Patriarchy in International Human Rights Law


Patriarchy in International Human Rights Law

Room 628, Level 6

Parkville campus

185 Pelham Street

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Melbourne Law School

Over the past year, a worldwide movement has gripped social media and women’s rights activists. This movement was about survivors of sexual harassment and assault standing up and saying 'me too'. The 'me too' campaign makes visible the widespread and systemic presence of toxic masculinity and patriarchal attitudes in women’s lives. The campaign swept across the world, revealing that there was no institution, organisation, industry or government in which women were free from oppression. This revelation is a depressing reflection on the current state of international women’s rights.

In 1981 the International Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) came into force, with 189 states signing onto the treaty. Those 189 states agreed to protect and ensure women’s human rights and endeavour to take all reasonable steps to guarantee gender equality. Additionally, states party to this treaty agreed to dismantle social, religious and cultural structures which foster the subordination of women by men. This would seem to suggest that CEDAW requires states to dismantle patriarchal structures and attitudes, from the government to the private sphere. However, the treaty itself does not mention the word 'patriarchy'.

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