Human Rights and Women

The details
Essex Law School
Colchester Campus
Postgraduate: Level 7
Thursday 03 October 2024
Friday 13 December 2024
27 May 2022


Requisites for this module



Key module for


Module description

This Module aims to examine how international human rights law does and does not adequately protect and promote the human rights of women and girls. In order to do this we will first examine the gendered nature of the law in general and how gender bias inherent in all legal systems transfers into laws that reinforce said bias and how this affects the experience of women and men. We will examine how feminisms have sought to illuminate gender bias in the law and to what degree they have been successful.

We will then turn our attention to international law and examine how a feminist critique explains how patriarchal structures present domestically, manage to replicate themselves internationally. We will move on to examine how and why international human rights law also suffers from a bias against women and evaluate the efforts made to correct this bias.

Module aims

Throughout the Module our analysis will be intersectional, meaning that we will take into account the discrimination that women face because of the interaction of their many different identities, including race, religion, sexual orientation, age, etc. Following the initial analysis of gender and the law, we will turn our attention to three areas where the protection of women’s rights is of paramount importance: discrimination, violence and sexual and reproductive rights. We will apply the theory studied in the first part of this Module to critically evaluate the state of legal protection of women’s rights. We will also study case law that illuminates how, in each area of concern, the law and those applying it do or do not address gender bias and what is the result for women’s rights. Finally, the Module will briefly examine how gender theory and its methodologies can be useful to those seeking to better the protection of LGBTQ rights.

Module learning outcomes

(i) Students will gain a preliminary understanding of gender theory and of the feminist critique of domestic and international law
(ii) Students will learn about intersectional theory and how sex and gender interact with other structures of oppression such as race, class, sexual orientation, gender identity, immigration status, etc.
(ii) Students will develop the analytical and critical skills needed to uncover the patriarchal reasoning embedded in the law
(v) Students will develop an understanding of how feminists have employed legal and political strategies to counter patriarchal bias;
(vi) Students will explore how feminist critiques and strategies can and cannot be used to counter cisgender-heterosexist bias against LGBTI people.

Module information

Topics covered:

• Introduction: Feminisms, Gender and the Law (I): What is the patriarchy? How does it work? Why can’t I see it?

• Feminisms; Gender and the Law (II): Intersectionality. What’s wrong with White Feminism?

• International Human Rights Law and Women: Institutions, Law, Mechanisms, Critique.

• Equality and Non-Discrimination (I).

• Equality and Non-Discrimination (II).

• Violence against Women (I): Domestic Violence, Rape and Sexual Violence.

• Violence against Women (II): Genocide, Crimes against Humanity, War Crimes.

• Sexual and Reproductive Rights.

• Sexualities and Gender Identities: Can Gender Theory Inform the Protection of LGBTQ Rights?

Learning and teaching methods

This module will be taught via weekly 2-hour seminars. The module teaching team will upload all relevant teaching materials on Moodle. You will find reading lists, the textbook, weekly handouts or PPS notes on Moodle. The materials in question are designed both to help you navigate the material to be covered in the seminars and to equip you to analyse the required readings. You will be expected to have completed the required readings in advance of your seminars.


  • Rebecca J. Cook; Bernard M. Dickens; Mahmoud F. Fathalla. (2003) Reproductive health and human rights: integrating medicine, ethics, and law, Oxford: Clarendon Press.
  • Askin, K. D. (2003) 'Prosecuting Wartime Rape and Other Gender-Related Crimes under International Law: Extraordinary Advances, Enduring Obstacles', in Berkeley Journal of International Law. (2)
  • Catharine A. MacKinnon. (2006) Are women human?: and other international dialogues, Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.
  • Catharine A. MacKinnon. (1989) Toward a feminist theory of the state, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  • (no date) Inter-Am Ct HR, Gonzalez et al v. Mexico (The Case of the Cotton Field).
  • Nicola Lacey. (2004) 'Feminist Legal Theory and the Rights of Women', in Gender and human rights, Oxford: Oxford University Press., pp.13-30
  • Danuta Kean. (2017) 'Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie clarifies transgender comments as backlash grows', in The Guardian.
  • Rebecca Pearse. (2015) 'The question of gender', in Gender: in world perspective, Cambridge: Polity., pp.9-13
  • Hilary Charlesworth; C. M. Chinkin. (2000) The boundaries of international law: a feminist analysis, Manchester: Manchester University Press.
  • VO v. FRANCE, https://hudoc.echr.coe.int/eng#{"itemid":["001-61887"]}
  • Rhonda Copelon. (1994) 'Intimate Terror: Understanding Domestic Violence as Torture', in Human rights of women: national and international perspectives, Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press., pp.116-152
  • Philip Oltermann. (2017) 'Austria to ban full-face veil in public', in The Guardian.
  • M.C. v Bulgaria | Casebriefs, https://www.casebriefs.com/blog/law/criminal-law/criminal-law-keyed-to-kadish/homicide/m-c-v-bulgaria/
  • Carol Cohn. (2013) Women and wars, Cambridge: Polity Press.
  • Dianne Otto. (2014) 'Between Pleasure and Danger: Lesbian Human Rights', in European Human Rights Law Review. (6) , pp.618-628
  • V.C. v. SLOVAKIA, https://hudoc.echr.coe.int/eng#{"itemid":["001-107364"]}
  • How Rites of Passage Shape Masculinity, https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2017/01/how-rites-of-passage-shape-masculinity-gender/
  • bell hooks. (1983) Ain't I a woman: black women and feminism, London: Pluto Press.
  • Refworld | Report of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, Ms. Radhika Coomaraswamy, submitted in accordance with Commission on Human Rights resolution 2001/49: Cultural practices in the family that are violent towards women, https://www.refworld.org/docid/3d6ce3cc0.html
  • Refworld | Yogyakarta Principles - Principles on the application of international human rights law in relation to sexual orientation and gender identity, https://www.refworld.org/docid/48244e602.html
  • Wackenheim v. France. University of Minnesota Human Rights Library, http://hrlibrary.umn.edu/undocs/854-1999.html
  • (no date) Advice She Didn't Ask For | Full Frontal with Samantha Bee | TBS.
  • Audre Lorde. (2007) Sister outsider: essays and speeches, Berkeley, CA: Crossing Press.
  • Catharine A. MacKinnon. (1993) 'Comment: "Theory is Not a Luxury"', in Studies in Transnational Legal Policy. (25) , pp.83-92
  • Gender specific toys: do you stereotype children?, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/magazine-40936719/gender-specific-toys-do-you-stereotype-children
  • Catharine A. MacKinnon. (2005) Women's lives, men's laws, Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.
  • Hilary Charlesworth; Christine Chinkin; Shelley Wright. (1991) 'Feminist Approaches to International Law', in The American Journal of International Law. vol. 85 (4) , pp.613-645
  • Ruth Seifert. (1996) 'The second front', in Women's Studies International Forum. vol. 19 (1-2) , pp.35-43
  • Beate Rudolf; Marsha A. Freeman; C. M. Chinkin. (2012) The UN Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women: a commentary, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Patricia Hill Collins. (2000) Black feminist thought: knowledge, consciousness, and the politics of empowerment, New York, NY: Routledge.
  • Rebecca J. Cook; Simone Cusack. (2010) Gender stereotyping: transnational legal perspectives, Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press.
  • Kimberle Crenshaw. (1989) 'Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics', in The University of Chicago legal forum. (1) , pp.139-168
  • Martha Minow. (2016) 'Gender and the Body', in Feminist legal theory: a primer, New York, NY: New York University Press., pp.131-170
  • Suzanne Goldenberg. (2005) 'Why women are poor at science, by Harvard president', in The Guardian.
  • Women's March on Washington Opens Contentious Dialogues About Race, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/09/us/womens-march-on-washington-opens-contentious-dialogues-about-race.html?_r=0
  • Rhonda Copelon. (1994) 'Surfacing Gender: Re-Engraving Crimes against Women in Humanitarian Law', in Hastings Women's Law Journal. (2)
  • M. O'Flaherty; J. Fisher. (2008) 'Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and International Human Rights Law: Contextualising the Yogyakarta Principles', in Human Rights Law Review. vol. 8 (2) , pp.207-248
  • (no date) Dominique Christina - "The Period Poem".
  • Henrika S. Vos v. The Netherlands, http://hrlibrary.umn.edu/undocs/session35/218-1986.html
  • Rebecca J. Cook. (1994) 'Women's International Human Rights Law: The Way Forward', in Human rights of women: national and international perspectives, Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press., pp.3-36
  • Catharine A. MacKinnon. (1987) Feminism unmodified: discourses on life and law, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

The above list is indicative of the essential reading for the course. The library makes provision for all reading list items, with digital provision where possible, and these resources are shared between students. Further reading can be obtained from this module's reading list.

Assessment items, weightings and deadlines

Coursework / exam Description Deadline Coursework weighting

Exam format definitions

  • Remote, open book: Your exam will take place remotely via an online learning platform. You may refer to any physical or electronic materials during the exam.
  • In-person, open book: Your exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may refer to any physical materials such as paper study notes or a textbook during the exam. Electronic devices may not be used in the exam.
  • In-person, open book (restricted): The exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may refer only to specific physical materials such as a named textbook during the exam. Permitted materials will be specified by your department. Electronic devices may not be used in the exam.
  • In-person, closed book: The exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may not refer to any physical materials or electronic devices during the exam. There may be times when a paper dictionary, for example, may be permitted in an otherwise closed book exam. Any exceptions will be specified by your department.

Your department will provide further guidance before your exams.

Overall assessment

Coursework Exam
100% 0%


Coursework Exam
100% 0%
Module supervisor and teaching staff
Dr Patricia Palacios Zuloaga, email: p.palacioszuloaga@essex.ac.uk.
Dr Patricia Palacios Zuloaga & Dr Carla Ferstman



External examiner

No external examiner information available for this module.
Available via Moodle
No lecture recording information available for this module.


Further information
Essex Law School

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