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In my PhD project, I seek to understand to what extent the interpretations of ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ determine the scope of the protections international human rights law secures to individuals, both within the same gendered group and between different gendered groups. Feminists have historically concentrated on the exclusion of women from international human rights law, while some of them have commonly used ‘gender’ as a synonym for women. Unnuanced understandings of the world of women as a homogeneous sexed/gendered assemblage have been replaced by more fine-grained legal interpretations of infra-group discrimination through intersectional analysis of the interaction of sex/gender with race, ethnic or religious identity, disability, age, class, caste and other factors. Yet the identification of men as the benchmark par excellence for the realisation of equality pushes other sexed groups to the margins of the law, both men and others. I investigate, therefore, to what extent international human rights law accounts for the diversity of sexed/gendered individuals.  How to explore human rights law from the perspective of the sexed/gendered uniqueness of individuals?


In order to examine whether and to what extent international human rights law meets the peculiarities of the constellations of sexes/genders, I rely on specific analytical tools and a specific conception of the social. I combine feminist and queer theories as intertwined modes of enquiry to analyse the tropes of sexed/gendered human rights. I also adopt a psychoanalytical lens to deconstruct some of the existing interpretations of sex, gender, femininity and masculinity under international human rights law. For instance, gender legal analysis on subordination has focused predominantly on women as the vulnerable group subject to men’s domination. Femininity evokes passive vulnerability while masculinity is the symbol of violent, active oppression. Masculinities in international human rights law are a largely unexplored land, however. The narrative of one gender male-domination scheme has excluded the consideration of differences within the same group of ‘men’, and thereby the multiple nuanced relations of gendered dynamics between man-man, and man-woman. For example, the focus on a single ‘harmful masculinity’ has caused the neglect of sexual violence directed at, inter alia, men. Think about the case of male-male rape, which remained a cause without a voice for a long time because of the ‘taint’ of homosexuality it carries. Besides masculinities, I explore whether and how international human rights law constructs and treats (‘harmful’) femininities.  One could reasonably ask to what extent certain conceptions of femininity and masculinity determine the scope of the protections secured under international human rights law. Ultimately, this begs the question: do femininities and masculinities exhaust the possibilities of the sexed constructions underlying human rights breaches?