A Case Against Human Rights

As you may be able to guess from my last post, I approach issues from a very ideological standpoint. As a disclaimer at the beginning of this post, I would like to state that I do not expect policy makers to take the same view as I do, it just isn’t realistic. I do not think that my views could be adopted by states and put into action effectively right now. These are more hopeful musings, a critique of how things are, thoughts spoken aloud. My goal is not to prove the wrongness of the way things are done, but to question them, and to engage others in a thoughtful discussion. Enjoy!

As a student in a few feminist international politics courses in my fourth year, I was no stranger to critiques to the liberal approach to politics. In terms of feminism, liberalism is often critiqued as the “add women and stir theory”. No structural overhaul is required, as if more women take part in various institutions, their views will automatically be reflected in those institutions.

Now, I’m no radical militant feminist (haha….ha), but this didn’t quite click with me. Structurally, our society places women at an automatic disadvantage. For example, adding women to higher ranking jobs seems like a good idea at first. But women who make it to these positions generally embody traditionally male traits. That is wonderful for them, but what about the women who chose to have babies, but would also like a career? It seems as though society should be a little more accommodating to the gender that’s carrying the species’ young, especially when women have so much to offer! So yes, you can add women to high ranking jobs. But this will not guarantee women’s interests being represented. Women who reach such positions embody traditionally male traits, hence, women who would like to hold such positions but are structurally prevented from getting there are excluded either way. As a woman who potentially would like to have a child without forfeiting her career, this seems like a pretty bad deal.

After that brief explanation, I move to liberalism’s crowning glory on the global stage. It’s highest achievement, the most widely accepted standard of goodness that the modern world has: human rights. It’s used by organizations such as the UN to measure a state’s treatment of it’s people, despite an uncritical look at where these rules come from. Being that human rights standards stem from the ideals of a patriarchal, Western society, they of course reflect these values. For my purposes today, I will focus on the patriarchal aspect rather than the Western bias.

The best example of the inherent bias of human rights is the issue of healthcare. Although it is generally accepted that everyone should get equal healthcare, this is approached from a formal equality point of view. Yes, everyone should get vaccinations, emergency care, AIDS medication, etc. But, because everyone doesn’t require maternal care, birth control, or abortions, they’re often not considered under this umbrella statement. Despite the statement that everyone is entitled to equal healthcare, the outcome is not equal. Major gaps in necessary care are left for women when human rights are approached from a patriarchal perspective.

I struggle to explain this well. In terms of substantive equality, it recognizes that not everyone starts from the same level. So if women are to be equal, they require maternal healthcare and other services. Even though men do not require this sort of care, it doesn’t mean that it should be excluded from the human rights platform. It’s a necessary service to humanity.

Because it mainly focuses on the direct benefit to needs possessed by every member of humanity, human rights is not the most powerful tool for feminism. You could argue for the indirect benefit for everyone of women-specific healthcare, but there are many arguments within the human rights framework against this. For example, where do we stop? The slippery slope argument is popular because it wonders where we draw the line as to necessary services. If we give women this… then what will other “special interest groups” ask for next? Furthermore, when approaching things from a liberal, formal equality point of view, it’s near impossible to understand a feminist argument, as everyone appears to be starting from the same place. I would wonder if feminists can change the concept of human rights enough so that it still serves the vision of liberals, while also being inclusive of women’s needs? Is there any point in using human rights to achieve equality for women?

Although human rights seems on the surface to be a model to govern by, I don’t think that it’s as effective as it comes across. It glosses over structural inequalities, and not exclusively those felt by women. Let me know your thoughts on this, and perhaps some potential solutions! I’d love to hear them, and thanks for reading another long-winded, rant-y post.

Reflections on Women and the Legal System

A few weeks ago, I was reading a handbook given to women who are a part of the program I volunteer for. This program aids women in many aspects whilst leaving or in abusive relationships. One line in particular caught my eyes. It stated, paraphrased, that  when a woman calls the police in a physical domestic abuse case, the police will press charges against the abuser whether the woman wants to or not. The idea is that the police must protect victims who are afraid of the backlash, and therefore would not press charges themselves.

At first, this sounds like a perfectly reasonably response. The woman may want to go back, as women in abusive relationships often do. It’s hard to extricate oneself from the many layers of psychological and emotional manipulation that abused women experience. But seeing as the woman either can’t see that pressing charges and leaving is best for her, or won’t do either, someone must intervene and make the decision that’s best for her… right? I mean, it’s in her own best interests. 

From a feminist perspective, this is completely out of line. Effectively extricating a woman from her abusive relationship would ideally involve empowerment of the woman. Giving a woman agency and the ability to make her own decisions is paramount to her empowerment. So how does this fit with forcing her to press charges? Essentially, it doesn’t . The law in Canada has never been built from a feminist perspective. Examples include not believing a woman’s rape testimony because she is not “impartial” (because of course it’s possible to be objective, not like judges hold previous views that contribute to how they judge people or anything… but that is another issue for another post), or allowing for the use of a woman’s counseling records against her in her rape case in court by the abuser (leading to many counseling organizations not keeping notes at all on their counseling sessions with rape survivors).  But practically, does it make sense to allow a woman a choice in what could potentially be a harmful situation?

Organizations working from a feminist perspective, or at least the one I’m involved in, view women as the expert in their own lives. Although it is important for counselors to work with women to make the best choices for herself, it’s not about taking women by the hand and telling them what’s right. For example, if she calls the police and her partner is charged, the retaliation from this 9-1-1 call could put her (and her children’s) lives at risk.  She would likely be aware of this, given that she will have become familiar with the abuse cycle’s ebbs and flows. Perhaps the woman knows she has to leave, but this just isn’t the time. Maybe she will try to leave, and go back many times before she can successfully leave her abusive partner. But this must be the choice of the woman.

 I do not advocate for allowing children to be exposed to domestic abuse in favour of a woman’s choice. I do not think a woman should be left for dead because she has a principled right to choice. But the most vulnerable time for a woman is while she is leaving her abusive partner. The law is perhaps not the best route to help a woman leave. It’s lack of flexibility, and also, lack of experience with abused women, make it very ineffective in cases of domestic abuse. Most specifically, it does not help with mandatory charging in domestic assault calls. Laws are created within a patriarchal system, with little to no feminist reflection. Therefore, I would question their effectiveness in dealing with crimes that are the product of a patriarchal society.


I’ll leave you with the question at the heart of this blog post: Is women’s agency undermined by the legal system, and is this necessary for their overall well-being?

The First World, Third World and Capitalism: A (Very) Brief Look

To start off my second post, I’d like to ask a question: Is it possible for relations between the First and Third World to be equal in a capitalist economy?

The answer to this question may not seem to change much. Capitalism appears to be here to stay, so deeply engrained in our society that it forms the very roots of our being. Our value systems, our interactions with other humans and animals, and the food we eat, are just a few broad examples of the capitalist influence.

Despite all this, I feel it is important to examine why we behave the way we do. Is capitalism truly inevitable? Must our very society encourage greed, counting one with the most money as the most successful? Questions such as these encourage us to avoid making assumptions about what it right and wrong. It is an important consciousness-raising activity to question our assumptions.

To answer this question, I’ll first define the First and Third Worlds. For the purpose of this question, I’d define the Third World as experiencing poverty, having less access to necessities such as water and food, and having more inequalities amongst their population. The First world can be compared to this in that it is an industrialized, wealthy and accessible state. Though I wouldn’t pretend that the First World is inherently better or more deserving of these privileges, they possess more economic success than Third World countries. Other factors include democracy, general health of the population, treatment of women and minorities, and others, but this simple definition will do for this post.

Getting to the point, I’d like to propose two answers to my question. The first is that, yes, they could be equal, in that the Third World could eventually accumulate enough wealth to be considered a First World country. Under capitalism, the equality would come from a mainly economic standpoint. How much money is spent on the population? How much money is possessed by the lowest rungs of society? How industrialized is the country, do they only export raw goods or other products as well? By finding a commodity that is of use to the rest of the world, it is of course very plausible that a Third World country could propel itself to First World-dom. Perhaps the equality comes from a formal equality perspective, in that everyone has an equal opportunity.

The second answer is (you guessed it) no, they can’t be equal in a capitalist economy. The obvious sticking point is that maybe this whole capitalism thing is a zero-sum game. Maybe there isn’t enough room for everyone to be a First World country. Do the First Worlders not thrive on exploitation? Is cheap labour not necessary for the success of an industrialized country? Maybe rather than being zero-sum, equality is more substantive, thought states may seem to have an equal opportunity, some are starting from a less privileged place to begin with.

This is risking becoming much more complex than I have time to explore right now, and beyond these thoughts (peppered with discussions, readings and papers from classes I’ve taken) I would require more reading. Input and thoughts would be greatly appreciated!

Welcome to my Blog

And when I say welcome, I really mean it. Here is a place where I will celebrate diversity, question “difference”, struggle with what is right and wrong, and discuss current and not-so-current issues, all with a feminist spin.

It will also be a home for some of my less thought-out thoughts… The ones that I encounter and wonder, and would like to discuss.

 I would love input from anyone and everyone, to broaden my knowledge and show me the world from a different set of eyes.