Archive for the ‘International law’ Category

kaushikKaushik Paul, Durham University

The European Court of Human Rights (hereinafter “the ECtHR”) delivered a judgment in the case of Belcacemi and Oussar v Belgium (application no 37798/13) on 11 July 2017. In this case the ECtHR, in line with its previous decision in SAS v France (application no 43835/11), upheld the ban on wearing Islamic full-face veils (e.g. the niqab and the burqa worn by Muslim women) in public places in Belgium on the grounds of living together. In Belcacemi, the ECtHR unanimously said that “the wearing in public of clothing that partly or totally covers the face” can be prohibited to “guarantee the conditions of ‘living together’” and for the “protection of the rights and freedoms of others”. The ECtHR also maintained that Belgium’s ban on full-face veils was “necessary in a democratic society” under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Before moving to offer a critique of Belcacemi ruling, it is worth elaborating on the concept of ‘living together’. This concept was established and accepted by the ECtHR in SAS. However, the ECtHR has never clearly defined the notion of living together. In upholding the full-face veil ban in France on the basis of the living together principle, the Grand Chamber held in SAS that “the voluntary and systematic concealment of the face is problematic because it is quite simply incompatible with the fundamental requirements of living together in French society and that the systematic concealment of the face in public places, contrary to the ideal of fraternity, … falls short of the minimum requirement of civility that is necessary for social interaction” (para. 141-142). The Grand Chamber also held that allowing women to wear the full-face veils in public spaces might breach “the right of others to live in a space of socialisation that makes living together easier” (para. 122). (more…)


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Charlotte O’Brien, University of York

[This post was originally published in The Conversation and is reproduced here with the kind permission of that blog and the author]

It has emerged that the team being sent to Brussels to lead on talks to take Britain out of the EU includes just one woman – out of nine named negotiators.

This imbalance is not only embarrassing. It’s negligent. Failing to include women on the frontline of this incredibly important process jeopardises the quality of the negotiations.

Men don’t know (or do) what’s best for women

Having women on your team matters – and not just because of optics. It affects the quality of the laws that are made. The Equal Pay Act of 1970 and the Sex Discrimination Act of 1975 were both passed by parliaments that were 96% male and 4% female. Both pieces of legislation are great achievements on the surface but both were deeply flawed. The original equal pay rules required a job evaluation survey, effectively meaning that women had to seek permission from their employers (back then: men) to mount an equal pay claim. Until the EU intervened, the Sex Discrimination Act appeared to require pregnant women to be compared to sick men, making it easier to sack them. This unfavourable treatment on the grounds of pregnancy was not considered sex discrimination. (more…)

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IB imageSnapshots of law, gender and sexuality news from the past couple of weeks.

H&M’s 2016 Autumn Collection: a step forward for feminism?

Begüm Elif Yılmaz, University of Manchester

A recent H&M film advertisement for the fashion company’s 2016 Autumn Collection has been the centre of attention for feminists on the web in recent weeks. The ad seems perfect on the surface. With the song “she’s a lady” playing in the background, it is made up of footage of a host of ‘real’ women enjoying their lives. The apparent aim of the advert is to challenge people’s understanding of what being a lady really means and to celebrate those women who do not conform to the gender standards of society. In short, the advertisement highlights the important idea that all women are still women regardless of what they look like, where they come from, what they do and how they do it. It includes a trans woman, a woman in a restaurant picking her teeth with her fingers, a curvy woman in her underwear comfortably admiring herself in the mirror, a woman with an unshaven armpit enjoying junk food, a woman with a shaven head, a strong executive directing a meeting, a proud androgynous woman who would traditionally be ridiculed for her so-called “masculinity”, an older woman and a woman in an empty subway spreading her legs. These women come from various backgrounds, making the advertisement not just a feminist one, but also one that adds a broader diversity element to the conversation. Challenging the societal norm that women can and ought to only have a specific look and possess a certain collection of traits, this advertisement seems to reflect a deeply progressive presentation of modern women. Almost all women have been warned at least once in their lives for doing something “inappropriate” because it is “unladylike”, and as such the new advert’s overarching theme seems to be largely positive.


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Se-shauna Wheatle is a Research Associate in Public Law at Durham Law School. In 2013, she produced a report funded by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, entitled ‘Adjudication in Homicide Cases involving Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered (LGBT) Persons in the Commonwealth Caribbean‘. She tweets @seshauna.

The Debate

The controversy at the end of 2014 over the lyrics to the BandAid 30 Christmas charity song ‘How Can they Know its Christmas’ represents the tension, the struggle that is at the heart of this blog post. The song’s description of West Africa as ‘a world of dread and fear’ and its invocation to listeners to ‘bring peace and joy this Christmas to West Africa’ paints a picture of a desperate and dismal region that needs to be rescued by Britain. Though, of course, the song was motivated by a drive to provide assistance to the fight against the Ebola virus afflicting several countries including Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia, the lyrics sparked discourse about a recurrent ‘white saviour complex’ and a perception of the global south as desperate and helpless. This debate invites us to consider how we can engage meaningfully to solve the world’s problems, to enhance social justice and equality without unwittingly perpetuating stereotypes and thereby undermining the very efforts we seek to champion.

It is with these questions in mind that I believe human rights researchers and activists have to confront the critique that modern engagement, particularly in issues of rights and development, is approximate to a ‘new age imperialism’. The ‘imperialism objection’ in this sense has been accurately depicted by Nick Bamforth as ‘involving the imposition of a (stronger) imperial power’s laws on (weaker) colonies’. This presents a picture of a process of the subjugation of the local population to the legal authority of a more powerful, distant jurisdiction. (more…)

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Ruth Houghton is a Graduate Teaching Assistant and PhD candidate at Durham Law School. She tweets at @ruth_houghton. Ruth is also a commentator on the Northern/Irish Feminist Judgments Project. This post is also posted at Human Rights in Ireland.

The Project

Launched in 2012, the  Northern/Irish Feminist Judgments Project (@irishfjp) is led by Aoife O’Donoghue (Durham Law School), Julie McCandless (LSE Law) and Máiréad Enright (Kent Law School). A feminist judgments project writes the ‘missing feminist judgment’; it takes original decisions and rewrites them from a feminist perspective. Abiding to the strictures of precedent and custom that judges adhere to, the feminist judge shows how the law could have been interpreted or applied differently. This particular project builds on the work of the Canadian, Australian and English feminist judgments projects, and focuses specifically on the creation of identity in Ireland and Northern Ireland. The project will explore both jurisdictions, rewriting cases from both the Irish and Northern Irish courts. The Northern/Irish Feminist Judgments project explores the building of communities and the importance of diaspora for Irish identity as well as creating a space to explore the ways that Northern Irish and Irish identities have ‘affected, and defined themselves in relation to one another over time’. (more…)

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IB imageSnapshots of law, gender and sexuality news from the past couple of weeks

The First Discussions About Intersex Issues at the United Nations Human Rights Council

Gita Keshava, Durham University

This week has marked a development in the protection of intersex people at the level of the United Nations. On Monday, March 10 2014, Holly Greenberry, an intersex activist with IntersexUK, addressed the UN Human Rights Council on behalf of intersex organisations around the world about current human rights issues. She spoke of the human rights violations faced by intersex children in all countries in the world and the consequences experienced during adulthood. She addressed the issues of discrimination at all levels of society, the influence of the media in the stigmatization of intersex people, and the violence that is perpetrated against them. On Tuesday, March 11 2014, activists from the United Kingdom, Argentina, Switzerland, and Australia discussed genital mutilation, psychological trauma, discrimination, and torture faced by intersex people and called for concrete action to be taken by the international community. It marks the first – and hopefully not the last – time that the United Nations has held an event targeting the specific human rights violations currently faced by intersex people. (more…)

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Ben Warwick is a PhD candidate and Graduate Teaching Assistant at Durham Law School. He tweets at @btcwarwick

The direction of travel for gender equality, and particularly women’s economic equality, has been reversed in recent years. Women’s groups have predicted that ‘ground previously gained will most certainly be lost’, that ‘austerity risks turning back time’, and that there has ‘been regression in some key areas’. These backwards steps put the UK in danger of breaching its human rights obligations under international law. The effect of the economic and financial crises on women’s economic rights has been largely discussed as though women’s issues were identical to those of men. Women’s rights, therefore, are the particular focus of what follows.

The UK voluntarily accepted obligations to respect women’s rights in 1986, yet the latest reports would seem to suggest that the UK has forgotten its responsibilities in relation to women’s economic rights, or operates under the ill-founded assumption that these responsibilities are suspended by an economic recession. The ‘Women’s Convention’ – the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) – is broad in its coverage, and affords women many rights in respect of discrimination. These rights have been affected by the crises in what Oxfam has labelled ‘a perfect storm’ of ‘economic stagnation, the rising cost of living and public spending cuts’. The debate on the apportionment of blame for these three phenomenon is well-rehearsed and unresolved but, what is clear as a matter of international human rights law, is that regardless of what or who caused the crisis, the responsibility for addressing the negative impacts upon women rights rests firmly with the State (defined as ‘all branches of Government’).


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