The following article challenges the assumption that human rights legislation promoted gender equality. International human rights treaties have established new standards for human rights, but it is at the local level at which the battle for human rights is won or lost. Historians of social movements are ideally placed to challenge the statist and legalistic assumptions dominating the current literature on human rights. Statists, in looking to the state to solve human rights violations, essentially advocate an increase in the power of states. Such an approach can be misleading if the obligation to deal with human rights issues lies with agencies lacking the power to solve the problems. In the case of British Columbia, Canada, human rights legislation proved a weak vehicle for advancing gender equality. This article is divided into two sections: the first part explores contrasting strategies for change within the women's movement, while the second part evaluates the success of the human rights state in light of feminists' objectives. As a locus of activism in Canada by the seventies—with the first gay-rights organizations and parades, the most radical feminist organizations, and the home of Greenpeace and dramatic student protests, as well as the most progressive human rights legislation in the country—British Columbia offers an ideal case study for examining the intersection of human rights discourse with feminist activism.
Research Article|May 01 2008