Sex, gender, and international law.

Author:Banda, Fareda
Position:Proceedings of the One Hundredth Annual Meeting of the American Society of International Law: A Just World Under Law

The panel was convened at 10:45 a.m., Friday, March 31, by its chair, Cynthia Lichtenstein of Boston College Law School, who introduced the panelists: Lama Abu-Odeh of Georgetown University Law Center; Fareda Banda of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London; Catharine A. MacKinnon of the University of Michigan Law School; and Binaifer Nowrojee of the Open Society Initiative for East Africa. *



As this is the centenary celebration of your august society, I thought that I would join in the celebratory mood and focus on the gains that a feminist analysis of international law has brought to women in the human rights field. But before that I have to say that, I was reflecting on the fact that a hundred years ago, few women in this room would have been here. I know that as an African woman I certainly would not be here. On Wednesday I visited the American History Museum and one of the featured exhibits was on the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case which led to the formal desegregation of education in this country. Reading about the Jim Crow laws which had entrenched discrimination and rendered black people as not fully human, I was reminded of my own history which has, in my lifetime, included living under apartheid. It seems that a century ago, my African-American sisters, or "negroes" as they would have been called then, would not be have been here either.

Although I chafe at the use of the terminology gender apartheid, I think it is true to say that Western women have also had to tackle discrimination and exclusion. The analyses of gender-based discrimination have helped to highlight the condition, not only of Western women, but often of those from elsewhere. In addition to Professor MacKinnon on our panel, law has benefited from the penetrating analyses of gender-based discrimination by people such as Arvonne Fraser, whose piece, Becoming Human: The Origins and Development of Women's Human Rights, should remind Western women of how far they have come. Then there is Hevener's 1986 typology of the development of human rights of women in which she identified three phases: (1) the protective, in which women were not allowed to work in mines and at night; (2) the corrective, in which women were to be allowed to participate in national politics and to retain their nationality without having to take up that of their husbands; and (3) the final stage, which was the equality or non-discrimination phase, and which included the adoption of CEDAW. (1)

In 1991 we were bowled over by the Charlesworth, Chinkin, and Wright's piece on feminist analysis of international law, which spoke of women's exclusion from participating in norm-making. Their paper challenged the statist focus of the discipline and highlighted how a concern with the "public" ignored women's lives lived out in the private. They highlighted the need for a redistribution of resources and the recognition of different voices. Their work has been important in challenging the masculinist construct of international law.

Many others have built on that work, not least Rachel Murray, who has written about Africa's exclusion from norm-making within the international framework and who has also identified the way in which African perspectives are either denigrated or ignored. Relying as it does on the feminist analysis of international law, Murray's thesis makes me think of Africa as being the woman of the world, which by definition means that African women are doubly excluded or rendered invisible. Using Crenshaw's intersectional analysis, we suffer for both our womanhood and our "African-ness" which I link both to our relative powerlessness in global politics, but also to our economic (though not resource) poverty.

The perception of Africa as a hopeless basket case is reinforced daily in news reports and other media. I was reminded of this when I read an article by a Kenyan author on writing about Africa. Ironic in tone, it said in part:

In your text, treat Africa as if it were one country ... Don't get

bogged down with precise descriptions. Africa is big: fifty-four

countries, 900 million people who are too busy starving and dying

and warring and emigrating to read your book. "... Among your

characters always include the starving African," who wanders the

refugee camp nearly naked, and waits for the benevolence of the West.

Her children have...

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