Dissertation Abstracts

Progressing Counter-hegemonies of Women's Human Rights in Ireland: Feminist Activists' Vernacularization Practices

Author: Elliott, Iris E, elliott.iris@gmail.com
Department: Global Womens Studies Programme, Political Science & Sociology
University: National University of Ireland, Galway , Ireland
Supervisor: Dr Niamh Reilly
Year of completion: 2014
Language of dissertation: English

Keywords: Human Rights , Feminism , Social Movements , Vernacularization
Areas of Research: Human Rights and Global Justice , Women in Society , Social Classes and Social Movements

Abstract

The realisation of second-wave feminist activists’ vision to progress women’s rights through their framing as human rights has been limited in Ireland due to constitutive, systemic and movement factors. These factors include
• the predominant legal hegemony within human rights;
• the challenges of gendering UN human rights systems;
• the tensions between quasi-legal-technocratic and community-developed approaches; and
• the retreat from explicit feminism during the institutionalised turn of the Irish Women’s Movement.

The Women’s Human Rights Alliance (WHRA), an explicitly feminist entity, is the instrumental case study for this qualitative investigation, which deploys observation, interview and documentary data in order to answer the Central Research Question:
‘In what ways do and could feminist human rights activists in Ireland develop counter-hegemonies of women’s human rights?’

The WHRA grew out of the framing of women’s rights as human rights in Ireland as part of the global reorientation of the women’s movement. Through two distinct phases (2001–2006, and from 2007), this nationally located alliance has endeavoured to use the resources of international human rights architecture and transnational activism in order to progressively realise women’s rights within Ireland using shadow reporting—an institutionalised mode of activism.

This time period locates the research within the Social Partnership era in Ireland, which was characterised by formalised engagement by movement organisations with the reconfiguring State, and the recession from 2008 onwards. Drawing on the resources of feminist socio-legal and social movement theories, this thesis explores two central tensions within women’s human rights activism in Ireland: between ‘top-down’, quasi-legal-technocratic and ‘bottom-up’, community-developed human rights activism; and between explicit and implicit feminist discourses.

Recognising the persistent draw of human rights for feminist activists, this thesis proposes vernacularisation as one answer to the ongoing hegemonic formulation of human rights and practices such as legalism. It argues that vernacularisation is an emergent approach through which women’s human rights could be progressively realised in Ireland. Vernacularisation is understood to involve localised meaning making and movement mobilisation practices, which create counter-hegemonies of women’s human rights in the everyday by building rights consciousness and confidence, and intersectional relationships of reflective solidarity, in order to engage fully with human rights.

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