News from Dec 18, 2017
A gender perspective for human rights research is a powerful and necessary tool for understanding and analysing human rights violations, inequalities and injustices. While being sensitive to the intersections of gender identity, sexual orientation, ability, race, nationality, age, religion and migration, gender studies engage critically with the history and the present, with the causes and repercussions of colonialism, racism, antisemitism, nationalism, sexism and capitalism.
Gender related human rights research does not only deal with women’s rights and effects of misogyny and patriarchy on the personal lives of women and girls, but pertains to all structures of the society and is deeply committed to the integration of a multifaceted perspective. Research on labour exploitation, asylum or access to justice – to name a few – concern all human beings, women, men, and non-binary genders. Research on freedom of gender expression, transphobia or intersex rights are an integral part of human rights research. In a broader sense, gender related research is interested in understanding hierarchies, marginalization, exclusion, dominance, difference, in/equalities, norms, etc.
Consequently, research on these highly complex discussions integrates a historicizing, contextualizing and subjectivizing approach, in order to rethink our societies and politics, combining theory with praxis. Furthermore, it helps to comprehend the impact of social movements and transnational advocacy networks on the political outcomes. Gender related research conducted in the field of human rights is committed to a cross-cultural and interdisciplinary approach that is not only continuously self-reflective and sensitive towards gender as a social category and social construction, but also employs a critical perspective on the complex and multifaceted power relations that structure contemporary political, economic, social and cultural realities.
The doctoral study and research programme Human Rights under Pressure supports a number of fascinating research projects that deal with gender related issues from different academic perspectives and disciplines, on both international and national levels. In what follows, participating researchers, as well as, doctoral and postdoctoral candidates of the program, give brief insights into their field of research and how this relates to feminist theory or gender related questions.
“In my view, you cannot study human rights law today and not be interested in gender-related perspectives. That does not mean that every project has to look at gender issues - but many will benefit from taking into account insights from the vast literature that has been generated over the last decades. In my own work on human rights cities I have studied how cities in the United States have decided to implement CEDAW locally in the absence of ratification by the Federal Government - a fascinating case of the localization of universal norms in a specific subject area.“
"As a researcher interested in analyzing state’s violence, power relations and social transformation, I have become more and more aware on the importance of challenging naturalized notions. These common notions based on traditions and habits have historically produced and maintained colonial, sexist, racist, misogynistic and xenophobic interpersonal and structural relations of power. These common notions also permeate politics, lectures, academic researches and debates. Hence, I believe academia has a powerful role to play disputing discourses, methods and knowledge (re) production. For this task, in my opinion, it is extremely important to approach gender not as something limited to one department (gender studies), but rather as a methodological and epistemological frame for tackling any social, legal, (geo)political, economic and cultural issues, intertwined with race and class."
“It is not only inappropriate, but in a broad variety of issue-areas also scientifically deficient, not to allow and control for consideration of the gender-related dimensions of research questions. This is particularly true in areas of human rights research, regardless of the discipline involved (law, political philosophy. sociology, political science etc.). This need not shift the overarching research agenda, so long as researchers have an acute awareness of the potential implications of gender for their research, and of the implications of their research for gender issues.”
“My current research focuses on socio-economic rights, a field which cannot be understood without a distinct gender dimension. The theoretical frameworks provided by gender studies, for instance, help us to contextualise the on-going resistance towards socio-economic rights. In particular, access to sanitation remains of greater concern to individuals in situations of marginalization and vulnerability including women, girls and non-binary individuals, even more so if they belong to an ethnic or religious minority, a certain caste or indigenous community, and when they live in poverty or with a disability. Research into gender identity, race, class, disability and other categories of marginalization and exclusion, as well as their intersectional linkages, shine light on the societal dynamics which are reproduced in the conceptualisation, interpretation and implementation of human rights and which lead to a preference of certain rights over others. Therefore, such dimensions must be taken into account if we want to make human rights protection, both in theory and practice, more robust in the future catering to the needs and interests of all individuals equally.”
Understanding inequalities and injustices caused by Family Laws, as a clear manifestation of patriarchal relations, has always been a main field of interest for feminist research. The state of Israel subordinates men and women to religious law in marriage and divorce, and Israeli civil law exempts from the duty of gender-equality maters of marriage, divorce and appointments to Judicial positions in state religious courts. Therefore, the intersection of gender, religious and national identities together with past and present colonial control policies at the “Jewish-Democratic State” makes the application Islamic law, as the state Family law for the Muslim minority, by state institutions a unique case for feminist research in theory. I cannot think of a theoretical framework that is more relevant than gender studies to the understanding of legal, political and social tools and goals chosen by minority feminists to challenge complex and combined power relations affecting the fulfillment of their human rights.
“My PhD project covers international criminal court’s reparations for victims of atrocity crimes in conflict countries like Congo DRC. The right to reparation is needs-based and its implementation should respond to victim-specific situations, one of which is gender-based harms. International crimes perpetrated in the Congo conflict have resulted in egregious violations of rights of women and children. Yet, domestic judicial response to such crimes is largely ineffective. Due to the masculinist tendency of some cultures, the voices of women are not heard. They are afraid to come forward and articulate their ordeal. A male-dominated sexual hierarchy leads to scanty information on gender-specific victimisations, a prerequisite for redress claims. Thorough research on how to formulate a viable gender-sensitive redress policy in male-dominated cultures is needed.”
“The focus of my research is on social rights in austerity Europe, a field that may not be associated outwardly with gender studies or feminism. A gender-oriented, feminist approach to social rights could be understood as concerning not only women, but all human beings, since it challenges the existing norms and power relations in the society. To this end, feminism is used in my research as the means towards a structural critique of austerity law and of subjectivity in the social rights discourse. By creating a unity of intellectual frameworks beyond the disciplinary barriers, feminism and gender studies foster a non-self-referential and heterogeneous approach to law and social sciences that is necessary not only for the better understanding and effective protection of human rights, but for the democratic future of our society altogether.”
“My research confronts the erasure of Jewish voices from German legal scholarship. What is required, I argue, is a tikkun — a correction or repair. To simply open the door and hope previously excluded voices enter is insufficient. These voices must be artificially implanted into the void. A similar tikkun is needed to correct for the absence of women. Until very recently, all of scholarship has been blind to the perspectives of half of humanity. Removing the blindfold will require decades of scholarly work. Gender studies is not just any academic discipline but rather an essential corrective to the countless deficiencies and defects of human knowledge consequent to absent voices. This is no mere academic exercise, but something essential to the human dignity of women.”
“In my research concerning policy consolidation process in the cases of violence against women and inequality in employment and education, I aim to understand how social issues come to be viewed as particular "problems" warranting state response. Key to this research is the understanding that the process of problem definition in policy making is a political process benefiting some stakeholders while impeding others. This understanding is heavily informed by feminist epistemology and its critical dimensions which guide us in revealing how taken for granted social constructions, possess unnoted political structures which reinforce particular approaches while undermining others.”
“Analyzing historical processes through the lens of gender helps fighting easy explanations and teleological narratives, for instance when comparing abortion laws before and after 1989 in Poland. It pushes you to ask how and why historical developments affected people differently and how these differences enhanced various forms of social interaction. ‘Studying gender’ is therefore more than just shedding light on historical gender inequalities and it is far from being focused on what some consider to be “women’s history”. It constitutes an important research perspective that brings ignored or forgotten aspects to the light and helps rethinking allegedly unalterable convictions.”
Rape and sexual violence in conflict have long been considered ‘collateral damage’, a ‘crime against family honour’ or an ‘indecent assault’. The academic discourse on women’s rights has revealed the gendered nature of these crimes, whose victims involve mainly women and girls, but also men and boys, and non-binary genders – often with the aim of their feminization along with the devalorization of the feminine. These crimes are not only perceived by the perpetrators as a manifestation of (male) power over the defeated (females), they are also committed as an instrument of war on a widespread and systematic scale to humiliate and destroy whole communities. Women’s rights advocates have contributed to the international recognition of wartime sexual and gender-based crimes as being most serious human rights violations, war crimes, crimes against humanity and an instrument of committing genocide, while the International Criminal Court recently stated that the prohibition of rape has attained a jus cogens status under international law. Further strengthening of this norm would not only empower women and fulfil their human rights, it would empower all individuals and whole communities – especially those transitioning from conflict to peace – towards justice, equality, non-discrimination and reconciliation.
“As a political philosopher, I regularly integrate gender aspects in my research and teaching. Concerning my work on human rights, I have learned a lot from feminist authors such as Martha Nussbaum, Iris Marion Young, Sheila Benhabib or Nancy Fraser who directed my attention, among other things, to the moral significance of physical needs, of one-sided dependencies and of caring relationships.”
“Refugee studies is being renewed and enriched by a growing gender-focused scholarship. Key concepts and legal categories, such as “refugee” or “vulnerability” are being unpacked. Gender biases in the way asylum systems operate are being exposed. This already led to significant change in jurisprudence and policy, but much remains to be done. In my own work on the European asylum system, gender has become a key analytical category to analyse discursive patterns that lead to mechanisms of inclusion and exclusion. From experience, I can only stress how crucial it is for gender scholarship to be part of the conversion on the future of refugee protection.”
“Today, sexual orientation and gender identity are increasingly integrated in the discourse of international law as well as in national and supranational constitutions. However, despite the growing recognition of same-sex relationships, including the right to marry, a friction remains with regard to same-sex parenting incorporating joint adoption or equal access to assisted reproductive technologies like artificial insemination or surrogacy. In my research on gay couples from Israel and Germany, who fulfilled their wish for a child with a surrogate and an egg donor in the USA, I am interested in the influence of the legal, political, social and cultural specificities of each country and how they influence the decision-making processes of the couples to become parents through surrogacy.”