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Human Rights: Toward an integrated theory for action

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  1. 1.

    United Nations,Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, Article 3. For an overview of the traditional United Nations approach to the human rights of women, see Laura Reanda, “Human Rights and Women's Rights: The United Nations Approach,”Human Rights Quarterly 3, no. 2 (Spring 1981): 11-31. See also Hilkka Pietila,What the United Nations Means to Women (Geneva: United Nations Non-Governmental Liaison Service, 1985).

  2. 4.

    See, for example, John Locke, “An Essay Concerning the True Original Extent and End of Civil Government,” inThe World's Great Thinkers: Man and the State, eds. Saxe Commins and Robert N. Linscott (New York: Random House, 1947); Jean-Jacques Rousseau, “From The Social Contract,” inThe World's Great Thinkers; and the Preamble to the United States Declaration of Independence.

  3. 5.

    Ibid. A little publicized sidelight on Rousseau's famous misogyny is provided by historian Linda Kerber, who notes that his sadomasochistic sexual tastes may have given Rousseau an additional stake in perpetuating the submission of women. (Linda Kerber,Women and the Republic: Intellect and Ideology Revolutionary America [Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1980]).

  4. 6.

    For example, at the first United States Women's Rights Convention in 1848, Elizabeth Cady Stanton adapted the U.S. Declaration of Independence as a “women's rights manifesto” by adding to it two critical words: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all menand women are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” (emphasis added). Thus, in the same year that Marx and Engels issued theCommunist Manifesto, demanding economic rights for the “working man,” three hundred persons assembled in the Wesleyan Chapel at Seneca Falls, New York to assert that women are entitled not only to economic but also political and social rights: “We insist that they have immediate admission to all the rights and privileges which belong to them as citizens of the United States” (“Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions, Seneca Falls,” inFeminism: The Essential Historical Writings, ed. Miriam Schneir [New York: Vintage, 1972]).

  5. 7.

    For detailed information on how the human rights of women have been split off from the mainstream of the international human rights movement, seeHuman Rights Quarterly 3, no. 2 (Spring 1981), special issue on “Symposium: Women and International Human Rights,” guest editor Fran P. Hosken.

  6. 9.

    W.B. Blackstone,Commentaries, 19th London edition (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1908) 1:366.

  7. 10.

    In Europe archeological data indicate that the shift from a matrilineal, matrifocal, and generally equalitarian society to a patrilineal, patrifocal, and male-dominant society began circa 4400 B.C. with the first wave of Indo-European (Kurgan) invasions. The archeological record evidences a dramatic change. For example, there is the first appearance of “chieftain graves” and what archeologists call “suttee burials.” Here among the “funerary gifts” we find sacrificed women along with weapons and other possessions of the deceased, attesting to the continuation of the male's absolute power after death. See Marija Gimbutas, “The First Wave of Eurasian Steppe Pastoralists into Copper Age Europe,”Journal of Indo-European Studies 5, no. 4 (Winter 1977): 277–338. See also Riane Eisler,The Chalice and the Blade (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1987).

  8. 11.

    See, for example, Riane Eisler, “Human Rights: The Unfinished Struggle,”International Journal of Women's Studies 6, no. 4 (September/October 1983): 326–35; and Eisler,The Chalice and The Blade.

  9. 12.

    Alburey Castle,An Introduction to Modern Philosophy (New York: Macmillan, 1946): 425.

  10. 13.

    George Gilder,Wealth and Poverty (New York: Basic Books, 1981). See also Riane Eisler,The Equal Rights Handbook: What ERA Means to Your Life, Your Rights, and the Future (New York: Avon Books, 1978).

  11. 14.

    This is not to say that these rights have traditionally been protected or that even now they are uniformly recognized. For example, laws forbidding interracial marriage were once commonplace in the American South and still exist in some parts of the world. Freedom of speech and assembly are severely curtailed in many nations. So also is reproductive freedom of choice, even though, as U.S. Supreme Court Justice Harry A. Blackmun recently wrote: “Few decisions are more personal and intimate, more properly private or more basic to individual dignity and autonomy than a woman's decision . . . whether to end her pregnancy” (U.S. Supreme Court, Majority Opinion,Thornburgh v. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, decided 11 June 1986).

  12. 15.

    Raine Eisler,Dissolution: No-Fault Divorce, Marriage, and the Future of Women (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1977).

  13. 16.


  14. 17.

    For an excellent overview of how under both law and custom women continue to be deprived of property rights, see Fran P. Hosken, “Women and Property,”Development Forum (October 1984). Under Hosken's direction, Women's International Network is currently developing a detailed program and budget for a worldwide investigation of women's property/land rights, which will be a future INSTRAW (International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women) project.

  15. 18.

    See, for example, Dr. Asma El Dareer,Sudan: National Study on the Epidemiology of Female Circumcision (Khartoum: Department of Community Medicine, University of Khartoum, 1979); Fran P. Hosken,The Hosken Report: Genital and Sexual Mutilation of Females (Lexington, MA: WIN News, 1982, 1984); A.G. Selassie, M. Desta, and Z. Negesh, “Harmful Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children in Ethiopia,” Report Funded by UNICEF/AAO Ethiopia; Odile Botti, “The Battle Against Excisions by Africans: A Survey of Actions in 3 West African Countries,”Marie Claire, November 1985; Salah Abu Bakr,The Effect of Vulval Mutilation on the Nerve Supply: Anatomical Considerations (Sudan, Ministry of Health) (this monograph unequivocally establishes that these operations deprive women of any ability to feel genital sensation); Renée Saurei,L'Enterée Vive (Geneva-Paris: Editions Slatkine, 1981). There are numerous other materials, includingEnaba, Aziza wa Abeer, the 1980 documentary film on women's lives and clitoridectomy, by Dr. Laila Abou-Saif, an Egyptian filmmaker; and the excellent up-to-date reports in the section on Genital and Sexual Mutilations of Females that appear in the quarterlyWIN News, published by Fran P. Hosken. For an important article examining the human rights issues involved, see Fran P. Hosken, “Female Genital Mutilation and Human Rights,”Feminist Issues 1, no. 3 (Summer 1981): 3-23.

  16. 19.

    Among African nations that have recently begun to take measures against the continuation of genital mutilations are Egypt, Kenya, and Sudan, where in 1979 the Khartoum Seminar organized by the World Health Organization was held and recommendations were made to eradicate these practices. Since these “operations,” which are sometimes fatal, are being exported to Europe along with Muslim and African immigrants, a number of European nations, including France, Sweden, and Great Britain have also recently begun to address these practices. M. Abdou Kiouf, President of Senegal; Thomas Sankara, Chief of State of Burkina Faso; Mathieu Kerkou, Chief of State of Benin; Moussa Traore, President of Mali; and Hassan Gouled Aptridon, President of Djibouti, have also spoken out against these practices (quoted in WIN News 12, no. 2 [Spring 1986]: 31).

  17. 20.

    See, for example, Eisler, “Human Rights: The Unfinished Struggle”; and Fran P. Hosken, “Editorial: Women's Rights and Human Rights,”WIN News 10, no. 3 (Spring 1984): 1-2. As Hosken writes, “An examination of human rights on the global level is meaningless unless it is based on an examination of human rights on the family level, and between family members, women and men.”

  18. 21.

    For example, in Kenya a bill that would have required reforms in polygyny and traditional violence against women was shelved by an overwhelming majority in 1979. One of the legislators, Kimunai arap Soi. charged that the bill would make it impossible to teach wives “manners” by beating them, and that the proposed legislation was “very un-African.” Another opponent, Wafula Wabuge, contended in opposition to the bill that African women loved their men more when they were slapped, “for then the wives call you darling” (Time Magazine, quoted inWIN News 5, no. 4 [Autumn 1979]: 42).

  19. 22.

    For continuing reports, seeWIN News' regular section on Women and Violence. For a historical overview of American law, see Eisler,Dissolution: No-Fault Divorce, Marriage, and the Future of Women.

  20. 23.

    Ruth L. Sivard,Women. . . A World Survey (Washington, D.C.: World Priorities, 1985).

  21. 24.

    WIN News 9, no. 4 (Autumn 1983): 42.

  22. 25.

    A classic work on this subject is Carolyn Bird,Born Female (New York: Pocket Books, 1968).

  23. 26.

    Even before this, Renaissance humanists attacked the traditional body of intolerance of Western society (particularly its religious dogmatism). This opened up the debate that made it possible during the Enlightenment to frontally challenge the divine right of kings.

  24. 27.

    United Nations,1985 State of the World Women's Report. See also note 17 above.

  25. 28.

    See, for example, United Nations,Review and Appraisal: Health and Nutrition (World Conference to Review and Appraise the Achievements of the United Nations Decade for Women, Nairobi, Kenya, July 1985 A/CONE 116/5/Add. 3;); “Women in Food Production, Food Handling and Nutrition with Special Emphasis on Africa,” study by United Nations Protein-Calorie Advisory Group,PAG Bulletin 3, no. 3/4 (September/December 1977X as well as latest PAG report summarized inWIN News 12, no. 3 (Summer 1986); and Hosken,The Hosken Report, section on Women and Development.

  26. 29.


  27. 30.

    Eisler, “Human Rights: The Unfinished Struggle”; and Eisler,The Chalice and the Blade.

  28. 31.

    Sivard,Women.. . A World Survey.

  29. 32.

    Eisler,The Chalice and the Blade, and Riane Eisler and Vilmos Csanyi, “Human Biology and Social Structure” (work in progress).

  30. 33.

    John Stuart Mill, “The Subjection of Women,” inThe Feminist Papers, ed. Alice Rossi (New York: Bantam Books, 1973): 238.

  31. 34.

    See, for example, Riane Eisler and David Loye, “The 'Failure' of Liberalism: A Reassessment of Ideology from a New Feminine-Masculine Perspective,”Political Psychology 4, no. 2 (1983): 375–91; Eisler,The Chalice and the Blade; Riane Eisler and David Loye, “Peace and Feminist Thought: New Directions,” inWorld Encyclopedia of Peace (London: Pergamon Press, in press); and Riane Eisler, “Violence and Male Dominance: The Ticking Time Bomb,”Humanities in Society 7, no. 1 and 2 (Winter-Spring 1984): 3-18.

  32. 35.

    United Nations,Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, Article 1.

  33. 36.

    Ibid., Article 16.

  34. 37.

    Ibid., Article 5.

  35. 38.

    Kathleen Barry, “Female Sexual Slavery: Understanding the International Dimensions of Women's Oppression,”Human Rights Quarterly 3, no. 2 (Spring 1981): 45.

  36. 39.


  37. 40.

    Hosken, “Editorial: Women's Rights and Human Rights.” For a good overview of the “invisibility” of these human rights violations, seeHuman Rights Quarterly 3, no. 2 (Spring 1981), special issue on Women and International Human Rights.

  38. 41.

    See, for example, Riane Eisler, “Women's Rights and Human Rights,”The Humanist, November/December 1980; and Eisler and Loye, “The 'Failure' of Liberalism.”

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Eisler, R. Human Rights: Toward an integrated theory for action. Feminist Issues 7, 25–46 (1987). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02933919

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