Feminist Approaches to International Law

The central argument of the “Feminist Approaches to International Law” (Charlesworth, Chinkin and Wright, 1991) is diffuse. On the one hand, the case for and solution to the feministic deficit in international law is presented. Secondly, they argue that feminist approaches are universal or more understanding than elitist male perspectives; however, the lack of substantiating information means they do not fully demonstrate the weaknesses of the current system. In fact, they show the seriousness in which the role of women is taken, but that there is a need for greater speed in the changes to international law.

Hilary (1991) extrapolates the relevance of feminist theory in international law from her specialist knowledge and current research projects into the legitimacy of the United Nations (UN), the impact of international law on Australian Law and the role of women in international dispute resolution. Chinkin and Wright (1991) apply their understanding of feminist legal issues around women’s human rights. En masse, Charlesworth, Chinkin and Wright (1991) gauge how international law has been dominated by male agenda and how a feminist perspective has been a token issue.


Feminist theory suggests “we inhabit a world in which men of all nations have used the statist system to establish economic and nationalist priorities to serve all male elites, while basic human needs are not met” (pg 615). The statist system that is suggested applies to all governments that have been dominated by male leaders, leading to a so-called gender racism. The unanswered question remains as to whether Charlesworth, Chinkin and Wright (1991) are dealing with countries where women are emancipated and have the right to vote, or whether all countries and political systems are amalgamated thereby using an over-simplified paradigm of the experience of women. The conclusion drawn from the text is that governments have served mutually exclusive male interests; whether this varies between states where women have greater or lesser rights is another obscurity. The insufficiency of qualifying data necessary to back up the argument perhaps weakens the theory,


Charlesworth, Chinkin and Wright (1991) believe that international law is applied differently to the way that it is introduced; this would surely be self evident, if a state has the ability to decline to accept certain perspectives – for example Islamic nations on issues of freedoms that are viewed acceptable and non-acceptable? This leads to a special authority that has been termed as masculine values by Charlesworth, Chinkin and Wright (1991). The values that they view as masculine include political, economic, historical and cultural content. The cultural norms of various states are viewed as masculine values but they are simply accepted cultural norms; be it through religion or political motives; that may not be right or fair but through negotiation women have the ability to overcome differences.


Harding (1986) illustrates the difference between masculine values and feminism, focusing on the ‘African world view and feminism’ theory. Harding (1986) suggests an intrinsic connection between “both the community and nature”, implying that the European male value system divides community from nature, furthermore, the public and private sphere, the man and the woman, culture and nature. The connection of the African world view and the feminism is that they differ from the Western world perspective; westernisation is united with self-determination.


Charlesworth, Chinkin and Wright (1991) highlight the introduction of The Women’s Convention, more formally The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) that is commonly viewed as an international bill of rights for women. Curiously, the weight of the bill can be breached when respective states decide what rules will practically work in respective states thus highlighting where the fault line falls, with religion, for example Islamic nations had issue with inheritance and property rights even though the CEDAW seeks equality of the sexes over issues of political, economic and social fundamental freedoms.


The paradigm of the Soviet Union who gave educational and economic opportunities in order to sway the views of women, in response to the harsh realities that their respective religious leaders sought to regard them. Similar parallels are highlighted in the Sahwari refugee camp where women take to power easily.

Brock-Utne (1984) suggests that feminism focuses too much on the issues of the women in the worst positions and works up third world feminists to typical Western situations, in order to create conformity of feminist concerns; thus embracing “all the restrictions imposed on Western women”. Brock-Utne (1984) view would seem relevant to Charlesworth, Chinkin and Wright (1991) as they have fragmented feminism between the Western and the Third World, Brock-Utne (1984) seems to put the background aside to look at the core issues; the activity of women across the board.


Brock-Utne (1984) refers to Ghandi’s vision of women’s role in society and explains the position of a Co-Feminist, the common goal is that of an egalitarian society and its common ingredients is that the family sphere is arranged in a way that there is a “high degree of congruence between his private and public life”; this is perhaps the idea that has to be taken on board by Charlesworth, Chinkin and Wright (1984) instead of a more Luddite approach?


Numerous papers on feminism focus on the core differences of the sexes, rooted in biological differences whilst other radicals focus on the socialization and experiences of mothering, as suggested by Jill Steans. This paper argues that it is important to explore the potential for more participation of women within international law based on the emotive understanding of women and their perspective could better serve humanity.

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