Traditional practices (such as female circumcision, various birthing methods and early pregnancy) expected of, and maintained by, women in sub-Saharan African continue relatively unabated. So, too, does the harm these pose to women, including increased risks of maternal mortality, reproductive ill-health and transmission of HIV/AIDS. Human rights standards and discourses have been used as a means towards their end. This study seeks to establish the strengths and weaknesses of the human rights approach within the specific context of sub-Saharan Africa, focusing on women as a group and their reproductive health. In so doing, the real potential and ideal application of the human rights approach are considered.
The study begins by establishing a theoretical framework by defining and analysing the harmful traditional practices and human rights in question and the means by which the human rights approach may be expected to effect change. It then identifies and resolves problems in the use of human rights instruments (particularly the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights), discourses (especially in relation to feminism) or strategies (such as that of human rights education and its impact on women’s empowerment). In the final chapters, lessons are drawn from historical campaigns to end the harmful traditional practices of footbinding and widow burning in Asia, as well as initiatives in sub-Saharan Africa to end female circumcision. These are applied using the framework of human rights, particularly with regard to the role of the African State and its obligations under international human rights law. The author argues that the African State should seek and facilitate the end of harmful traditional practices by engaging new – and likely more influential – actors, in particular traditional and religious leaders and ordinary men.
Chapter I. Introduction (p. 1)
Chapter II. The Harmful Traditional Practices in Question and Supporting Customs and Norms (p. 17)
Chapter III. The Rights in Question (p. 49)
Chapter IV. The Theoretical Value of the Human Rights Approach (p. 81)
Chapter V. Assessing the African Charter as a Tool for Social Change (p. 109)
Chapter VI. Practical Limitations on the Human Rights Approach (p. 131)
Chapter VII. Drawing Lessons from Successful and Failed Challenges to Traditional Practices (p. 157)
Chapter VIII. Key Agents of Change and the Role of the African State (p. 175)
Chapter IX. Summary and Conclusions (p. 199)
Annexes (p. 211)
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Editorial Board: Prof. dr. Antoine Buyse (Utrecht University), Prof. dr. Fons Coomans (Maastricht University), Prof. dr. Yvonne Donders (Chair - University of Amsterdam), Dr. Antenor Hallo de Wolf (University of Groningen), Prof. dr. Kristin Henrard (Erasmus University Rotterdam), Prof. dr. Nicola Jägers (Tilburg University), Prof. Titia Loenen (Leiden University) Prof. dr. Janne Nijman (T.M.C. Asser Instituut) and Prof. dr. Brigit Toebes (University of Groningen).
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