- "Stay Involved":Transnational Feminist Advocacy and Women's Human Rights
The preamble of the Charter of the United Nations, signed in San Francisco on June 26, 1945 reaffirmed "faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women, and of nations, large and small." Such a bold declaration suggested a central place for the rights of women in the emerging international order. The insertion of the equality of women into the UN charter was due to the lobbying efforts of feminist groups at San Francisco, led by Brazilian Delegate Bertha Lutz. Having secured their place in the Charter, however, the feminist activists were not ready to rest on their laurels. Lutz wrote to the American feminist Carrie Chapman Catt with some degree of what, as it turned out, was entirely justifiable cynicism: "The real truth, and to you I can tell it, is that the United Nations have written beautifully sounding words into the Charter, or are still writing them in, but have no intention of carrying them out."1 It took further lobbying efforts led by Lutz to secure the establishment of a UN Commission on the Status of Women, which in turn, lobbied aggressively to ensure that the future development and work of the United Nations did not ignore women's rights.
In the debates preceding the United Nations' Universal Declaration [End Page 222] of Human Rights in 1948, it is instructive to note how little attention was paid to the idea of women's rights as a category or a concept. Indeed, initial drafts of the declaration began with the words "all men" rather than "all persons." Despite the promising inclusion of women's rights in the Charter of the UN, the struggle to develop an international framework and a series of "global norms" for women's rights since 1945 has been a difficult one. However the United Nations International Woman's Year in 1975, and the subsequent UN Decade of Women (1976-1985) were influential in focusing attention and activism on the issue of women's rights. Key conferences at Mexico City (1975), Copenhagen (1980), Nairobi (1985), and Beijing (1995) saw the emergence of debates on the rights of women as an international issue. The years since the opening of the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) for state signatures in Copenhagen have seen an increasing number of treaties, plans, and international agreements on women's rights including, for example, the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action (1993) and the Beijing Platform for Action (1995). International activities and activism on women's rights have contributed to a process of global norm setting on women's rights, the consequences of which for women around the world are still being worked through.
These four books all address questions raised in this new era of international women's rights. Firstly, both feminist scholarship and international relations scholarship has examined the impact of the development of global norms on women's rights on the relationship between the international and national spheres, asking how international "norm setting" affects women in different nation states. How is the acknowledgement and promise of rights at an international level implemented or interpreted at local and regional levels? Secondly, as the international sphere has developed policies and an infrastructure on women's rights, the role of women, feminist activists, and transnational feminist networks has increasingly come under scrutiny, not least from feminist activists themselves. Such...