UMass Boston

Gender and Human Rights


Women make up half of the global population, but they continue to be excluded from the enjoyment of most human rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) of 1948 aspires to ensure the human rights of all people regardless of their “race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.” While not legally binding, the UDHR has nonetheless inspired several international conventions regulating specific aspects of human rights that affect women who are variously situated in light of their intersectional identities, and these conventions are legally binding. These include the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (1951), the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (1969), the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (1981), the Convention against Torture (1984) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989). Although these conventions have been widely ratified, enjoyment of the basic rights of all human beings remain far from universal.  Several of the scholars at UMass Boston work on matters related to and affecting women’s human rights and well-being globally.

Women under Indigenous Law in South Africa

Professor Sindiso Mnisi Weeks of the School for Global Inclusion and Social Development has published several peer-reviewed articles on women’s rights to socio-economic security and participatory democracy in governance under indigenous law and the South African Constitution. These articles appear in journals such as the Wisconsin International Law Journal, Oxford University Commonwealth Law Journal, German Journal of Law and Society, and South African Journal on Human Rights. Professor Mnisi Weeks's work is primarily concerned with poor, rural women's exclusion from decision-making practices in marginalized, rural communities, as well as their limited participation in legislative processes. Relying on participatory methods, she has written on and publicly challenged these forms of exclusion and their implications for poor, rural men and women's ability to attain physical, social and material security and development. For this continuing work, the South African Department of Science and Technology awarded her the Women in Science Award for the Development of Rural Women in 2012. Her most recent publication is Access to Justice and Human Security: Cultural Contradictions in Rural South Africa (Routledge, 2018).

Gender, Food and Humanitarian Intervention in Mozambique

Professor Heidi Gengenbach of the History Department in the College of Liberal Arts studies gender, food, and nutrition in agrarian communities in southern and eastern Africa, particularly Mozambique, and histories of agricultural development and humanitarian food intervention in Africa. She is currently wrapping up a collaborative 5-year study, funded by the National Science Foundation, of the gendered nutritional consequences of agricultural “value chain” projects in Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, and Mozambique. Her next book, tentatively titled Recipes for Disaster: Gender, Hunger, and the Unmaking of an Agrarian Food World in Central Mozambique, is a microhistory of foodway change in a rural community linked to global empires and exchange networks for the past 500 years. Her teaching interests center on African women’s and gender history, global food history, and post-colonial food politics in conflict settings. 

Interdisciplinary Approaches to Gender and Human Rights in South Asia and Beyond

Professor Elora Chowdhury is working on a book project titled, Transregional Filmscapes in South Asia: Practices, Politics, History (with Esha Niyogi De). This is a collection of essays emerging from the South Asian Regional Media Scholars Network (SARMSNET), of which she is a co-founder, and that explores the border-crossing cinematic connectivities of history, politics and culture of the region. Her own monograph in progress that explores the limits and possibilities of human rights cinema is titled, Ethical Reckoning: Theorizing Gender, Vulnerability and Agency in Bangladesh Muktijuddho (Liberation War) Cinema. In addition, she is co-editing (with Rajini Srikanth) a volume of essays titled Human Rights: Interdisciplinary Approaches by the Human Rights Working Group at UMass Boston.

Women’s Participation in African Parliaments

PhD student Sue Telingator, with the support of Professor Mnisi Weeks, is undertaking a comparative study on women’s participation in the parliaments of Senegal and South Africa, which, at one point, had the second and third highest number of female parliamentarians in Africa. “Catalyzing Stagnant Norms: Female Parliamentarian's Impact on Weary Public Institutions” explores the impact of women’s increased participation in political office on transforming the institutional status quo.  Positioned within the framework of Feminist Institutionalism, the study researches the first mandate of female parliamentarians after the Parity Law in Senegal and compares it to the cohort of female parliamentarians in South Africa who have experienced increased representation for nearly 25 years.

CEDAW in Cape Verde

“Treaty Implementation Across a Small Island Developing State: Normalization of the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in Cape Verde” is a topic explored by PhD student Lydia Landim.  Her research on Cape Verde’s approach to implementation of CEDAW focuses on three areas: (1) the extent to which law and policy align with the principles of CEDAW (those constructed and enacted since 1975); (2) the role and efforts of formal institutions to normalize CEDAW; and (3) government efforts for diffusion of CEDAW across civil society groups. 

Policy Impacts on Women’s Substantive Equality in Mongolia

PhD student Odgerel Dashzeveg is undertaking a study on social policy impacts on women’s substantive equality in Mongolia. Mongolia is a former socialist country, which has been leading the transition to a free market democracy since the 1990s. This study explores women’s lived experiences of transition from socialism to capitalism and attempts to understand how some sluggish social policies that were inherited from the socialist system, such as the pro-natalist policy, affect women’s reproductive health rights and their substantive equality. Her project aims to promote an equity-based equality of opportunities that focuses on women’s diverse needs and capabilities.

Gender, Discourse, Peace, and Law in Colombia

PhD candidate Adriana Rincon Villegas is conducting a study that aims to identify the gender assumptions, roles, and identities embedded in the language of two institutional peace notions in Colombia: peace as a constitutional right (1991), and territorial peace (2016). Drawing from decolonial feminism, critical approaches to law, critical peace studies, and using feminist critical discourse analysis as a research method, the project’s goal is to explore the contested, contradictory, and disparate meanings of peace in the Colombian legal system and the gender assumptions embedded in them. 

Human Rights at UMass Boston

100 Morrissey Blvd.
Boston, MA 02125