23 Emory Int'l L. Rev. 113 (2009)
Vulnerable Women: A Critical Reflection on Human Rights Discourse and Sexual Violence

handle is hein.journals/emint23 and id is 115 raw text is: VULNERABLE WOMEN: A CRITICAL REFLECTION ON
HUMAN RIGHTS DISCOURSE AND SEXUAL VIOLENCE
Pamela Scully*
I write as a historian by training, who is now working on gender, violence,
and human rights in contemporary Africa. In this Essay, I hail the great
interventions made by women's rights' activists and supporters in placing
violence against women on the international human rights agenda, but examine
critically the emphasis on female vulnerability in recent UN decisions and
documents. I analyze the U.N. Security Council resolutions on the experiences
of women in wartime and peace, particularly Resolution 1820. I suggest that
an exclusive focus on sexual violence against women and girls limits our
ability to understand the root causes of sexual violence, and to build different
and sustainable futures for women and men. I explore the implications of the
figure of the vulnerable woman for post-conflict reconstruction, arguing that an
exclusive focus on sexual violence against women and children leads to the
articulation of rights in ways that might actually hinder the objectives of
human rights.
We live in awful and wonderful times. We all live with daily violence in
our homes and cities. Women live with domestic violence in every country of
our world.1 Some citizens of the world live in wartime and deal with a level of
terror that is hard to comprehend. Women in the eastern Democratic Republic
of the Congo (DRC), for example, are being raped multiple times a day, with
2
penises and with gun barrels. In addition, we know of the systematic raping
of women in the Balkan wars of the 1990s,3 of the rapes of women during the
* Professor of Women's Studies and African Studies, Emory University. I am very grateful to Courtney
O'Donnell of Emory School of Law for putting together the original panel discussion. This Essay is initial
thoughts of a book I am beginning to work on. I want to thank the members of my seminar at Emory on
Gender Violence and Gender Justice, Fall 2008, for their insights into many of the issues I raise herein.
1 See generally SALLY ENGLE MERRY, HUMAN RIGHTS AND GENDER VIOLENCE: TRANSLATING
INTERNATIONAL LAW INTO LOCAL JUSTICE (2006) (considering the universality of violence against women,
and the challenges of and opportunities for translating human rights ideals into local contexts).
2 Haleigh Hanlon, Implications for Health Care Practice and Improved Policies for Victims of Sexual
Violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo, 10 J. INT'L WOMEN'S STUD. 64, 64-72 (2008).
3 See generally MASS RAPE: THE WAR AGAINST WOMEN IN BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA (Alexandra
Stiglmayer ed., Marion Faber trans., 1994).

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