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  • Human Rights and Gender Violence:Translating International Law into Local Justice
  • Angelita D. Reyes (bio)
Human Rights and Gender Violence: Translating International Law into Local Justice, by Sally Engle Merry (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006) 269 pp.

Postmodernist ideas and legal verdicts about human rights, racial equality, women's equity, and social justice have been intoned and sometimes legislated since the nineteenth century. Even when varying concepts of human rights and local social justice began to develop and advance independently in different parts of the globe, an awareness, if not endorsement, of the discourse of "universality" had to become inclusive [End Page 1088] of disenfranchised peoples of the world. Undoubtedly, with the aftermath of both world wars the concept of international human rights became an intrinsic characteristic and problem of the emerging postcolonial human condition. Moreover, while the creation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was a catalyst in expanding greater possibilities for all of humanity within the realm of rights and social justice, it was only an ambitious step forward with an all-encompassing vision that attempted to include issues exclusive to women and gender. Nevertheless, subsequent treaties, declarations, and conventions, such as the United Nations Decade for Women, the United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), and the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, along with the proliferation of regional and international gender-specific NGO (nongovernmental organization) activity, have advanced the global momentum needed to further the implementation of human rights and social justice for women. Thus, international human rights discourse with its focus on gender issues within the distinction of economic globalization and cultural transnationalism, helped to define the dawning of the twenty-first century. Central to the issues of gender and human rights is the problem of gender-based violence in the context of cultural rights and respect for cultural differences. Furthermore, the growing awareness of gender-based violence heightens the urgency of human rights debates, because gender-oriented violence ultimately impacts men, women, and children in any given society.

With superb attentiveness to such an historical trajectory of human rights, Sally Engle Merry's book Human Rights and Gender Violence: Translating International Law into Local Justice is a significant contribution to the study of gender-oriented violence in the context of global north and global south dialogues for the advancement of universal human rights. Merry attempts to provide a model for the cultural translation of such rights into transformative rights consciousness, despite transnational differences and the disjuncture between global justice and local "traditional" rights. In essence, after having firmly stabilized the immutable idea of universal human rights, Merry and other twenty-first century human rights advocates on the local and governmental levels are now searching for a universal translator for social justice that would constitute gender-oriented dignity in all cultures. As Merry accentuates throughout the book, the idea of a "traditional" culture is in itself another problematic used to divest social transformation, because, indeed, "[c]ulture as national essence is fundamental to claims to indigenous sovereignty and ethnonationalism, often in resistance to human rights."1 Author of the highly-praised study, Colonizing Hawai'i: The Cultural Power of Law2 and numerous studies on gender and human rights across cultures, Merry's scholarship is already familiar and acclaimed in the fields of anthropology, gender and legal studies, and human rights discourse. Human Rights and Gender Violence is engagingly written and offers succinct practical approaches for women confronted with domestic and public violence within regional cultures and across international borders. Merry's insightful introduction sets the pace for [End Page 1089] her discussion of important definitions, paradigmatic approaches, and sites of transnationalism. First, Merry guides readers through recognizable, but important, historical and cultural discourses of gender-oriented human rights dealing with the salient problem of "cultural rights" in the "texts" of globalization and transnationalism. Merry appropriately engages more with the process of "transnationalism" that implicates the dynamics of migrating cultural exchanges and politics, rather than with the monolithic approach to "globalization" that implies economic based power.

While human rights advocates and theorists will know about various...


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pp. 1088-1092
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