6 Harv. Hum. Rts. J. 87 (1993)
Women as Aliens: A Feminist Critique of the Public/Private Distinction in International Human Rights Law

handle is hein.journals/hhrj6 and id is 93 raw text is: Women as Aliens: A Feminist Critique of
the Public/Private Distinction in
International Human Rights Law
Celina Romany*
Human rights discourse is a powerful tool for condemning state
acts and omissions that violate basic principles of civility and citizen-
ship. I Violence is an egregious affront to the core and basic notions
of civility and citizenship. Violence assaults life, dignity, and personal
integrity. It transgresses fundamental norms of peaceful coexistence.
Women are subjects of a system of familial terror with diverse mo-
dalities of violence, yet human rights discourse has been inaccessible
to women.
Women are the paradigmatic alien subjects of international law. To
be an alien is to be an other, an outsider. Women are aliens within their
states and aliens within an exclusive international club of states which
constitutes international society.
This Article critiques the human rights discourse in an attempt to
make it responsive to the most basic rights of women. It condemns a
human rights framework which construes the civil and political rights
of individuals as belonging to public life while neglecting to protect
the infringement of those rights in the private sphere of familial
relationships. It condemns such a framework for not holding the state
accountable for the state's systematic failure to institute the necessary
political and legal protections to ensure the basic rights of life, integ-
rity, and dignity of women.
Part II elaborates a critical approach to the international law frame-
work into which human rights are inserted. By genealogizing the
structural foundations of international law, this part exposes how
* Professor of Law, City University of New York Law School. This Article is part of a joint
project with Professor Rhonda Copelon, who addresses gender-based violence as an egregious
human rights violation. The author wishes to thank the Ford Foundation and the Schell
International Human Rights Fellowship Program at Yale Law School for their generous support
of this project. She is especially grateful to Michael Deutsch for his encouragement and valuable
1. To assert that a particular social claim is a human right is to vest it emotionally and
morally with an especially high order of legitimacy. Richard Bilder, Rethinking International
Human Rights: Some Basic Questions, 1969 Wis. L. REv. 171, 174.

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