Reconciling discourses on women's rights : learning from Guatemalan indigenous women's groups
Faculty of Law
Journal of human rights practice
, p. 223-245
University of Antwerp
A quick review of feminist scholarship in the field of legal studies shows that a tension between equality and complementarity underlies many debates on the issue of women's rights. In this article we use the work of a Guatemalan indigenous women's organization, Kaqla, to revisit this alleged dichotomy. By adopting an actor-centred perspective, we propose a more integrated understanding of several key debates in the field of human rights. In addition, we explore how likely it is that local efforts to reconceptualize women's rights are upstreamed to transnational normsetters, and what barriers or facilitating factors exist in this regard. The article has both a descriptive and an explanatory component. The former is based on anthropological fieldwork and describes how Kaqla mainstreams a rights discourse in its workshops on personal healing, how women come to understand the notion of women's rights on the basis of it, and what efforts Kaqla undertakes to share this new understanding with actors in its network. The explanatory component links these findings to theory by exploring a) why Kaqla's mainstreaming of a rights discourse is particularly successful, b) how its emphasis on the notion of complementarity and its effort to reconcile this with the notion of equality speak to several classic debates in the field of human rights, and c) why caution is needed when assuming that new content will automatically travel up- and downstream once it is developed. Despite the fact that new ways to operationalize rights discourses are developed, that new content is arising on the basis of that, and that formal communication mechanisms exist, we found that upstreaming of conceptual information is limited due to the local actors' perceptions that there is no interest in this on the side of the transnational actor.