Niamh Reilly, "Women's Human Rights: Seeking Gender Justice in a Globalizing Age" (Polity, 2009)


Today, you can open your newspaper and find stories about mass rape in the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo, death sentences for adulterous women in Iran, or Central American women smuggled into the US for the purposes of sexual slavery. A few decades ago, such matters wouldn't have ranked as "news": they were just business as usual. As Pulitzer-prize-winning journalists Nicholas Kristof and Sharon WuDunn put it in their book, Half the Sky, "When a prominent dissident was arrested in China, we would write a front-page article; when 100,000 girls were routinely kidnapped and trafficked into brothels, we didn't even consider it news." How to account for the sea change in awareness? A good place to start is by looking at the global movement for women's human rights. That's what Niamh Reilly does in her new book, Women's Human Rights: Seeking Gender Justice in a Globalizing Age (Polity Press, 2009). It's a great introduction to the subject, and it's full of smart analysis for people who are already familiar with the movement. If you want a guide through the alphabet soup of UN treaties, international conferences, and NGOs relating to women, this is a good place to look. But more importantly, it's also a succinct overview of the big issues: violence against women, reproductive health, armed conflict, development, and the impact of religious fundamentalisms. One of my students told me that this book had become her standard quick reference on women and human rights, and I can understand why. Niamh Reilly is Senior Lecturer in Women's Studies at the School of Political Science and Sociology at the National University of Ireland in Galway, and she's written an enormously useful book. I recommend it highly.

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