Can International Human Rights Law Smash the Patriarchy? A Review of ‘Patriarchy’ According to United Nations Treaty Bodies and Special Procedures
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This article interrogates whether and how the concept of ‘patriarchy’ is used by UN human rights treaty monitoring bodies (treaty bodies) and special procedures to interpret state obligations to respect and ensure women’s human rights. There are two key points that arise out of this study: first, that several treaty bodies and special procedures purposely and consistently use the concept of ‘patriarchy’ when discussing women’s human rights, and second, that although not all treaty bodies and special procedures have referred to the terms ‘patriarchy’ or ‘patriarchal’, an examination of those that have reveals a marked difference in how the terms are used by treaty bodies when compared with special procedures. While treaty bodies render the meaning of ‘patriarchy’ as being synonymous with certain harmful practices, such as female-genital mutilation (FGM), special procedures utilise ‘patriarchy’ as a system of power, permeating every facet of society. In this article I will argue that the current state of dissonance between the understandings of ‘patriarchy’ by treaty bodies and special procedures creates an unnecessary ambiguity that does nothing to advance gender equality. Furthermore, utilising a nuanced understanding of patriarchy, as articulated by intersectional and anti-essentialist feminist scholars, would potentially equip treaty bodies and special procedures for more meaningful interpretation of rights themselves, and greater protection of women’s human rights.