HUMAN RIGHTS FORUM: A Right by Any Other Name

By Julie Simeone*

The link between the human and women’s rights movements is largely unexplored, especially in the United States where many of the domestic, political tools that have been developed to promote female equality overshadow those that exist on the international stage. An American woman who is harassed in the workplace, for example, will not appeal to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights when she can invoke the protective and retributive devices that are in place under Title VII.

Yet, seeking redress to human rights violations and developing an effective human rights agenda are two separate, though not mutually exclusive, activities. The importance of connecting the women’s movement, in all of its permutations, to the human rights agenda, in all of its ambiguity, cannot be overemphasized. Globally, where governments and civil society do not recognize the value of a woman’s equality, the human rights framework is providing a space for women and girls to discuss issues of unequal pay, lack of representation in civic affairs, and reproductive rights. For reasons largely based in international politics and mass media, regimes have an easier time avoiding a discussion on women’s rights than ducking the same issues when approached through a human rights lens.

Fortunately, when the human rights dialogue seeps far enough into a society’s repressive crevices, the seeds of feminism can be planted; and thus, from a human rights agenda, a women’s movement can be born. To ignore this mutually beneficial and symbiotic relationship is to miss a tremendous opportunity.

*Julie Simeone is the Development Manager at the National Council for Research on Women. Before coming to NCRW, she worked at a youth-rights NGO in Rwanda, at the law firm Hughes Hubbard & Reed and received her MA in Human Rights from Columbia.

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