Today is the Human Rights day, so my blog post will deal with that. Human Rights Day is a day where all defenders of human rights are recognised, including ones that work on a personal level and in obscurity. Every single one of us who respects human rights and works for them should feel they deserve part of the creds of this day.
This article by Nina Fennell in the Australian news paper argues that rape is not only a feminist issue, but also a human rights one. Essentially, any sex crime, is a violation of human rights because it is an infringement on the human right of self-determination, as well as some other negative human rights, i.e. freedom from certain things.
Fennell argues that putting rape into a context of human rights rather than leaving it exclusively on the feminist turf will open up the debate and bring in people that feel alienated by the exclusiveness of feminism. In my personal letters to various universities, I argued that this is precisely what I believe is necessary for feminism - an opening up of the nuanced debate that occurs in feminist and academic circles to be brought out into a more accessible arena in order to avoid misconceptions and hostility towards feminists and feminism. I agree with Fennell that, sometimes, feminism is perceived as quite hard to relate to for a lot of people, especially, I think, men. Feminism is often viewed as this pro-female movement, which it in all certainty is. The misconceptions start where people believe that to be pro-female one must also inevitably be anti-male. For me, and a lot of other feminists, this is as far from the truth as can be (more in the above linked post and also here).
Would it be beneficial to view rape as a human rights issue? Yes, it definitely would. Using a more neutral ground for the discussion could possibly lead to a more inclusive debate and that would consequently lead to a more open debate around rape culture, rape myths and rape apologia. Debating these things in a non-feminist light could allow for these concepts to become more neutral, i.e. not seen as a feminist myth evoked to bring down the great evil patriarchy, or rather men. This would be very beneficial to all parts in society as these are prevalent problems and they have the consequence of leading to further misconceptions about rape, sex crimes and the survivors of these crimes.
But, there is a reason why rape and sex crimes lie so close to the heart of women. Most statistics point out that these types of crimes happen mainly to women, with males representing approximately 7-15% of the survivors (USA, Britain - more statistics are usually available through each individual country and are quite easily accessible). Because of this, it is often seen as a big part making up the encompassing subject of violence against women. Power in these situations are often a gendered issue with the dominance of a male being established over a female as a consequence of a sexual crime. Interestingly, UNFPA devotes an entire chapter on 'Gender roles in flux' in their publication at the 10-year anniversary of the publishing of Resolution 1325 which deals exclusively with women in conflict. The chapter shows how in post-conflict societies, where women continue doing 'men's work' of running the productive economy that they took up during conflict, men often resort to domestic violence in order to reclaim their masculinity. Alan Greig also has interesting work on masculinities for anyone who is interested in reading further on the issue.
It has to be noted, however, that these statistics might need a bit wider interpretation of sexual assault for males, as most cultures still do not believe that men can be sexually assaulted in the same way as women. It's a part of the common conception of men as perpetrators, women as victims (see Moser, Victims, Perpetrators or Actors: Gender, Armed Conflict and Political Violence for an explanation how this is viewed in conflict); roles which can damage both men and women in the long run. Men are at risk of being largely overlooked as victims of sex crimes, and women are recurrently portrayed as passive victims just standing idly by waiting for someone to sexually assault them or for a man to save them.
Gender analysis is needed in issues such as rape and other sex crimes, just because it often contains a lot of gendered violence as a result of perceived or assigned gender roles. Therefore, to take it entirely from the area of feminist analysis could result in the analytical tools needed to understand this sort of violence and coercion being cast aside, and that would be damaging in the long run for all parties involved.
Women's rights are human rights, however, and Fennell makes a very good point. There is a need to bring out these issues to a more neutral ground where people do not feel alienated by the frame work of discussion. Hopefully this can be done in a way that can reconcile both human rights and feminist/gender analysis.
Happy human rights day!