Women’s Rights in a Global Context

Margaret A. McLaren
Rollins College
Sunday, October 1, 2017

In the context of globalization, discussions of rights take on a new urgency. Rights are used as a standard for sanctioning certain countries through economic boycott, and as a criterion for entrance into the European Union. Thus, understanding rights discourse has not only theoretical applications, but also significant political and practical value. My paper will address the issue of rights in feminist theory with respect to women in the Global South. Feminists seem to take two contradictory views of rights. On the one hand, some feminists criticize the notion of rights as a highly individualistic, abstract Western idea. They argue that rights are a culture bound construct that does not do justice to more relational understandings of the self, or to communal cultures. Yet other feminists argue that rights are an important tool for securing women’s protection from violence, and promoting women’s equality. I argue that both of these views inadvertently neglect economic issues, and so long as this is the case, discussions of rights have only limited benefit for poor women in developing countries. I suggest that feminists concerned with global women’s issues prioritize economic and social rights, in addition to political and legal rights. I believe that women’s co-operatives may provide a new model for feminism that better addresses the circumstances of women in developing countries in the context of globalization.