Women's rights

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


In the course of history, the term women's rights has been limited and interpreted differently. A central aspect was gender guardianship .


Antiquity and Christianity

In ancient Greece , married women mainly worked in the household ( oikos ). Many hetaerae , however, were educated and enjoyed social recognition. In Sparta women were not granted civil rights, but in contrast to other Poleis, as mistress ( kyria to kyros Herr) , they had the right to dispose of their own money. With the late Greek Stoa , emancipation was z. B. in education as well as in various professions (actresses, singers, doctors, poets, athletes).

The woman in ancient Rome was dependent on the husband and landlord ( dominus ) and did not take part in social life, but had a certain reputation as head of the household and landlady ( domina ). Legally constitutive for marriage in the Roman Empire was the patria potestas des pater familias , the male head of the family. From the age of 25, however, the woman was fundamentally free to decide whether to marry. In the Roman religion , vestals , priestesses of the goddess Vesta , who had to remain celibate, held a respected position. In the late Imperial Era and towards the end of the Roman Empire, women's rights grew so that they could influence political life or marry and divorce on their own.

Even the primitive Christianity has helped to strengthen the rights of women and their independence. The Bible - especially the Acts of the Apostles - mentions numerous "strong women" whose status goes beyond that which is usual in the Greek world. In late antiquity , however, there were opposing movements.

Code of the Serbian Tsar Stefan Dušan (Dušanov zakonik, 1349), “Prizren copy”, 15th century.

For the time before the Enlightenment, some pieces of legislation are worth mentioning in which women's rights have been better documented. There was a new law for the protection of women in the Holy Roman Empire in the first half of the 13th century under the rule of Emperor Frederick II. In the 1349 code of the Serbian Tsar Stefan Dušan , the Dušanov zakonik , widows and orphans are assured that they receive social help.


The view that is widespread today that Islam has worsened the status of women is hardly true, at least in early Islam. The Islamic reforms of the 7th century partially improved women's rights as far as they concern marriage , divorce and inheritance law. In other cultures, including Europe, women did not have such improved rights, but mostly got them centuries later. The Oxford Dictionary of Islam also mentions the prohibition of infanticide for Arabia - especially the killing of girls shortly after birth - and the recognition of women as a legal entity before the law. "The dowry , until then a price that was paid to the father (of the husband's AD), was converted into a gift that the wife 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 got inheritance rights in a patriarchal society in which previously only male relatives could inherit. On the other hand, there is the story of Chadīdscha bint Chuwailid , the first wife of Mohammed, who, as an entrepreneur and merchant and heir to a caravanserai, determined a large fortune that still belonged to her after her marriage and which only passed to Mohammed after her death. Annemarie Schimmel sees great progress in the introduction of Sharia law: women have - at least according to the letter of the law - the right 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 in Kenya). When the husband died, everything went to the sons. Mohammed had given women certain rights and privileges in the sphere of family , marriage, education and economic ventures.

Later developments have partially concentrated these early achievements, such as in Wahhabism or - more recently - in efforts of Islamism as, for example, particularly in Pakistan's Hadood Ordinances appear. Various regional alliances are fighting against it (initially rather unsuccessfully), for example the Afghan women's organization RAWA and the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance, which was founded in 1990 by Christians, Sikhs and Hindus .

From the Enlightenment to the present

In the Age of Enlightenment , some of the free thinkers also campaigned for women's rights, for example Nicolas de Condorcet in France , who advocated free suffrage for women . Numerous women claimed the right to found literary salons in which the intellectual and political innovators of the time frequented.

The first wave of the women's rights movement called for the political and social equality of women and men (e.g. the right for women to political co-determination , the right to education , the right to work , the right to own property, etc.). One of the first feminists to explicitly demand civil rights for women was Olympe de Gouges . During the French Revolution in 1791 she wrote the Declaration des droits de la femme et de la citoyenne ( Declaration of the Rights of Women and Citizens ). 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 the treatise on the civil improvement of women by Theodor Gottlieb von Hippel , published in the same year .

Furthermore, the women wanted to reduce disadvantages in family law . There the wife and mother should 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 simply defined in the law of that 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 the marriage (today's § 1353 BGB - marital partnership) 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 climax 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 finished their studies at this time.

Finland played a pioneering role in the European struggle for women's rights , even though the progress made there was initially neglected in the Central European discussion. The patriarchal matrimonial property law was abolished here as early as 1885 , and the Finnish Estates day introduced the separation of property . The woman thus 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 wasted her entire personal fortune. Finland also started with the granting of civic women's rights: in 1906 women were the first in Europe to receive full voting rights .

Mid 20th century until today

A reparation procedure under the Federal Compensation Act illustrates which patriarchal legal ideas still prevailed well into the middle of the 20th century . It also concerned the reparation case of a woman who, before the Nazis expelled her family, had worked in the business run jointly by her father and her husband - without a contract. She asked for redress for the loss of income she suffered as a result of the displacement. The Kassel regional council refused this claim on March 12, 1959, as she was only a helping wife. In the justification it said: “In shops like those whose owner is the Astin's husband. [Applicant] (general store), the help of the wife is quite common and especially common in the country. This assistance is given to the husband. If the wife is unable to work, the resulting damage will hit the husband and not the wife. A compensation for the Astin's failure to use its manpower. The damage incurred has already occurred when the compensation for the husband was determined. The basis of the determination for the husband was his commercial income, which also included the Astin's labor. The district court of Kassel dismissed the objections on October 11, 1962 in a lawsuit against this decision. The tenor of the judgment corresponded to the decision of the regional council.

This fits what is almost forgotten today, namely that in the young Federal Republic of Germany a husband could terminate his wife's employment until 1958. In Baden-Württemberg, teachers had to retire from civil service until 1956 if they got married due to a law on female teachers' celibacy . It was only with the law on equality between men and women, which was passed on May 3, 1957 and came into force on July 1, 1958, that the man no longer had the right to make final decisions in all marriage matters, and the community of gains became a statutory property regime. Until then, the husband managed the wealth brought into the marriage by his wife and had sole control of the interest and the money from the wife's gainful employment. In this law of 1958 (to the Basic Law, Art. 3 ), the paternal privileges in bringing up children were restricted for the first time and only completely eliminated in 1979. In 1976, a fundamental reorganization of marriage and family law canceled a statutory division of labor in marriage. A wreath money that had existed since 1900 was canceled by the GDR legislature in 1957, which was only implemented in 1998 for all of Germany.

From the 1980s onwards, feminists around the world repeatedly criticized the fact that the implementation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was in many cases insufficient and that human rights violations against women were ignored or neglected for various reasons.

Criticism of the implementation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Critics pointed out that Article 12 in particular (“Nobody may be subjected to arbitrary interference with their private life, family, home and correspondence, or damage to their honor or reputation.”) Is repeatedly used by many countries and governments to violate human rights to treat women as a "private matter" and to value men's rights to privacy , family and personal honor more highly than the rights of women, e.g. B. on physical integrity. Most of the human rights violations against women take place in private and not in public spaces, which many states use to turn a blind eye to human rights violations against women.

Another point that was criticized was the one-sided orientation of the human rights declaration on the protection of the individual from attacks by the state, in the opinion of the critics. 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 supported offensively in many countries, they are nevertheless tolerated in legal practice.

A third point of criticism was the fact that the specific situation of women was not mentioned in the declaration of human rights 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 (for example persecution based on religion or race ), but because of their gender there are further, woman-specific human rights violations such as sexual torture or forced prostitution , which make the situation even worse. The fourth point of criticism raised by feminists related to the tolerance of human rights violations due to “cultural differences”. Until well into the 1990s, it was customary to tolerate systematic and structural human rights violations against women, such as those that occurred in Afghanistan or Iran , in the name of cultural diversity. In particular, women's rights organizations from the affected countries are still calling for the universality and indivisibility of human rights for women and also in countries whose cultural tradition does not provide for this.

Human rights or women's rights

According to the critics, the closely interlinked problems listed above have for a long time 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, but by international organizations and NGOs as a special case, as “women's rights” and not as “human rights”. Feminists particularly criticized Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch , which paid too little attention to specific women's issues. The UN and its bodies have been accused of treating, for example, sexual assault in armed conflict as a "private matter" and not as a human rights violation and delegating it to national courts as an "exceptional occurrence".

With the slogan “Women's rights are human rights”, which was created in the 1970s, women's rights organizations drew attention to the fact that there are also gender-specific human rights violations that affect women in many places, and demanded the universality and inseparability of human rights for members of the female sex as well as a Extension of the General Declaration of Human Rights to the so-called private space.

In order to give women the same rights and opportunities, it was first called for clear provisions against discrimination against women to be inserted into all international treaties so that states could no longer ignore violations of women's human rights. In order to ensure that human rights can also be used to punish gender-specific violations, it has been pointed out in decades of educational and lobbying work 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 was carried out to strengthen the social and economic situation of women worldwide. In the area of ​​international law, states were increasingly made responsible for prosecuting violations of the law against their female citizens as consistently as against their citizens. Work is underway within international organizations to give social and economic rights just as important a status as traditional civil and political rights. Concrete main focuses of the actions of modern women's rights organizations are forced prostitution , forced marriage , honor killings , targeted abortions on female fetuses , infanticide on female babies, female genital mutilation , a right to schooling for girls, etc.

Implementation of women's rights in international communities

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

Despite these resolutions, the implementation of these principles led initially a shadowy existence. The proposals of the “UN Women's Commission” were not implemented and the situation of women in many countries barely improved. Gender-specific human rights violations were initially not noticed. That is why the Women's Commission proposed in 1972 to make 1975 the International Year of Women in order 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 issue of women's rights became an issue.

Contracting states of the CEDAW (as of 2008)

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

In December 1979 the General Assembly of the United Nations in New York adopted 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 that, since it made the contracting states responsible for punishing violations of rights against women, including by non-state actors. The Convention was supplemented by a program of action that obliged the contracting states to implement equality between women and men not only de jure but also de facto . Since the international community was convinced at this time that the living situation of women - in contrast to "normal human rights" - was not suitable for regular statistical reviews, the only control mechanism for the implementation of the treaty was the preparation of an annual report on the situation of women's rights in each 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 sanctions options and, in comparison with other UN human rights organs, only limited financial resources have been made available to the Women's Convention Committee.

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 slow. Under pressure from the women's movement, the issue of women's rights was placed on the agenda of the UN World Conference on Human Rights, which took place in Vienna in June 1993. As the first international declaration ever, the final declaration of Vienna 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 in no way be relativized with reference to cultural and traditional customs. Violent acts are explicitly condemned as human rights violations in the following contexts:

  • physical and sexual violence (including sexual abuse of girls and rape in marriage) in the household and in the family
  • Dowry- related violence
  • female genital mutilation
  • sexual or other exploitation of women (rape, sexual abuse, sexual harassment in the workplace, in educational institutions and elsewhere)
  • Trafficking in women
  • Forced prostitution
  • State or state tolerated physical or sexual violence (in state institutions and elsewhere)

In order to strengthen the implementation of the declaration, the post of permanent UN special rapporteur on violence against women was established in March 1994 .

4th World Conference on Women in Beijing, 1995

The motto of the 4th United Nations World Conference on Women in Beijing in September 1995 was “Acting for Equality, Development and Peace”. In particular, the culturally and traditionally different understanding of women's rights was discussed heatedly and controversially. The result of the discussions was a catalog of demands, the so-called platform for action, which was developed with the help of non-governmental organizations and ratified by 189 states. In this, the signatory states committed themselves in particular to promoting gender equality in all areas of society (ie politics, business and society), protecting women's rights, combating poverty, and prosecuting violence against women as a violation of human rights reduce gender gaps in health care and the education system. In addition, the final declaration of the World Conference on Women in Beijing, as well as that of the conference in Nairobi ten years earlier, are considered to be the forerunners of UN Resolution 1325 from 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 the governments and the international community, it does not provide for clear dates for implementation, nor for legal sanctions against states that do not adhere to the commitments entered into.

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 Security Council of the United Nations on October 31, 2000. It is considered a milestone in the outlawing of sexual violence against women and girls, which would probably not have been possible without the increased international sensitivity of the global public to gender-based 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 comprehensive violence prevention and prosecution of the perpetrators . In addition, for the first time in this form, it takes a gender perspective into account in peace processes. The resolution calls for improved opportunities for women to participate in peace negotiations, the integration of women's concerns into the mandate of the UN peacekeeping mission and the greater participation of women in military and civilian contingents. This also organization -related promotion of gender equality ( gender mainstreaming ) was defined by UN guidelines, particularly with regard to human rights - which are therefore also understood as women's rights. Consequently, according to Resolution 1325, gender mainstreaming should also come into play in UN peace missions : in disarmament, demobilization, the planning of refugee camps or in reforms of the state security sector consisting of the police , the military and the judiciary .

UN Women's Conference 2013

A United Nations conference in March 2013 voted for a declaration that women and girls should be granted the same rights and protection as men and boys.

Legal options and case law

Long before Beijing, UNIFEM and NGOs criticized the fact that there were no legal options for implementing the 1979 Women's Rights Convention. As a result of the World Conference on Women in Beijing, 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 pp. 1237, 1238 ). This protocol allows complaints from individuals to the Women's Rights Committee if the rights mentioned 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 is only the case in 50 states so far. Before she can get to the Women's Rights Committee, the plaintiff must have exhausted all the possibilities of complaint in her state, unless the way through the instances is unreasonable. The hurdle of appealing to the UN Committee on Women's Rights is particularly high for women from countries in which financial opportunities or legal education are limited or in which they are only allowed to go to court with the consent of their husband, father or other male relative. In this case, the optional protocol provides for the possibility of representing the applicant. In the event of a complaint, the UN Women's Rights Committee can demand measures from the state concerned to safeguard the plaintiff's rights. In addition to the right to lodge a complaint, the optional protocol also provides a second procedure for the UN Women's Rights Committee to investigate. According to this, the Committee can, on its own initiative, initiate an investigation in a State party 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, rape in connection with acts of war was considered a war crime for the first time in the history of women’s rights. H. condemned as a serious violation of the Geneva Conventions . The historical ruling treated the imprisonment and rape of women and girls as torture and slavery and classified as crimes against humanity .

Criticism of this concept

Nowadays the word “women's rights” is mostly used as the term coined by feminism or the women's movement that ultimately addresses all of the rights included in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights . Women's rights organizations and activists agree with their critics on one point: One of the basic principles of human rights is universality, i. H. everyone 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 international human rights protection for women. Vienna, Graz: Neuer Wissenschaftlicher Verlag 2001, ISBN 3-7083-0032-7
  • Ernst Fürntratt-Kloep : Social equality and women's rights in global comparison. Cologne: Papyrossa 2001, ISBN 3-89438-154-X
  • Ute Gerhard (Ed.): Women in the history of law. From the early modern times to the present. Munich 1997, ISBN 978-3-406-42866-1

Web links

Commons : Women's Rights  - Collection of Images, Videos and Audio Files

Individual evidence

  1. See dadalos.org, Women's Rights .
  2. Ernst Holthöfer: The gender guardianship. An overview from antiquity to the 19th century . In: Ute Gerhard (ed.): Women in the history of law. From the early modern times to the present . Munich 1997, p. 390-451 .
  3. Ute Gerhard: The woman as a legal person - or: How different are the sexes? Insights into 19th century jurisprudence . In: Journal of the Savigny Foundation for Legal History: German Department . tape 130 , no. 1 , August 2013, p. 281-304 .
  4. ^ Bernhard D. Haage: The healing woman in poetry and reality of the German Middle Ages. In: Würzburger medical historical reports 11, 1993, pp. 107–132; here: p. 111.
  5. Margit Eckholt: Studying Gender. Learning process for theology and the church . Ostfildern 2017.
  6. Predrag Jeremić (ed.), 100 najznamenitijih Srba, Beograd: Princip [u. a.] 2001, p. 41ff., summarized in: Wolf Oschlies, Mutter Theresa. The youth in Skopje. Klagenfurt: Wieser, 2009, p. 62.
  7. a b c d Esposito (2005) p. 79.
  8. Jones, Lindsay. P. 6224.
  9. a b Esposito (2004), p. 339.
  10. a b Khadduri (1978)
  11. Schimmel (1992) p. 65.
  12. ^ Haddad, Esposito (1998), p. 163.
  13. ^ Karl Heinz Burmeister: Olympe de Gouges. The rights of women 1791. Stämpfli Verlag, Bern 1999, p. 8.
  14. Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv Wiesbaden: Compensation files Martha Löwenberg, HHStAW section 518 no. 16090 & HHStAW section 518 no. 16091
  15. Sabine Berghan: Ride on the snail. Legal equality in the Federal Republic of Germany . Gender Politics Online, Otto Suhr Institute, Free University Berlin, 2011
  16. " R 0.518.51 Geneva Convention on the Protection of Civilians in Time of War Article 28 ", The Federal Authorities of the Swiss Confederation, accessed February 22, 2008.
  17. ^ Rita Schäfer: Resolution of the UN Security Council on women, peace and security (2000). In: Sources on the history of human rights. Working Group Human Rights in the 20th Century, October 2017, accessed on November 2, 2017 .
  18. ^ Rita Schäfer: Resolution of the UN Security Council on women, peace and security (2000). In: Sources on the history of human rights. Working Group Human Rights in the 20th Century, October 2017, accessed on November 2, 2017 .
  19. ^ Rita Schäfer: Resolution of the UN Security Council on women, peace and security (2000). In: Sources on the history of human rights. Working Group Human Rights in the 20th Century, October 2017, accessed on November 2, 2017 .
  20. ^ Rita Schäfer: Resolution of the UN Security Council on women, peace and security (2000). In: Sources on the history of human rights. Working Group Human Rights in the 20th Century, October 2017, accessed on November 2, 2017 .
  21. ^ Rita Schäfer: Resolution of the UN Security Council on women, peace and security (2000). In: Sources on the history of human rights. Working Group Human Rights in the 20th Century, October 2017, accessed on November 2, 2017 .
  22. Spiegel Online UN Declaration: Muslim States Grant Women Equal Rights , accessed March 16, 2013.