Source: 15 Year of The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, Its Causes and Consequences - A Critical Review
Demystifying Cultural Discourses
Women's Human Rights
Culture-based identity politics has been considered by the UN mandate holders
to pose one of the most serious challenges to women's human rights.
They have addressed challenges arising from cultural relativist assertions that reject universality of human rights, particularly with regard to women's equality, as welll as cultural essentialist approaches that view some cultures as being inherently misogynist. Cultural discourses are a significant source of diverse normative systems that shape power relations between men and women, while the common values across societies have helped develop human rights law reflecting universality and shared culture. Despite the shared values that human rights largely embody, colonial histories, deepening political and economic inequalities, and divisions between and among nations have polarized societies, particularly in the post-September 11 times. These divisions and inequalities have coalesced with patriarchy to provide fertile ground for cultural discourses. Cultural discourses are manifested in international law on one hand, by resorting to cultural justification to resist women's rights, and through references to primordial and hegemonic interpretations of culture. On the other hand, they are visible in the cultural essentialist targeting of "traditional societies" in the global South that are perceived as harmful to women. Over the period of 15 years and several reports - in particular the three annual reports, two of which deal with this theme specifically - the Violence Against Women mandate has contributed to a paradigm shift in the way cultural discourses are addressed and considered within a human rights framework.
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