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Exporting Subjects: Globalizing Family Law Progress Through International Human Rights
Mich. J. Int'l L.
  • Cyra Akila Choudhury
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Despite a growing number of critiques of Liberal feminism by Third World, postcolonial, and Critical Race feminists, the calls for more contextual approaches have largely been ignored, particularly in scholarship on and activism for women in Asia and Africa. Rather, women's experiences in these continents are universalized in ways that erase difference and context. In the view of most Liberal feminists, women in those parts of the world are struggling for basic equality and rights. They suffer daily at the hands of abusive spouses. Their cultural practices continue to subordinate them and they are at risk of genital "mutilation," dowry deaths, rape, child marriage, trafficking, forced veiling, and a litany of other ills. The Liberal feminist view, in short, sees their lives as universally abject. Unsurprisingly, women in the United States who have achieved so much and come such a long way have felt the imperative to help their sisters around the globe. After all, what woman would elect to preserve such oppressive religious and cultural structures? What woman would not want to become educated, independent, and equal like her Western counterpart? Moreover, what feminist would refuse to help overcome such oppression and violence?


This article examines the global export of domestic U.S. legal projects and strategies in the realm of family law and gender justice to South Asia. While such projects have undoubtedly achieved substantial gains for women in the U.S., there have also been costs. At a remove of two decades, scholars have now begun to theorize those costs and argue that feminism needs to reconsider its commitments to particular projects that have been held central to women’s emancipation. Yet much of these critiques have not reached the transnational women’s movements that are led by U.S. feminist activists and scholars. Relying on Liberal notions of personhood or subjectivity and progress, U.S. transnational feminists continue to export those subjects and projects now being critiqued at home to the Global South. The primary means by which this export occurs is through the conflation of domestic family law with women’s rights as “human rights.” Indeed, international human rights provide a convenient discursive and structural vehicle to achieve this export. However, within local contexts, such Liberal projects are often met with resistance and reshaped in ways that may not make sense to women in the North. Moreover, women in the South have articulated a different set of priorities focused on economic distribution and development that are often ignored by women’s rights activists in the North. This has to do with a general discomfort with economic redistribution inherent in Liberal theory as it has evolved in the U.S., as well as with the more traditional focus on civil and political rights. The aim of the article is to highlight the difficulties of exporting notions of personhood and progress and to argue for a reorientation of transnational feminism in a manner that adopts the priorities of local women in the Global South and not just their elites.

Citation Information
Cyra Akila Choudhury. "Exporting Subjects: Globalizing Family Law Progress Through International Human Rights" Mich. J. Int'l L. Vol. 32 (2011) p. 259
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