- Women’s Human Rights: The International and Comparative Law Casebook
Susan Deller Ross has provided us with an important addition to existing human rights law teaching materials with her casebook on women’s human rights. The book brings the complex array of legal, political, social, and cultural issues [End Page 267] involved in protecting women’s human rights front and center for students and teachers of international law. The case book demonstrates that, because of their reach and their complexity, women’s human rights deserve to be studied in and of themselves not just as one segment of an international human rights course. Providing a holistic picture of the status of women in international law, the casebook offers equal doses of the legal gains we are making and how far there still is to go.
The casebook is a broad undertaking; its fourteen chapters provide plenty of material for a semester course. The book tackles the issues foremost in the academic and legal debates about women’s rights including religiously sanctioned discrimination, economic inequalities, gender-based nationality laws, violence against women, abortion, and traditional practices including polygyny, child marriage, and female genital cutting. Ross presents the most important national and international legal materials regarding each of these topics, and she provides interesting case studies for students to analyze and discuss. While the book evidently is intended to promote each individual woman’s right to exercise her freedoms in the face of governmentally or culturally-imposed roles or practices, the author also fairly represents the opposing arguments and societal tensions.
The Ross case book grounds the student in the most critical global legal texts for women, including a study of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women in Chapter One and the United Nations Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Bill of Human Rights in Chapter Two. The book introduces the regional human rights systems of Africa and United States. It also includes a chapter on women’s rights under the European Convention. After the introductory framework is set, Ross returns to these global and regional laws and mechanisms with regard to the thematic issues she addresses in turn. For each issue addressed in the book, Ross provides the reader the most important iterations of the law, with substantial coverage of US Supreme Court jurisprudence, as well as case law from the UN and regional human rights systems. Such robust coverage provides the reader with a good sense of the gaps and the contradictions that characterize this rapidly changing field of law.
Ross has created a helpful companion website at RossRights.com to complement the book, providing cited cases in their entirety, as well as maps and organizational links. The website also promises updates, which may ultimately be its most useful role in supplementing the hard copy casebook.
Interestingly the casebook’s approach allows teachers to use women’s rights as a lens through which students can learn general human rights laws and procedures. Students using the casebook do not need to have previous background in international law or human rights law to understand the material. Indeed, the book would be an acceptable alternative text for a more general human rights course, providing an introduction to many international laws and most of the machinery for human rights enforcement. Chapter Three, for instance, provides an interesting look at the strategy of litigating economic rights as non-discrimination claims before the Human Rights Committee, the United Nations body that enforces civil and political rights. In considering this strategy, students are introduced to major treaties and different means of enforcing them, as well as learning about certain state economic policies that discriminate against women. [End Page 268]
Chapter Ten similarly educates students on the general principles concerning the enforcement of international human rights laws in domestic courts. The chapter introduces the reader to the sources of international law, basic principles of interpretation, and the concepts of self-executing and non-self-executing agreements. Those...