR), and the Declaration of the Rights of the Child.
Although this document fails to address specifically the issue of
wartime rape, the preamble does acknowledge that women are
too often the victims of inhuman acts
during periods of armed conflict and are in need of special
protection. The Declaration also establishes mistreatment of women
during war as a criminal offense. While the document adds validity
to the need for recognizing women's issues in conflict situations,
it is only a nonbinding declaration and, thus, plays a limited
role in ending foreseeable, gender-specific war crimes. Convention
on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women,
Since the first years of the 1970s, the international community
was convinced of the need to gather, in one single compulsory
instrument, the great bulk of norms enunciated in the resolutions,
declarations, and recommendations of the international
organizations and the provisions of Conventions and Covenants
already adopted. This included the principles contained in the
Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination
Against Women, approved by the UN General Assembly in 1967
(Declaration of 1967).
This Convention has been rightly called the "Charter
of the Human Rights of Women."
In sixteen articles legally related to one another, several
principles that had been set forth at the international level in
the Declaration of 1967 are confirmed. Also, it emphasizes those
established in the Covenants of Human Rights, or in some other
specific conventions, such as the 1952 Convention on the Political
Rights of Women.
It is important to point out that the Convention, once opened to
the signature and ratification of states, was one of three
multilateral instruments to achieve in the least time the greatest
number of ratifications or accessions, thereby surpassing the
International Covenants on Human Rights of 1966. Thus, since 1980,
the year in which it was opened to signature, thru October, 2000,
166 states have ratified or acceded to it.
The Convention is structured in six parts. Part I is devoted to
general principles and commitments. Part II refers to the civil
and political rights of women. Part III corresponds to the social
areas, with special attention to rural women. Part IV is devoted
to equality before the law and within the family. Part V contains
the follow-up and surveillance provisions for the implementation
of the Convention and also establishes the Committee on the
Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). Finally, Part
VI refers to issues of procedure, entering into force, solution of
controversies, and presentation of reservations.
The Convention obliges governments to prohibit discrimination
against women on the one hand, and ensure their equality on the
other, equality being one of the Convention's goals. There is not,
at present, any procedure for complaints under this Convention,
though it is under active consideration. The Convention prohibits
any ?distinction, exclusion or restriction? based on sex, or
marital status, which is either intended to, or has the effect of,
impairing women's fundamental rights and freedoms, in any field.
This covers unintentional (or indirect) discrimination, as well as
deliberate acts that disadvantage women, and it affects the
protection of rights in private (or family) life as well as public
Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, 1993
The United Nation's 1993 Declaration on the Elimination of
Violence against Women defines gender-based violence broadly to
include any gender-based act that causes physical, sexual, or
The final Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against
Women, which was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in
1993 making it applicable to all United Nations member states,
condemned both public and private physical, sexual, or
psychological harm or suffering to women, specifically naming
violence within families and female genital mutilation as human
rights violations. This Declaration noted that these rights were
already protected among several international conventions,
including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The efforts done till now though have bettered the position of
women however we have not reached the stage of fully protecting
the human rights of women. There are still many instances
occurring around the world that are absolutely violative of
women's human right. For example, combatants and their
sympathizers in conflicts, such as those in Sierra Leone, Kosovo,
the Democratic Republic of Congo, Afghanistan, and Rwanda, have
raped women as a weapon of war with near complete impunity.
Men in Pakistan, South Africa, Peru, Russia, and Uzbekistan beat
women in the home at astounding rates, while these governments
alternatively refuse to intervene to protect women and punish
their batterers or do so haphazardly and in ways that make women
feel culpable for the violence.
As a direct result of inequalities found in their countries of
origin, women from Ukraine, Moldova, Nigeria, the Dominican
Republic, Burma, and Thailand are bought and sold, trafficked to
work in forced prostitution, with insufficient government
attention to protect their rights and punish the traffickers. In
Guatemala, South Africa, and Mexico, women's ability to enter and
remain in the work force is obstructed by private employers who
use women's reproductive status to exclude them from work and by
discriminatory employment laws or discriminatory enforcement of
the law. In the U.S., students discriminate against and attack
girls in school who are lesbian, bi-sexual, or transgendered, or
do not conform to male standards of female behavior. Women in
Morocco, Jordan, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia face
government-sponsored discrimination that renders them unequal
before the law - including discriminatory family codes that take
away women's legal authority and place it in the hands of male
family members - and restricts women's participation in public
Hence it is necessary that the campaign to protect women's human
rights is waged on more specific fronts and specific issues in
addition to protecting general human rights. The efforts be made
successful and the concept of women's human right? remains prosaic
They should be used to lobby for legislative and policy changes at
local, national and international levels, equally and used as
important tool for grassroots organizing. As the women's human
rights not only teach women about the range of rights that their
governments must honor; it also functions as a kind of gestalt by
which to organize analyses of their experiences and plan action
for change. The human rights framework creates a space in which
the possibility for a different account of women's lives can be
developed. What is so useful about this framework is that it
provides women with principles by which to develop alternative
visions of their lives without suggesting the substance of those
The fundamental principles of human rights that accord to each and
every person the entitlement to human dignity give women a
vocabulary for describing both violations and impediments to the
exercise of their human rights. The large body of international
covenants, agreements and commitments about human rights gives
women political leverage and a tenable point of reference. And
finally, the idea of women's human rights enables women to define
and articulate the specificity of the experiences in their lives
at the same time that it provides a vocabulary for women to share
the experiences of other women around the world and work
collaboratively for change.
 Inter-American Court of Human Rights: Judgment in Velasquez
Rodriguez Case (Forced Disappearance and Death of Individual in
Honduras), Inter-Am. C.H.R., 28 I.L.M. 291, 325-326, PP 173, 176
 Mary Ann Glendon, A World Made New: Eleanor Roosevelt And The
Universal Declaration Of Human Rights 111- 12, 164 (2001).
 Convention on the Political Rights of Women, Mar. 31, 1953,
art. 1, 27 U.S.T. 1909, 193 U.N.T.S. 135 (entered into force July
 Id. art. 2.
 Id. art. 3.
 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Dec. 16,
1966, 993 U.N.T.S. 171 (hereinafter ICCPR).
 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural
16, 1966, 993 U.N.T.S. 3 (hereinafter ICESCR).
 Matthew C. R. Craven, The International Covenant on Economic,
Social and Cultural Rights: A Perspective on its Development 184
(1995). (concluding that while the travaux confirmed the
legitimacy of affirmative action, there is little indication
beyond Article 3 that it is required, although the focus
throughout on vulnerable and disadvantaged groups is consistent
with affirmative action).
 G.A. Res. 2263, U.N. GAOR, 22nd Sess., U.N. Doc. A/6555
 Declaration on the Protection of Women and Children in
Emergency and Armed Conflict, G.A. Res. 3318, U.N. GAOR, 29th Sess.,
Supp. No. 31, at 146, U.N. Doc. A/9631 (1974).
 G.A. Res. 34/180, U.N. GAOR, 34th Sess., Supp. No. 46, at
193, U.N. Doc. A/34/46 (1980) (entered into force on Sept. 3,
 See Louis Henkin et al., Human Rights 370 (discussing
authorship of the Universal Declaration)
 http://hrw.org/women/, as visited on 20th July, 2007.
 http://www.cwgl.rutgers.edu/globalcenter/whr.html, as visited
on 20th July, 2007.