Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law


Rebecca J. Cook

First Page



This Essay addresses the application of international human rights law to women. Most of the cases addressed in this Essay involve alleged discrimination based on sex or marital status. Professor Cook notes that international, regional, and national courts have applied human rights principles to ensure that women's human rights are upheld, although not always to the full extent originally envisioned under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. To illustrate this point, Professor Cook reviews cases arising under international, regional, and specialized treaties, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the extent to which such discrimination interferes with the right to enjoy private or family life, attain resident status, receive social security, and receive equal protection of the law.

Professor Cook further analyzes cases involving unmarried women and spousal rights arising under the European Convention on Human Rights, alleging violations of the right of respect for family and private life, or the right to nondiscrimination. Professor Cook then briefly reviews other legal instruments that may provide opportunities to apply human rights principles to the advances of women, including the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, the American Convention on Human Rights, the European Economic Community Treaty, and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

Professor Cook concludes that, despite progress in this area, courts have not yet fully recognized women's human rights. This is due in part to the entrenched perceptions of women's role in society that may cause courts to view discrimination merely as differential treatment based on "objective and reasonable criteria." Professor Cook urges the expanded use of such international, regional, or national fora to ensure that women's actual human rights are consistent with the conception of those rights as expressed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.