What would Gandhi say? Reconciling Universalism, Cultural Relativism and Feminism through Women's Use of CEDAW

Faculty of Law, National University of Singapore
Publication Type:
Journal article
Jivan Vedna and Forster Christine 2005, 'What would Gandhi say? Reconciling Universalism, Cultural Relativism and Feminism through Women's Use of CEDAW', Faculty of Law, National University of Singapore, vol. 9, no. 1, pp. 103-123.
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This article is a survey of domestic litigation in the Asia Pacific region in which plaintiffs have challenged laws, traditions and cultural practices that they allege to be gender discriminatory. Many of these cases show the various ways in which the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) has influenced such domestic litigation strategies and judicial decisions. More importantly, these decisions show how judges in domestic courts have sought to manage the conceptual difficulty of reconciling women's rights with local traditional practices. It discusses the dilemma posed by the question of who should challenge local, traditional cultural practices and which practices should be challenged because they are harmful to women. Should feminists ignore local cultural traditions and practices at the expense of those traditions and practices, or should States uphold the traditions and practices of their populations and such laws which protect these at the expense of gender equality? These difficulties are viewed in terms of the classic problem of effectivehuman rights treaty implementation, involving the question of how treaty obligations are also treated by different domestic legal systems. The article tries to show, however, that the problem is being resolved in practice by women plaintiffs themselves, 'litigating at the domestic level. Women in the region are using their domestic legal systems to identify the cultural practices and traditions that discriminate against them and to challenge these practices and traditions. Driven by a degree of judicial activism, this has, in turn, led to encouraging judicial responses. The article concludes that women's use of domestic litigation strategies, enhanced by the use of CEDAWand facilitated and supported by the women's movement and N.G.Os, has a crucial role to play in removing the cultural and traditional practices that discriminate against and disadvantage women.
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