Dr. Momi Dutta Kotoky
Devi Charan Baruah Girls’ College, Jorhat, Assam, India

Apart from the biological differences although women possess the same mental capabilities yet they are not treated as the equal partner of this human race. They are discriminated, degraded and subjected to face several inhuman treatments in every walk of life. It is in this context the liberal thinkers since the days of Marry Wollstonecraft have been raising the voice for equal recognition of women as fellow human being and exercise of rights thereto. Here an attempt has been made to study the development of human rights movement of women and the relative issues of women human rights as well.

Key words: Women, Human Rights, Biological, Differences, Discriminated, Degraded, Inhuman, Treatment, Marry Wollstonecraft

Although men and women are the two wheels of the human race yet women are not considered as the equal contributors. Consequently they have to face the degrading treatment, subordination and subjugation in every walk of life. This pathetic vulnerability compelled the world women to fight for due recognition and share in the whims of human rights which are meant for every member of this human family irrespective of gender, caste, origin, ability or disability. The movement for human rights which was originated in the form of demand for equal share in administration now gathers momentum. It is in this context the study on development of human rights movement of women assumes importance.

  1. To Study the development of the human rights movement of women
  2. To Study the main issues of human rights of women.

To study the objectives the descriptive analytical and historical methods have been followed. The historical conventions, covenants, events have been considered as the sources of primary data and the articles, reports, books and journals have been considered as the secondary source of data collection.

4.Results and Discussion

4.1 Theoretical Aspects (Human Rights and Perspective Defined)
The term human rights have been used by the Universalist thinkers to mean the privileges and opportunities which should be exercised by the each and every members of the human family irrespective of caste, creed, gender, religion, language, origin, state etc. Human rights are those rights which are associated with the self esteem of the human beings. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) says that recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world. From this it can be said that the rights associated with the inherent dignity of the members of the human family are human rights.

The 1987 publication of Human Rights Questions and Answers, the United Nations defines human rights as “those rights which are inherent in our nature and without which we cannot live as human beings. Human rights and fundamental freedoms allow us to fully develop as use our human qualities, our intelligence, our talents, and our conscience and to satisfy our spiritual and other needs. They are based on mankind’s increasing demand for a life in which the inherent dignity and worth of each human being will receive respect and protection.” Thus it can be said that the fundamental freedoms and privileges which help us to use our intelligence, qualities and talents and conscience to satisfy our needs and be the master of ourselves are human rights.

The term perspective is used to mean different connotations. Eckstein (1996) in “Perspective on Comparative Politics Past and Present” defined ‘perspective’ as the illumination of the present condition of the respective field by discussing the main phrases of evolution and the forces that have affected it, both in the present and the past. Meda (2002) in “New Perspectives on Work as Value” cleared that perspective implies an understanding of historically determined construct of a particular situation by studying the underlying historical process and forces that work behind such situation.
4.2 Issues and Development of Human Rights of Women: A Perspective
In this study “Women and Human Rights – A Perspective” an attempt has been made to understand the human rights movement of women by studying the underlying historical process and the relative forces behind it. The issues and development of human rights of women can be discussed by dividing the historical processes into three phases:

4.2.1 Human Rights of Women: Demand for Suffrage and Political Equality (Phase I)
Human Rights which were originated as “rights of man” in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries as natural and inalienable rights were restricted to be exercised by men only. It was only in the nineteenth century a few liberal and radical thinkers contested this term and demanded the extension of these rights to the women. This generated the first move for female emancipation which now becomes a movement for women liberation.

In 1792, the British liberal writer Mary Wollstonecraft with her Vindication of Rights of Women challenged the conservative attitude on capabilities of women. After her, the thinkers like John Stuart Mill, Jane Auster, Charlotte Bronte, Fanny Burney, and Madame de Steal began to describe the world of women through their valuable writings. Since then issues of women rights began the topic of discussion among the enlightened class. Nagendra (2006) in his book ‘Women’s Right’ observed that in 1840 when the women delegates were denied to participate actively in the World Anti Slavery Convention, the humiliated women representatives basically Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton vowed to hold separate women convention to discuss their own problems. Eight years later on July 19, 1848, convened the first women convention Wesleyan Chapel in Seneca Falls, New York. Here Elizabeth Cady Stanton prepared the Declaration of sentiment from the list of grievances prepared by the revolutionaries of England in the form of Declaration of Independence. Among them the issues like right to vote, right to take part in law making processes, right to property, right to custody of child and divorce, right to equal pay for equal work, right to equal opportunity of work and above all the right to equal dignity and respect have not lost their relevance even today. This paved the way to launch the collective movement for recognizing human rights to women also.

Sridharan (2003) revealed that in 1906 the international community convened a convention to prohibit the employment of women in night works. This can be regarded as the first such general attempt in respect of women’s right. The convention of 1919 and 1921 recognized some rights concerning the employment of women in work during and after child birth and evil trafficking of women and children. However the human rights movement of women could make its own place in the international agenda only after the Second World War. The Charter of the UNO (1945) recognized the equal rights of men and women. In 1946, the UN constituted the Commission on the Status of Women with the view to monitor the situation of women and promote their rights. In 1948, the General Assembly of the UNO accepted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and declared that the UDHR shall be a common standard of achievement for all peoples and for all nations with the end that every individual and every organ of society keeping this declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and educating to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance, both among the people of member states themselves and among the people of territories and their jurisdiction. The UDHR clearly states that the rights which are meant for human being can be enjoyed by the every member of the human family. Article 2 of the Declaration says- “everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this declaration without discrimination of any kind such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property or other status. Therefore no discrimination shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional status of the country to which a person belongs”. The UDHR contains 30 articles which outline the civil, political, humanitarian, economic and social rights. These rights serve as the basis of other human rights instruments like International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

In the decade of 1950, women liberalists demanded equality in terms of political rights to women on the basis of the recommendations of the UN Commission on the Status of Women. In 1953 the UN General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Political Rights of Women. The convention elaborates the Article 21 of the UDHR and specifically recognizes the right to equality to both men and women in items of public employment, representation and functions. Article 1 of this convention says that women shall be entitled to vote in all elections on equal terms with men and there should not be any discrimination on any ground. Women are equally eligible for all elected institutions. They are entitled to hold public office and perform public functions on equal terms with men.

The Commission on status of women (1949) again brought the concern of world community on the issue of nationality of married women. Generally the problem of nationality of married women arises in the context of service condition and divorce. The most common practice of acquiring and losing nationality by a woman is that whenever she marries a person of foreign country she will lose her own nationality and acquire the nationality of her husbands’ country. This has created a serious problem in case of the working and divorcee women. Expressing its concern over the issue the commission on the status women prepared a draft convention on the question of nationality of married women in 1957 and the General Assembly adopted it in the year 1957 which is known as the Convention on the Nationality of Women 1957. Article 1 of this convention says that neither the celebration nor the dissolution of a marriage between one of its nationals and an alien, and the change of nationality by the husband during the marriage, shall automatically affect the nationality of wife. Women shall be able to retain their nationality even if their husband voluntarily acquires the nationality of another state or renounce his nationality (Article 2). According to Article 3, Para I, the alien wife of one of its nationals may, at her request, acquire the nationality of her husband through specially privileged naturalization procedures.

4.2.2 Human Rights of Women: Combat against Inequalities (Phase II) 
In this phase the problem of reproductive health and right to consent to marriage emerged in the discourse of women rights. In 1960, the General Assembly of the United Nations passed the Convention on Consent to marriage, Minimum age of Marriage and Registration of Marriage. This Convention binds the member states to pass national laws to grant the right to consent to marriage to women and define the minimum age of marriage as well as registration of marriage to protect women from unexpected harassment and torture.
In the decade of 1970 the issue of existing discrimination became the agenda of discussion of women activists. The protagonists of women’s right movement could convince the world community that the existing laws and conventions though try to grant equality to women, yet discrimination pervades everywhere. In 1967 the UN General Assembly adopted the Declaration on Elimination of Discrimination against Women. The Declaration in its Preamble observes that the existing Conventions though grant equal rights to women, yet discrimination against women has not stopped. The Declaration re-affirms that the principle of equality should be followed by every nation to recognize human right.

The UN declared the year 1975 as the International Year of Women and requested the World Community to observe the Decade as the International Decade of Women (1975-1984). The issue of status of women, development, discrimination against women etc discussed and debated worldwide and attention was given on to promote legislative measures for ameliorating the conditions of women. Ultimately General Assembly of the UN adopted the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEADAW) in 1979. The preamble of this convention notes that despite the resolutions declarations and recommendations adopted by the U.N. and its specialized agencies, extensive discrimination against women continues to exist which is an obstacle to the participation of women, on equal terms with men in the political, social, economic and cultural life of their countries, hampers the growth of the prosperity of society and the family. The convention by defining the term discrimination as any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field asks the state parties to take all appropriate measures including legislation. The conventions admits that the social and cultural patterns of conduct of men and women always determined by the prejudices and customary and all other practices which are based on the idea of inferiority or the superiority of either of the sexes or on stereotyped roles for men and women. Therefore the state parties must try to modify it.

The Convention again requests the state parties to take appropriate measures on recognition of maternity as social responsibility and common responsibilities of men and women in upbringing children. The convention also recognizes the right to property equally to women. The same rights can be enjoyed by both spouses in respect of the ownership, acquisition, management, administration, enjoyment and disposition of property.

The convention again talks about the elimination of discrimination against women of the rural areas where most of them work in the non-monetized sectors to boost the economy of the family. The state parties must take appropriate measure to provide all types of education and training in order to increase their technical proficiency. Rural women should be organized by means of self help groups and co-operatives in order to obtain equal access to economic opportunities through employment or self employment.

4.2.3 Human Rights of Women: Combat against Violence (Phase III)
During the decade of international women the issues like development and peace, violence against women came into front. These matters dominated the discussion of the World Conference on Women (Copenhagen, 1980) too.  Since then the world women seriously discussed the matter of domestic violence and rape and its impact on society and requested the nation states to take appropriate legislative measures against such serious crime.

During the days of 1990s, the thought of forward looking strategies for the advancement of women came to the light and it has dominated the agenda of women human rights till day. In its 7th Conference on the Prevention of Crime and Treatment of Offenders (Milan, 25th August- 6th September 1985), the UNO accepted the issue of domestic violence and rape as the serious concern of world community. In 1989, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, called the states to include information on gender-based violence in their reports. In January 1992, the committee on Elimination of Discrimination against Women adopted General Recommendations no.19 on violence against women and on the basis of it the General Assembly of UNO through its resolution adopted the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women in 1993 (Dutta, 2003). This Declaration can be regarded as the first attempt of its kind which exclusively deals with the elimination of violence against women.

In 1993 the World Conference on Human Rights (Vienna) discussed the experiences of oppression and violence against women and the idea of having an Optional Protocol to the Women’s convention gained its ground. The Fourth World conference on Women, which was held at Beijing in 1995, asserted that “Women’s rights are Human Rights” and women’s rights must, therefore be addressed in both public and private sphere of society, more particularly in the family. It emphasized the issues like need for women’s participation in the formulation of plans for integrated rural development, introduction of legislation to encourage new and more positive images of women’s participation in the family, labour market, social and public life and in the decision making process. It finalized that with the theme of equality, peace and development an action plan should be concretized to recognize the rights of women.

In 1999 the UN General Assembly passed the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. It stresses the need for adequate means to ensure full and equal enjoyment of freedom by women of all human rights. The state parties to the convention are now to recognize and constitute committee to receive and consider communication pertaining to the issue of discrimination in respect of women. Such communication can be received and considered with the consent of the victims of violation unless the author of communication can justify acting on their behalf without such consent. The Protocol clears that the committee shall not consider the communication unless it is shown that all available domestic remedies are exhausted, (Article 3). The committee can consider a communication as confidential with the state party concerned if the situation demands so. The state party is liable to submit explanation clarifying the matter and available remedy (Article 7).    

Another aspect that emerged in the discourse of women’s right is sexual rights. By this women now demand that they must have the right to control over their bodies. They must have the right to control over her sexuality access to primary and secondary health care and reproductive technologies. The Declaration and Program of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development (The Cairo Declaration) 1994, states that, reproductive health implies that women should have a safe life and that they have the capability to reproduce and freedom to decide, if, when and how often to do so.

The Beijing Conference (1995) again discussed the matter of status of women and declared that women’s rights are by no means separate rights; women’s rights are human rights. Like men women must be regarded as the member of the human family and equal contributor to this human race. The world community now considers the progress and regress of the implementation of developmental programs meant for the ameliorating of the conditions of women. The Nairobi Conference of Women (2000) prepared the platform for action related with the inclusive development of women.

Thus the women’s rights have come to be recognized as an integral indivisible and inalienable part of “universal human rights”. However the effectiveness of the human rights movement depends not only on recognition of rights through conventions, covenants or statutory ways but also on realization of these  rights not merely by the affluent sections but by the most vulnerable sections of the society who has to struggle to survive economically, socially, politically and even domestically. The heartburning incidences against women not only crush women’s dignity but also the very concept of humanity. The gender friendly liberal society can check these incidences and for this stereotype patriarchal mindset of the society must be changed with the cooperative effort of men and women together.  

  • A. Dutta (2003). “Philosophy of Women’s Right: Human Rights are Women’s Rights” in B. Hazarika (ed) Human Rights in India. Jorhat: J.B. College Human Rights study cell, p. 111.
  • D. Meda (2002). “New Perspectives on Work as Value” in M.F. Loutfi (Ed) Women gender and Works: what is equality and how do we get there? Jaipur: Rawat Publication.
  • H. Eckstein and D. Apter (Ed) (1996). Comparative Politics. Kamla Nagar (Delhi): Surjeet publications.
  • I. Sridraran (2003). “Practising Human Rights” in C. J. Nirmal (ed) Human Rights in India: Historical, Social and Political Perspective, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2003, p. 92.
  • S. Nagendra. Women’s Right. Jaipur: ABD Publisher, 2006, p-2.
[Notes: a) The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948, b) Convention on the Political Rights of Women, 1953, c) Convention on Nationality of Women, 1957, d) The Convention on Consent to Marriage, Minimum Age of Marriage and Registration of Marriage Act 1960, d) Declaration on Elimination of Discrimination against women 1967, e) Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, 1979, f) Article of the Declaration on the Elimination of violence against women 1993 and g) World Conference on Human Rights, Vienna]

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