This edition offers an introduction to the theory and practice of human rights from the perspective of politics and cognate disciplines. It showcases the ‘state of the art’ of the study of human rights in various fields and disciplines and explores a variety of important topics in contemporary human rights politics and practice. This introduction provides the historical and conceptual background necessary for informed critical engagement with the ideas and arguments presented in the text. It first explains why human rights have emerged as a powerful and important moral and political discourse since the middle of the twentieth century, with particular emphasis on their modernity, their invention, and their revolutionary character. It then examines the politics of human rights, the practice of human rights, and human rights as an object of enquiry. It concludes with a brief overview of the aims, structure, and objectives of the text.
This chapter explores the theoretical and political history of human rights that emerges out of the struggles that have been waged by feminists and other non-elites. It first considers the bases for the moral legitimacy of human rights and challenges to those arguments before discussing three aspects of feminist approaches to human rights: their criticism of some aspects of the theory and practice of human rights, their rights claims, and their conceptual contributions to a theory of human rights. It then examines the ways in which feminists and other activists for marginalized groups have used human rights in their struggles and how such struggles have in turn shaped human rights theory. It also analyses theoretical and historical objections to the universality of human rights based on cultural relativism. Finally, it shows that women’s rights advocates want rights enjoyment and not merely entitlements.