Despite the instinctive human interest in defending one’s rights, it was not enough to protect and guard these rights actively and in a manner that preserved human dignity. That is why multi-legislations were issued to criminalise forbidden conduct. This went hand in hand with issuing laws that incriminate every criminal conduct. These legislations were followed by different mechanisms, especially designed to monitor, hold accountable and punish those breaking these laws.
However, the most important defence lines are embodied in human beings themselves, as they have always stood protecting human rights and dignity. This was followed by the establishment of the legal state that protects rights — through its legislations and different establishments — to ensure and safeguard human rights without any discrimination. If the state fails in this respect or if it violates rights deliberately, then the regional system will stand up defending these rights as a part of its duty and on the grounds that the state has failed in carrying out its obligations. If the regional system fails — or if it has not been established in the first place due to the fact that some regional regimes are nothing but useless images of skeletons — then the international system for human rights has to step in to protect people’s rights and integrity and to safeguard human beings. This duty is no longer optional. In fact, it is one of the most important duties today. Failing to protect human rights resembles betraying the responsibility that the international body was tasked with.
Women’s rights are an integral part of human rights, which is why every human right is in turn a right for women as well. Hence, some consider it futile to give women special rights, considering it discrimination and not equality, but this alibi is unreasonable. Despite the fact that women are human beings, they do have special rights. Bottling these rights up falls under the category of discrimination and is the result of wrong practices and behaviours in multiple societies, which look down on women, degrade them, do not recognise their rights and do not treat them on an equal basis with men. Hence, women are not treated fairly if they resort to arbitration. These practices have become rooted in many traditions and customs to the extent that some of them have become a part of man-made laws. And although wise people and intellectuals have worked to combat this type of behaviour, society has not been able to carry out protective recommendations for legislation to fight for women’s rights and their protection.
As a result, the international community of the early 20th century contracts rose to the task by approving a number of agreements such as the agreement on the conflict of national laws relating to marriage, divorce, separation and the state of children of 1912 in the Hague, the agreement in protecting motherhood of 1935, the agreement on women working during the night and the agreement on women working underground. All that was to further protect working women’s rights and secure legislations for working mothers so that work conditions did not to affect women’s natural duty of raising their children.
The two World Wars had negative impacts on the life of families in the West — both organically and psychologically. The two wars also destroyed millions of human beings, where men were the biggest causalities, especially the young working force. That is why western communities allowed women to enter the work force to compensate for the loss of men.
However, these communities foresaw the challenges and hence they started enacting laws to protect women’s rights and the right of societies and the natural rights of families. International legislations began with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which is the announcement concerned with family rights, considering it the natural cell leading to human society. Other doctrines and agreements included women’s political rights of 1967 and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) of 1981. It is the clearest mechanism protecting women’s rights. If these legislative and executive mechanisms are adhered to, women will be able to understand their rights and obligations and consequently, they will be able to decide on what suits them best.
Dr Khalifa Rashid Al Shaali is an Emirati writer who specialises in legal affairs.