Getting to the Root of Gender Inequality: Structural Injustice and Political Responsibility

Hypatia 26 (4):672-689 (2011)
In this paper, I argue that there is a philosophical basis for the claim that states can be held responsible for structural injustices such as gender discrimination and violence—a claim that has been made in international human rights documents, but one that has not gained much normative force. To show this, I draw on and develop Iris Young's notion of “political responsibility.” The purpose of political responsibility is not to find fault or blame the state for a past wrong, but to encourage the state to make things more just in the future. I argue that the state is able to take responsibility in this sense and can discharge the duty of political responsibility in a more systematic way than individuals can. Further, I show that taking political responsibility would entail changing how states think about their human rights obligations. Rather than focusing on cataloguing abuses, states would be required to work toward changing conditions so that human rights violations are less likely to occur in the future. Consequently, I show that it does make sense to say that the state can be held accountable for structural injustices that lead to women's human rights violations
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DOI 10.1111/j.1527-2001.2010.01159.x
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John Rawls (1999). The Law of Peoples. Harvard University Press.

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