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Human Rights Quarterly. 1999; 21:853-906.This article will trace the evolution of thought and activism over the centuries aimed at defining women's human rights and implementing the idea that women and men are equal members of society. Three caveats are necessary. First, because women's history has been deliberately ignored over the centuries as a means of keeping women subordinate, and is only now beginning to be recaptured, this is primarily a Northern story until the twentieth century. Second, because of this ignorance, any argument that the struggle to attain rights for women is only a Northern or Western effort is without foundation. Simply not enough available records exist detailing women's struggles or achievements in the Southern or Eastern sections of the world. The few records available to Northern writers attest that women in other parts of the world were not content with their status. Third, the oft-heard argument that feminism (read the struggle for women's equality) is a struggle pursued primarily by elite women is simply another example of the traditional demeaning of women. History is replete with examples of male leaders who are not branded with this same charge, even though much of history is about elite men. (excerpt)
In: Women in the Third World: an encyclopedia of contemporary issues, edited by Nelly P. Stromquist. New York, New York, Garland Publishing, 1998. 477-85. (Garland Reference Library of Social Science Vol. 760)After an introduction that describes the UN Decade for Women (1976-85) as a catalyst to development of the global women's movement, this essay reviews the legal instruments and world conferences that led up to the Decade for Women. Selected conventions of concern to women from 1949 are tabulated to illustrate the number of ratifications received as of September 1993, and eight milestones in the UN effort to advance women are listed. The discussion then focuses on the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, on the Nairobi Forward-Looking Strategies, and on the Fourth World Conference on Women and its Platform for Action. The next section of the essay describes the feminist networking that has flourished since the first women's conference in 1975 and received enough encouragement at the second conference in 1985 to spawn a global feminist movement. The essay continues with a review of the status of academic research into gender issues and of shifting policy in the UN system and other donor agencies as a result of adoption of a "Women in Development" approach. The essay then reviews the UN's 1994 World Survey on the Role of Women in Development to illuminate the role of women in a changing global economy and covers UN publications that seek to explicate women's positions in various regions in the 1990s. The essay concludes that the UN Decade for Women helped create common ground between activists in the North and the South, fostered networking, legitimized activities to promote women's rights, and inspired the UN to take action to advance women within its system.
New York, New York, United Nations, Dept. of Public Information, 1996. , 845 p. (United Nations Blue Book Series, Vol. 6)The first section of this book traces the history of the UN's efforts to improve the status of women. An overview is presented in the first part, and part 2 chronicles the UN's efforts to secure the legal foundations of women's rights during the period 1945-62. Part 3 traces the stage of the UN's work (1963-75) that began with recognition of the indispensable role of women in development and of the gulf between the existence of women's legal rights and women's ability to exercise these rights. Part 4 follows developments through the UN Decade for Women (1976-85), and part 5 describes actions taken from 1986-96 to respond to the failure of the Decade for Women to achieve improvements in the priority areas of employment, health, and education. Part 6 concludes this section by remarking on the strategies and issues that will dominate the UN's next 50 years of work in improving women's status and eliminating gender-based discrimination and by noting that the Platform for Action from the 1996 Fourth World Conference on Women serves as a tool in the empowerment of women but that the formal recognition of women's rights has yet to lead to a practical improvement in their status. The remainder of the book contains 1) a chronology of events, 2) a chronology of UN conferences and seminars, and 3) a selection of documents on women published by the UN that form a comprehensive record of UN involvement in the campaign to promote women's rights, including the complete texts of the major conventions, treaties, and declarations.