Chapter

THE DEVELOPMENT OF WOMEN'S RIGHTS AS A MICROCOSM OF THE DEVELOPMENT OF HUMAN RIGHTS

William Talbott

in Which Rights Should Be Universal?

Published in print April 2005 | ISBN: 9780195173475
Published online April 2005 | e-ISBN: 9780199835331 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/0195173473.003.0005
 THE DEVELOPMENT OF WOMEN'S RIGHTS AS A MICROCOSM OF THE DEVELOPMENT OF HUMAN RIGHTS

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In this chapter, Talbott explains the development of women’s rights as a response to the (near) cultural universal of paternalistically justified patriarchal norms that severely limit opportunities for women. Talbott uses evolutionary psychology to explain why norms that severely limit opportunities for women are (near) cultural universals and to show how it is possible to question even culturally universal justifications from the moral standpoint. Talbott uses the evidence of violence against women (e.g., “honor” crimes) and the examples of footbinding and female genital cutting to explain how social enforcement can make oppressive norms stable and can even motivate voluntary compliance with them. Talbott also explains how certain kinds of paternalist justifications for patriarchal norms can be self-reinforcing. Talbott explains how the development of women’s rights fits the model of the extension of rights to white, male property owners, then to white male non-property-owners, then to males in other racial and ethnic groups. In each case, the extension of rights is a guarantee of a sphere of autonomy, in a sense to be explained in the next chapter. Talbott gives the example of the Senegalese organization Tostan as a model of how to advocate universal human rights, and thus autonomy, without being a moral imperialist. Talbott concludes with an explanation of why cultural relativism about internal norms is too wishy-washy.

Keywords: self-reinforcing paternalism; patriarchal norms; Amartya Sen; Tostan; women’s rights

Chapter.  12130 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy

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