On Gendered Conceptions of Human Rights and Culturally Diverse Feminisms

By Snjezana Bilic.

Published by The International Journal of Interdisciplinary Cultural Studies

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The paper is derived from my PhD research, which examined the debates on the tensions between feminism and multiculturalism. To assess the validity of these theoretical contributions, I consulted the voices of those discerned by theorists as vulnerable under multicultural accommodation, namely, certain women from minority cultural groups. This paper establishes the philosophical background to my central argument that the conflict between feminism and multiculturalism is reconcilable. I align with feminist perspectives that perceive multiculturalism is not in opposition to, but in alliance with, the feminist project since representing minority culture women as constrained by their culture does not begin to capture the complexity of their choice. The first section of this paper briefly examines feminist perspectives on women’s human rights. I find that whilst global feminists campaign to redefine women's rights as human rights, other feminists have been critical not only of the definitions of the universalistic human rights paradigm, but also of global feminist conceptions of women, women's rights and of various strands of Western feminism. Notwithstanding this criticism, I maintain that women’s rights are significant in the processes of advancing women’s lives. There are many ways in which the rights framework could be used to organise and mobilise women nationally and internationally. The methods will emerge from a process of discussion that should involve women from diverse segments of society. Nevertheless, it is imperative to transcend the ‘narrowly constructed definitions of what constitutes “women’s issues” while retaining women at the centre of the discussion’ (Dutt, 2001, 235). I find the framework of multicultural feminism to be the most adequate site to position women at the centre whilst moving beyond a categorisation of women’s issues along state-or-region-bound essentialising feminist lines. Accordingly, the second half of the paper expands on the discourse of multicultural feminism, its tenets, advantages and disadvantages.

Keywords: Human Rights, Women’s Rights, Multicultural Feminism

The International Journal of Interdisciplinary Cultural Studies, Volume 7, Issue 4, pp.11-26. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 267.104KB).

Dr. Snjezana Bilic

Tutor/Lecturer, The School of Communications, International Studies and Languages, University of South Australia, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia

Dr Bilic is a tutor/lecturer in the School of Communications, International Studies and Languages at the University of South Australia. Her research interests include Human Rights, Women's Rights, Feminist Theory, Cultural Rights and Multiculturalism. Snjezana’s PhD thesis is titled: “Women’s Rights and Cultural Rights of Liberian and Afghani women in Multicultural Australia.” This qualitative research project makes a significant contribution to feminist discussions about rights and to research on policies concerning refugee women and their communities in multicultural contexts.