women's rights

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Women's rights are freedoms and human rights that women possess or claim as members of society .


Throughout history, the term women's rights has been defined and interpreted in different ways. A central aspect was gender guardianship .


Antiquity and Christianity

In ancient Greece , married women were mainly active in the household ( oikos ). On the other hand, many hetaerae were educated and enjoyed social recognition. In Sparta , women were not granted civil rights, but in contrast to other poleis , as mistresses ( kyria to kyros lord), they had the right to dispose of their own money. With the late Greek Stoa , emancipation z. B. in education and in various professions (actresses, singers, doctors, poets, athletes) possible.

The woman in ancient Rome was dependent on her husband and householder ( dominus ) and did not participate in social life, but enjoyed a certain status as head of the household and mistress of the household ( domina ). The patria potestas of the pater familias , the male head of the family , was legally constitutive for marriage in the Roman Empire . From the age of 25, however, the woman was fundamentally free to decide whether to marry. In the Roman religion , vestal virgins , priestesses of the goddess Vesta , who had to remain celibate, held a respected position. In the late Imperial period and towards the end of the Roman Empire women's rights grew, so that they could influence political life or marry and divorce independently.

Early Christianity also contributed to strengthening the rights of women and their independence. The Bible - especially the Acts of the Apostles - mentions numerous "strong women" whose status went beyond that usual in the Greek world. In late antiquity , however, there were movements in the opposite direction.

Law book of the Serbian tsar Stefan Dušan (Dušanov zakonik, 1349), "Prizren copy", 15th century

For the time before the Enlightenment, there are a few pieces of legislation worth mentioning in which women's rights were better documented. A new law for the protection of women existed in the Holy Roman Empire in the first half of the 13th century under the reign of Emperor Frederick II. that they receive social assistance.


The view that is widespread today that Islam has worsened the status of women hardly applies, at least in early Islam. The Islamic reforms of the 7th century partially improved women's rights as far as marriage , divorce and inheritance were concerned. In other cultures, including Europe, women did not have such enhanced rights, often only getting them centuries later. The Oxford Dictionary of Islam also mentions for Arabia the ban on infanticide - especially the killing of girls shortly after childbirth - and the recognition of women as legal persons before the law. "The dowry , hitherto a price paid to the father, was converted into a gift which the woman could keep as part of her personal property".

After the introduction of Islamic law ( Sharia ), marriage was no longer seen as a status, but rather as a civil contract with the necessary consent of the woman. She was given inheritance rights in a patriarchal society where previously only male relatives could inherit. On the other hand, there is the story of Khadīdscha bint Chuwailid , the first wife of Mohammed, who, as an entrepreneur and merchant and heiress to a caravanserai, determined a large fortune, which she still owned after marriage and which only passed to Mohammed after her death. Annemarie Schimmel sees great progress in the introduction of the Sharia: women have the right – at least according to the letter of the law – to dispose of what they have brought into the family or earned through their own work. According to WM Watt , Arab women had no right to property and were considered the property of the man (similar to the Samburu of Kenya). If the husband died, everything went to the sons. Muhammad gave women certain rights and privileges in the sphere of family , marriage, education and economic enterprise.

Subsequent developments have narrowed some of these early achievements, such as in Wahhabism or, more recently, in aspirations of Islamism , such as are particularly evident in Pakistan's Hadood Ordinances . Various regional alliances are fighting against this (at first rather unsuccessfully), for example the Afghan women's organization RAWA and the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance founded in 1990 by Christians, Sikhs and Hindus .

From the Enlightenment to the present

In the Age of Enlightenment , some of the freethinkers also campaigned for women's rights, such as Nicolas de Condorcet in France , who propagated free suffrage for women . Numerous women claimed the right to set up literary salons in which the intellectual and political innovators of the time frequented.

The first wave of the women's rights movement demanded political and social equality for women and men (e.g. the right for women to political participation , the right to education , the right to work , the right to own property , etc.). One of the first feminists to explicitly call for civil rights for women was Olympe de Gouges . During the French Revolution in 1791, she wrote the Déclaration des droits de la femme et de la citoyenne ( Declaration of the Rights of Woman and Citizen ). In 1793, however, women's political associations were banned in France and Olympe de Gouges was guillotined that same year . Another important work on the question of women's rights is A Vindication of the Rights of Woman , written by Mary Wollstonecraft in 1792, as well as Theodor Gottlieb von Hippel 's tract On the Bourgeois Improvement of Women , published in the same year .

The women were also concerned with reducing disadvantages in family law . There the wife and mother were to have the same rights as the husband and father, who had a clearly privileged position in contemporary civil law . The central point at which the legal status of women was defined in the law of the time was not yet in constitutional law , but in family law. The justification of specifically "male" and "female" rights in older law often took place within the framework of the personal effects of marriage (today's § 1353 BGB - marital cohabitation) and was transferred from there to other areas within and outside of family law. In Germany , the "legal struggles" of the women's movement had their first peak in the 1890s, when women rebelled against the planned family law of the new BGB. Among them were the first women lawyers in Germany and Switzerland (such as Anita Augspurg , Marie Raschke , Emilie Kempin-Spyri ), who had just completed their studies at the time.

Finland played a pioneering role in the European struggle for women's rights , even though the progress made there was initially hardly noticed in the central European discussion. As early as 1885, the patriarchal marital property law was abolished here, and the Finnish Diet introduced the separation of property . Thus, the woman retained the right to her property, even in marriage. A few months earlier, the writer Minna Canth had written the sensational play Työmiehen vaimo ( The Worker 's Wife). There she had described how, according to the old matrimonial property law, the wife of a drinker had to watch helplessly as he abusively squandered her entire personal fortune. Finland was also the first to grant civil rights to women: in 1906 women were the first in Europe to receive full voting rights .

Mid 20th century to present

The patriarchal legal concepts that prevailed well into the middle of the 20th century are illustrated by a reparation procedure under the Federal Compensation Act . It was also about the compensation case of a woman who, before her family was expelled by the Nazis, had worked in the business run jointly by her father and her husband – without a contract. She demanded compensation for the loss of income caused by the expulsion. The Kassel Regional Council rejected this claim on March 12, 1959, since she was only an assisting wife. The explanatory statement read: “In businesses such as those owned by Astin's husband. [Applicant] (general store), the help of the wife is quite common and common practice, especially in rural areas. This assistance is granted to the husband. If the wife is unable to work, the resulting damage affects the husband and not the wife. Compensation for not using the Astin's manpower. damage incurred has already occurred when the compensation for the husband has been determined. The husband's assessment was based on his commercial income, which also included Astin's labor force. had contributed.” In an action against this decision, the district court of Kassel dismissed the objections on October 11, 1962. The tenor of the judgment corresponded to the decision of the regional council.

This fits in with what is almost forgotten today, namely that in the young Federal Republic of Germany a husband could terminate his wife's employment relationship until 1958. In Baden-Württemberg, until 1956, a teacher celibacy law required female teachers to resign from public service if they married. Only with the law on equal rights for men and women, which was passed on May 3, 1957 and came into force on July 1, 1958, did the man no longer have the final right to decide in all marital matters, and the community of accrued gains became a statutory property regime. Until then, the man managed the assets brought into the marriage by his wife and was solely responsible for the interest accruing from this and also for the money from the wife's gainful employment. In this law of 1958 (of the Basic Law, Art. 3 ) paternal privileges in the upbringing of children were restricted for the first time and only completely abolished in 1979. In 1976, a fundamental reorganization of marriage and family law eliminated a legal division of tasks in marriage. In 1957, the GDR legislature abolished a wreath money that had also existed since 1900 , which was not implemented for all of Germany until 1998.

From the 1980s onwards, feminists around the world repeatedly criticized the fact that the implementation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was often inadequate and that human rights violations against women were ignored or neglected for a variety of reasons.

Criticism of the implementation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Critics pointed out that Article 12 in particular (“No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home and correspondence, or attacks on his honor and reputation”) has been repeatedly used by many countries and governments to expose human rights violations to treat women as a "private matter" and to value men's rights to privacy , family and personal honor in the judiciary above women's rights, e.g. B. physical integrity. Human rights violations against women mostly take place in the private and not in the public sphere, which many states use to turn a blind eye to human rights violations against women.

Another point criticized was the one-sided focus of the human rights declaration on the protection of the individual from encroachments by the state. Protection against attacks by private individuals was initially not provided for in the UN Human Rights Declaration of 1948 - but it is precisely in the case of human rights violations against women that they are mainly committed by private individuals. Although these are not offensively supported in many states, they are nevertheless tolerated in legal practice.

A third point of criticism lay in the fact that the specific situation of women was not mentioned in the human rights declaration and was therefore more or less ignored by human rights organizations. In many places, women are exposed to the same human rights violations as men (e.g. persecution based on religion or race ), but because of their gender there are other human rights violations specific to women, such as sexual torture or forced prostitution , which make the situation even worse. The fourth criticism leveled by feminists related to the toleration of human rights violations based on “cultural differences”. Until well into the 1990s, for example, it was common practice to tolerate systematic and structural human rights violations against women, such as those that occurred in Afghanistan or Iran , in the name of cultural differences. In particular, women's rights organizations from the affected countries are still demanding the universality and indivisibility of human rights for women, even in countries where this is not part of their cultural tradition.

human rights or women's rights

According to the critics, the above-mentioned closely intertwined problems meant that structural human rights violations against women (i.e. human rights violations because of their gender , a contradiction to Articles 1 and 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights) were often not perceived as violations of human rights , according to the critics. but treated by international organizations and NGOs as a special case, as "women's rights" and not as "human rights". Feminists have been particularly critical of Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch for paying too little attention to women's specific issues. The UN and its bodies have been accused of treating, for example, sexual assaults in armed conflicts as a “private matter” and not as human rights violations and delegating them to national jurisdiction as “extraordinary occurrences”.

With the slogan "Women's rights are human rights", created as early as the 1970s, women's rights organizations drew attention to the fact that there were also gender-specific human rights violations that affected women in many places, and called for the universality and inseparability of human rights for members of the female gender as well as for a Extension of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to the so-called private space.

In order to give women the same rights and opportunities, the first call was for clear provisions against discrimination against women to be included in all international treaties so that states could no longer ignore violations of women's human rights. So that human rights can also be used to punish gender-specific violations, decades of educational and lobbying work have pointed out that, for example, forced prostitution must be treated as slavery , domestic violence or systematic rape as torture .

In recent years - u. a. with the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) founded in 1976 – work has been done to strengthen the social and economic situation of women worldwide. In the area of ​​international law, states were increasingly held responsible for prosecuting violations of the rights of their citizens just as consistently as they did against their citizens. Work is being done within international organizations to give social and economic rights as much importance as traditional civil and political rights. Concrete main focal points of the actions of modern women's rights organizations are forced prostitution , forced marriages , honor killings , targeted abortions of female fetuses , infanticide of female babies, female genital mutilation , a right to school education for girls too, etc.

Implementation of women's rights in the international communities

The principle of equal rights for women and men was already recognized when the UN was founded in 1946 (Preamble, Art. 1.3). The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights also includes a principle of non-discrimination based on sex. In 1949, Article 27 of the Geneva Convention IV provided for the first time special protection against rape, forced prostitution and other indecent attacks on women in war .

Despite these intentions, the implementation of these principles initially led a shadowy existence. The proposals of the "UN Women's Commission" were not implemented and the situation of women in many countries hardly improved. Gender-specific human rights violations went unnoticed at first. Therefore, in 1972, the Women's Commission proposed making 1975 the International Year of Women to draw attention to the issue of women's rights. Thanks to this year and the UN World Conference on Women , which took place three times between 1976 and 1985, a rethink took place within the United Nations and the problem of women's rights became an issue.

Contracting States of the CEDAW (status: 2008)

UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, 1979

In December 1979, the United Nations General Assembly in New York passed the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). The Convention was a summary of the previously existing provisions and, on the other hand, went beyond them, since it made the States Parties responsible for punishing violations of women's rights also by non-state actors. The convention was supplemented by an action program that obliged the contracting states to implement equal rights for women and men not only de jure but also de facto . Since the international community was convinced at that time that the living conditions of women - in contrast to "normal human rights" - were not suitable for regular statistical examination, the only control mechanism over the implementation of the treaty was the preparation of an annual report on the situation of women's rights in the respective country. This report must be submitted to the Women's Convention Committee, a group of experts. From the outset, the contracting states only inadequately fulfilled this obligation. There are no plans for sanctions, and compared to other UN human rights bodies, the women's convention committee was only given limited financial resources.

Vienna Declaration and Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women, 1993

Due to the lack of obligations and sanction options, the implementation of the UN Women's Convention in the contracting states was very hesitant. Under pressure from the women's movement, the issue of women's rights was placed on the agenda of the UN World Human Rights Conference, which took place in June 1993 in Vienna. As the first international declaration ever, the Vienna Final Declaration condemns violence against women as a violation of human rights. In addition, the declaration explicitly stated: “The human rights of women and girls are an inalienable, integral and indivisible part of universal human rights”.

The Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women , adopted in December 1993, reiterates that women's rights are an inalienable and inseparable part of universal human rights and should under no circumstances be relativized by reference to cultural and traditional customs. Acts of violence in the following contexts are explicitly condemned as human rights violations:

  • physical and sexual violence (including sexual abuse of girls and spousal rape) in the home and family
  • Violence related to dowry
  • female genital mutilation
  • sexual or other exploitation of women (rape, sexual abuse, sexual harassment in the workplace, educational institutions and elsewhere)
  • trafficking in women
  • forced prostitution
  • state or state-condoned physical or sexual violence (in state institutions and elsewhere)

In March 1994, the post of permanent UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women was established to strengthen implementation of the Declaration .

4th World Conference on Women in Beijing, 1995

The motto of the 4th United Nations World Conference on Women in September 1995 in Beijing was “Action for equality, development and peace”. In particular, the culturally and traditionally different understanding of women's rights was discussed vigorously and controversially. The result of the discussions was a catalog of demands, the so-called platform for action, which was drawn up with the help of non-governmental organizations and ratified by 189 states. In particular, the signatory states committed themselves to promoting gender equality in all areas of society (i.e. politics, economy and society), protecting women's rights, combating poverty among women, prosecuting violence against women as a violation of human rights and to reduce gender differences in health care and in the education system. In addition, the final declaration of the World Women's Conference in Beijing, as well as that of the conference in Nairobi ten years earlier, are considered to be the forerunners of the UN Resolution 1325 from the year 2000, which is important for women's rights (see 3.4).

Although this platform for action represents a good basis for arguments for women's rights organizations vis-à-vis governments and the international community, it does not provide clear deadlines for implementation or legal sanctions against states that do not comply with the commitments made.

UN Security Council Resolution on Women, Peace and Security, 2000

The so-called Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security was passed unanimously by the United Nations Security Council on October 31, 2000. It is considered a milestone in outlawing sexual violence in wartime against women and girls, which would probably not have been possible without the increased international sensitivity of the world public towards gender-specific violence, triggered by the experiences of the Yugoslav war and the genocide in Rwanda in the 1990s.

The resolution requires the UN, governments and non-governmental organizations to take comprehensive measures to prevent violence and prosecute perpetrators . In addition, for the first time in this form, it takes into account a gender perspective in peace processes. The resolution calls for improved opportunities for women to take part in peace negotiations, for women's concerns to be integrated into the mandate of the UN peacekeeping mission, and for women to be more involved in military and civilian contingents. This organization-related promotion of gender equality ( gender mainstreaming ) was defined by UN specifications, particularly with regard to human rights – which are therefore also understood as women's rights. Consequentially, according to Resolution 1325, gender mainstreaming should also come into play in UN peacekeeping missions : in disarmament, demobilization, the planning of refugee camps or in reforms of the state security sector consisting of the police , military and judiciary .

UN Women's Conference 2013

A United Nations conference in March 2013 voted on a declaration to give women and girls the same rights and protections as men and boys.

Istanbul Convention 2014

The Istanbul Convention , officially the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence , is an international treaty drafted in 2011 . The Convention creates binding legal norms against violence against women and domestic violence . On its basis they should be prevented and combated. It came into force on August 1, 2014.

Legal options and case law

Long before Beijing, UNIFEM and NGOs had criticized the lack of legal options for implementing the 1979 Women's Rights Convention. As a result of the World Women's Conference in Beijing in 1999, an optional protocol was presented in addition to the "Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women" ( Federal Law Gazette 2001 II p. 1237, 1238 ). This protocol allows individuals to lodge complaints with the Women's Rights Committee when the rights set out in the agreement are violated. However, this is only possible if the state to which the plaintiff belongs has signed and ratified the additional protocol, which has so far only been the case in 50 states. Before she can approach the Women's Rights Committee, the plaintiff must have exhausted all the possibilities for complaints that exist in her state, unless the way through the instances is unreasonable. The hurdle to appealing to the UN Committee on Women's Rights is particularly high for women from countries where financial resources or legal education are limited or where they can only go to court with the consent of their husband, father or another male relative. In this case, the Optional Protocol provides for the possibility of representing the plaintiff. In the event of a lawsuit, the UN Committee on Women's Rights can require the state concerned to take measures to safeguard the rights of the complainant. In addition to the right to lodge a complaint, the Optional Protocol also includes a right of inquiry for the UN Committee on Women's Rights. According to this, the Committee can launch an investigation in a state party on its own initiative if information about "serious or systematic violations of the rights set out in the convention" is available.

In the so-called Foca case of February 22, 2001, for the first time in the history of women's rights, rape in connection with acts of war was classified as a war crime, i. H. condemned as a serious violation of the Geneva Conventions . In the historic ruling, the imprisonment and rape of women and girls were treated as torture and slavery and classified as crimes against humanity .

criticism of this concept

Today, the word "women's rights" is mostly used as the feminist or women's movement coined term that ultimately addresses all the rights enshrined in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights . On one point, women's rights organizations and activists agree with their critics: a basic maxim of human rights is universality, i. H. Every human being is entitled to the same rights regardless of race, origin , social status, gender or other characteristics. They disagree both on the degree of global implementation of human rights for women and on the interpretation of the universality of human rights in the context of women's rights.

See also


Scientific literature
  • Genia Findeisen and Kristina Großmann (eds.): Violence against women in Southeast Asia and China. Berlin: regiospectra Verlag 2013, ISBN 978-3-940132-54-3 .
  • Elisabeth Gabriel: Women's Rights. Introduction to the international protection of women's human rights. Vienna, Graz: New scientific publishing house 2001, ISBN 3-7083-0032-7 .
  • Ernst Fürntratt-Kloep : Social equality and women's rights in a global comparison. Cologne: Papyrossa 2001, ISBN 3-89438-154-X .
  • Ute Gerhard (ed.): Women in the history of law. From the early modern period to the present. Munich 1997, ISBN 978-3-406-42866-1 .

web links

Commons : Women's Rights  - Collection of images, videos and audio files


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