Apr 4, 2012
6:00pm - 7:30pm    |    Furman Hall, Room 216, 245 Sullivan street

Listen to a recording of this event here.

Please join the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at NYU School of Law as it welcomes esteemed Professor Dianne Otto in a public lecture on the topic of “Rethinking the Tradition of Sex/Gender Dualism and Asymmetry in International Human Rights Law.” The lecture will elaborate on her recent paper on this topic, further described below.

RSVP and a valid ID required for admission to the event. Event will be followed by a Q & A, as well as a brief reception. To RSVP, please email Audrey Watne at watnea@exchange.law.nyu.edu

Paper Abstract:

By charting a genealogy of feminist engagement with international human rights law, this paper critically examines the issues thrown up by the dualistic and asymmetrical assumptions of advocacy focused on women’s rights. It is argued that this approach has become counter-productive because it reinforces the naturalized moorings of sex/gender and supports concomitant conceptions of women (and men) that justify protective and imperial, rather than rights-based, responses to women’s human rights violations. Duality and asymmetry also have exclusionary effects, silencing gendered discrimination and human rights abuses suffered by men and others, whose gender expressions and identities are erased or demonized by gender binaries. Efforts over the last two decades, by feminists and others, to rethink sex/gender in the context of international human rights law are then examined through three developments: the formal adoption of the language of ‘gender’, the implementation of ‘gender mainstreaming’, and the growing recognition of ‘gender identity’ as a ground of prohibited discrimination. This examination shows that reconceiving sex/gender as plural rather than binary, and fluid rather than static, does not mean forsaking feminism’s long-standing commitments. Rather, cognizance of the whole spectrum of harms that flow from gendered hierarchies and power will strengthen the feminist project in law. A framework of gender pluralism provides a better means of troubling the persistent reproduction of protective, victimized and formally equal representations of women, and challenging conservative views about women’s sexuality, homophobia and trans-phobia.


Professor Dianne Otto is Director of the Institute for International Law and the Humanities (IILAH) at Melbourne Law School and Project Director for Peacekeeping in the Asia Pacific Centre for Military Law (APCML). She researches in the areas of public international law, human rights law and critical legal theory, with a current focus on gender and sexuality issues in the context of the UN Security Council, peacekeeping and international human rights law. Dianne’s scholarship explores how international legal discourse reinforces hierarchies of nation, race, gender and sexuality, and aims to understand whether and how the reproduction of such legal knowledge can be resisted. Her work draws upon and develops a range of critical legal theories particularly those influenced by feminism, postcolonialism, poststructuralism and queer theory. Her recent publications include chapters in Margaret Davies and Vanessa Munro (eds), A Research Companion to Feminist Legal Theory (Ashgate Companion Series, 2012) and Sari Kouvo and Zoe Pearson (eds), Feminist Perspectives on Contemporary International Law: Between Resistance and Compliance? (Onati/Hart, 2011). She has also edited three volumes on Gender Issues and Human Rights (Edward Elgar Publishing, Human Rights Law Series, Series Editor, Sarah Joseph, forthcoming 2012) and prepared a bibliographic chapter, ‘Feminist Approaches’, in Oxford Bibliographies Online: International Law, ed. Tony Carty (New York: Oxford University Press, forthcoming 2012). Professor Otto has held visiting positions at Columbia University, the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), and the University of British Columbia. In 2004 she was the Kate Stoneman Endowed Visiting Professor in Law and Democracy, at Albany Law School. She helped draft a General Comment on women’s equality for the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and a General Recommendation on treaty obligations for the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women.


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