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Gender, Culture and Human Rights

Reclaiming Universalism

By: Siobhán Mullally
Media of Gender, Culture and Human Rights
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Published: 26-05-2006
Format: Hardback
Edition: 1st
Extent: 287
ISBN: 9781841135137
Imprint: Hart Publishing
Series: Human Rights Law in Perspective
Dimensions: 234 x 156 mm
RRP: £70.00
Online price : £63.00
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Loren Epson

About Gender, Culture and Human Rights

In recent years, feminist theory has increasingly defined itself in opposition to universalism and to discourses of human rights. Rejecting the troubled legacies of Enlightenment thinking, feminists have questioned the very premises upon which the international human rights movement is based. Rather than abandoning human rights discourse, however, this book argues that feminism should reclaim the universal and reconstruct the theory and practice of human rights. Discourse ethics and its post-metaphysical defence of universalism is offered as a key to this process of reconstruction.

The implications of discourse ethics and the possibility of reclaiming universalism are explored in the context of the reservations debate in international human rights law and further examined in debates on women's human rights arising in Ireland, India and Pakistan. Each of these states shares a common constitutional heritage and, in each, religious-cultural claims, intertwined with processes of nation-building, have constrained the pursuit of gender equality. Ultimately, this book argues in favour of a dual-track approach to cultural conflicts, combining legal regulation with an ongoing moral-political dialogue on the scope and content of human rights.

Table Of Contents

1 The Discourse of Human Rights: 'An Active Enemy of Women's Progress'?
2 Alan Gewirth's Community of Rights: Feminism, Liberalism and the Value of Community
3 Political Liberalism, Feminism and the Limits of an 'Overlapping Consensus'
4 Nussbaum and the Human Capabilities Approach: Reconciling Feminism and Universalism?
5 Discourse Ethics, Feminism and the Return to the Universal
6 Opting out of Women's Human Rights: Reservations to Human Rights Treaties and the Defence of Culture
7 Debating Gender in Ireland (1): Family Values
8 Debating Gender in Ireland (2): Reproductive Rights
9 Women, Human Rights and Cultural Claims in Pakistan
10 Debating Gender Equality in India: Feminism and Multicultural Dilemmas


“the book succeeds in its goal of being 'a step that resituates feminism within the discourse of human rights, properly understood. It contributes significantly to highlighting with suspicion 'the growing gap between feminist theory and practice'.” –  Jill Marshall, Lecturer in Law, Queen Mary, University of London, International Journal of Law in Context

“Siobhán Mullally's book stands out as one of the more convincing and original contributions to this line of scholarship. The book also contributes to the feminist scholarship which critiques international human rights targets, and deserves, a wide readership...Apart from being an important contribution to the feminism and human rights scholarship, the book is a stimulating read both for its skilful theoretical analysis and its fresh take on familiar practical dilemmas. More importantly, the monograph is to be welcomed as it addresses international human rights strategy in a way which is both deeply theoretical and contextual.” –  Anastasia Vakulenko, Feminist Legal Studies

“...contains interesting and lively discussions both of feminist and political theory…” –  Aileen McColgan, Journal of Law and Society, Vol 33, No 4

““ Universalism” has become a pejorative word in contemporary feminist scholarship. Siobhain Mullally's superb book on human rights law and cultural conflicts, which confirms the continued relevance of universal values to the international women's movement, is a much needed antidote to this trend...The two chapters that discuss the debates on family values and reproductive rights in Ireland reveal Mullally's skilful mastery of “ insider methodology” as she applies her dual track approach to her “ home” cultural context. Just as impressive is Mullally's ability to apply her theoretical analysis to non-Western cultures.” –  Maleiha Malik, European Human Rights Law Review

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