ABSTRACT

What is the relationship of international human rights law to sex and gender? Is international law a useful mechanism to improve women’s lives? International law presents itself as a universal system of values whose breach has legal repercussions, including sanctions, triggering a duty to compensate, or sparking condemnation by international bodies. Breaching international law may have a further impact domestically if international law is incorporated into a national legal system. Violations of international law can also have political effect through reducing the legitimacy of particular courses of action or inaction. This chapter considers, first, international human rights law’s account

of sex and gender and the way it has shaped rules relating to women’s lives. It then explores how these rules have been disseminated and the effect they have had in the context of post-conflict societies. It argues that, while international institutions have developed a suite of legal standards relating to sex and gender, the observance of these standards has been limited. Feminist concepts and methods must be developed to give international law standards some bite. The new United Nations (UN) entity dealing with women, UN Women, is well placed to begin this task.