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BRIEF COMMUNICATIONS m ACKNOWLEDGMENT JMEWS and AMEWS would like to thank UNESCO for its generous grant that allows us to subsidize journal postage for our international subscribers. Amnesty International and the Idea of Muslim Women's Human Rights Nancy Gallagher The death ofPeter Benenson, the founder ofAmnesty International (AI), on February 25, 2005, calls for an assessment of ATs contributions to the international movement for women's human rights. For many years, AI was behind other human rights organizations in advancing women's rights as human rights, but this changed dramatically in the 1990s. How did a small circle ofvolunteers who campaigned on behalfofmostly male political prisoners become an international movement that campaigned against gender apartheid, female genital mutilation, and honor killings? This brief historical report will discuss key events leading to this transformation and its significance in the creation ofa new international consensus on women's human rights. AI based its work on the 1948 United Nations Universal Declaration ofHuman Rights but considered itselfa prisoners' rights advocacy group rather than a human rights organization (Rabben 2001:12-4). Although JOURNAL OF MIDDLE EAST WOMEN'S STUDIES VoL 1. Na 3 (Fall 2005). C 2005 NANCY GALLAGHER œ 97 the UN human rights laws applied to women, they did not address risks women faced because they were women. The 1946 Commission on Human Rights and the 1947 Commission on the Status ofWomen worked in isolation from one another and had little clout. Subsequent human rights conventions specific to women, such as the Convention on the Nationality of Married Women (1957) and the Convention on Consent to Marriage, Minimum Age for Marriage and Registration ofMarriages (1962) focused on women's rights in their traditional roles in society. The 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights called for equal protection of men and women. AU these conventions dealt with the public sphere, because the international consensus held that the family is private and out of the reach of the government. This significantly disadvantaged women because much violence against women occurs in the home. Political leaders argued that the status ofwomen derived from cultural and social traditions that were outside its purview. The human rights conventions also tended to ignore social and economic rights. In the context of the widening international women's movement that led to the UN Decade for Women (1975-85), the Mexico City Conference for Women (1975), Convention for the Elimination ofAll Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) (1979), the Copenhagen Conference for Women (1980), and the Nairobi Conference for Women (1985), many women began calling for a widening of human rights to include rights women claim because they are women. They argued that these rights included freedom from domestic violence, female genital mutilation, forced marriage and pregnancy, sexual slavery, and rape, and pointed out that women were far more likely than men to suffer from abuses that afflict both. Women were raped in war or in prison more often than men, eighty percent ofrefugees were women and children, and women faced discrimination in their own societies because they were women. Because much ofthe abuse occurred in the family or workplace and was perpetrated by nonstate actors, the definition ofhuman rights was broadened. For women's human rights advocates, the state has the obligation to protect its citizens from torture whether it's carried out by the state or by a private individual, including a member of one's family. This interpretation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was foreign to AI, which continued to limit its mandate to human rights 98 œ JOURNAL OF MIDDLE EAST WOMEN'S STUDIES violations by state rather than nonstate actors. With pressure from the burgeoning women's human rights movement and its own predominate women membership, AI began to consider incorporating women's rights into its mandate, which had focused almost exclusively on prisoners ofconscience, most ofwhom were men, and violence carried out by the state. At its 1989 annual meeting, AI passed a resolution calling for greater attention to human rights violations against women. At first it kept to its mandate and featured women prisoners ofconscience as well as arrests and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1558-9579
Print ISSN
1552-5864
Pages
pp. 96-107
Launched on MUSE
2011-01-26
Open Access
No
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