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This chapter investigates the conceptual limits of the field of women’s rights. It identifies two main currents of activity in the field: the elaboration of human rights standards, particularly through the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women of 1979; and the development of the ‘Women, Peace and Security’ agenda by the UN Security Council since 2000. Both areas are limited in their understandings of the diverse lives of women. The chapter argues that campaigns for the recognition of women’s rights shuttle between the mainstream and the margins of international law and that the structural bases of women’s disadvantage remain obscured in both locations.


This material was originally published in The Limits of Human Rights edited by Bardo Fassbender and Knut Traisbach and has been reproduced by permission of Oxford University Press. For permission to reuse this material, please visit