Women´s Rights : A Nonkilling Perspective

by Francisco Gomes de Matos, a peace linguist from Recife, Brazil
Member of the Dom Helder Camara Human Rights Commission, Federal University of Pernambuco


My interest in Human Rights dates back to the early 80s, when I wrote an article in Portuguese for Revista de Cultura Vozes in which I suggested two typologies of Linguistic Rights and made a plea for a universal declaration of individual linguistic rights (Por uma declaração de direitos linguisticos individuais, Gomes de Matos, 1983).Included in the second typology were direitos linguísticos da mulher( women´s linguistic rights): the right to be treated with linguistic equality, that is, the right not to be discriminated linguistically.
Thus, the 1997 edition of the Random House Webster´s College Dictionary featured a pioneering section on Avoiding insensitive and offensive language (1507-1511), in which Sexism is presented preventively, with lists of words and expressions to avoid. Also of possible interest to word history: non-sexist made its written debut in English in 1975. What about women´s rights? According to the RHWCD it appears from 1830 onwards. The history of the use of gender-neutral terms in place of sexist ones is fascinating but outside
the scope of this entry on Women`s Rights. Cf. for instance the replacement of stewardess (in written English, since 1930) by flight attendant (1955 – ).
This piece is inspired by Glenn D. Paige´s Nonkilling approach, as described in his book Nonkilling Global Political Science(latest edition, 2009). In that book´s index there are 14 entries on women. Of special interest to researchers in Women´s Rights is the section Nonkilling In the United States, where mention is made of “patriots, accepting suffering and sacrifice, worked for peace in wars against England (1812) and Mexico (1845), and for women´s rights” (p.65). Paige tells us that “Nonkilling was also the movement for women´s equal rights that saw election of the first woman to Congress in 1916, Representative Jeannette Rankin, Republican of Montana (66).
As the focus of this piece is on Women´s rights from a Nonkilling perspective, explicit attention will be given to instances concerning the killing of women. Note that the verb kill is also used metaphorically to express violent acts women have been victims of.
Readers are asked to add to the items exemplified and to reflect thereon.

Women´s Rights

  1. The right not to be killed.
    Women are killed in varied contexts, especially at home, through domestic violence, spousal violence. According to the National Organization for Women, the numbers of violence against women in the U.S. are still shocking. That source adds that in 2005, 1.181 women were murdered by an intimate partner.
    What would global statistics on domestic violence reveal? How is spousal abuse imposed on women? Why is women´s right to live being disrespected, violated universally? Has there been an effective “awakening to the abuse and degradation of women by men and by many societies“, as stated by the late Robert F.Drinan in his inspiring book The Mobilization of Shame. A World View of Human Rights (Yale University Press, 2001, p.38)?
  2. The right not to be killed in wars, conflicts, military operations and the like
    If we google “The women who gave their lives” we will learn about how American women serving in the armed forces were killed. A look at the phraseology used for describing such heroic deaths shows that a high frequency expression found therein is “killed by improvised detonated device”. Also frequent: “died of wounds suffered from enemy indirect fire”.
    Information on the killing of women in military actions can be found in reports by the Department of Justice and by the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
  3. Women´s right to be presented with dignity and respect by the motion picture industry. This category of rights immediately brings to mind some types of movies in which women play brutal, cruel, revengeful, ruthless assassins, killers, murderers, suicide bombers, terrorists. How do violent videogames treat women, by the way? Researchers on the impact of imaginative violence on children and teenagers have much food for thought and for socioeducational sensitization.
  4. Women´s right not to be degraded, at work, for instance, as when they are forced to accept a position lower than they deserve or to be paid unfairly.
  5. Women´s right to have their homemakers` rights fully recognized and implemented in their communities. How do national constitutions fare in this respect? Are stereotyped visions of women as homemakers being changed into humanizing ways of perceiving women in such socially relevant occupations? When will homemakers` rights become a priority on governments` agendas everywhere?
  6. Women´s right to be treated as “persons” first, whose contribution to Humankind is vital, essential, indispensable, valuable and to be valued.

More could be added to the above list. Instead, YOU are asked to expand and probe it, by also considering the role of Global Women´s Movements and how issues on how sexism intertwines with other destructive, shameful -isms: ageism, racism, rankism and with universal processes both old and alas, continued (oppression, for instance) and new (globalization).

I hope to have drawn your attention to ways in which women are being “killed” in today´s increasingly violent world: communicatively, economically, culturally, educationally, physically, psychologically, politically, socially, ….. (please add some more dimensions).

(received August

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