Women's perceptions of human rights and rights-based approaches in everyday life: a case study from provincial Russia.
PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.
Full text available as:
With the collapse of the Soviet Union, neo-liberal models of governance have become dominant, and have increasingly been justified through the employment of human rights discourses. However, the increased use of human rights discourses has not resulted in the increased realisation of human rights, and feminists have highlighted how the gendered nature of transitions to democracy and the market have, in fact, limited women's access to rights. The profoundly negative impacts of marketisation, particularly for women, have been starkly illustrated in the social and economic transformations taking place in contemporary Russia. While the lack of realisation of human rights in Russia has been well-documented, much of this research has focused on macro-level analyses of Russia's consolidation of pre-defined human rights norms, or in highlighting examples of particular human rights violations. While the recognition and critique of human rights violations is an extremely important area of research, concentrating on pre-defined norms often fails to show the complexity of understandings and uses of human rights discourses in everyday life. Moreover, there is a lack of research that explores women's perceptions of human rights and rights based approaches, which is surprising given the international promotion of rights-based approaches as a means of women's empowerment.
This thesis addresses this gap by critically evaluating the empowerment potential of human rights and rights-based approaches for women in the unique transitional context of post-Soviet Russia. The thesis draws on analysis of Russian press discourses and readers' letters to advice pages, and also from data generated in open-ended questionnaires, ethnographic in-depth interviews and interviews with local community and political elites in the provincial Russian city of Ul'ianovsk. The thesis shows the ways in which, both cultural norms and practical constraints impact on the perceived legitimacy of certain categories of rights, which in turn determine which issues are viewed as legitimate rights claims for women. Analysis of respondents' perceptions of rights indicate that, despite clearly identifiable examples of rights violations against women, the backlash to Soviet enforced equality has delegitimised claims for 'women's rights' protection. Moreover, respondents' also disassociate their claims from human rights, which are perceived to relate to specific examples of violations perpetrated by the state that predominantly affect men. Thus, women's rights claims have been re-privatised and re-conceptualised as personal problems to be resolved by women individually. While respondents did not perceive their everyday problems to be women's rights or human rights claims, respondents did talk about 'rights' and were attempting to access and claim rights. The thesis shows how the continued legitimacy of Soviet social and economic rights led respondents to employ rights discourses to express a sense of loss of previously held rights, and also to articulate their confusion and frustration over the shifting legitimacy of rights that has resulted in the need to 'claim' what was previously guaranteed. However, respondents' were attempting to negotiate these shifts in legitimacy and attempt to claim rights, but identified several practical constraints that make this a difficult process. I show that while respondents' are attempting to use rights-based approaches, this has not resulted in women's empowerment. Analysis of respondents' experiences of making a legal claim shows the profoundly negative and disempowering effects that legalistic approaches to claiming rights can have for women in transitional contexts. While the thesis highlights women's experience in transitional contexts, these findings can be used to reassess claims about the empowerment potential of human rights and rights based approaches for women globally. The thesis concludes by arguing that Russian women's lack of rights protection is not a result of women's lack of awareness of, or unwillingness to use rights-based approaches, but a result of their inability to access rights in a neo-liberal cultural and economic climate, which can be applied to the experiences of women globally.
Actions (login required)