Jesionka Syllabus Fall 2011

                                            Culture, Gender and Human Rights

                             Course Instructor: Natalie Jesionka

               Office Hours by Appointment



In a recent column for the New York Times  Nick Kristoff  writes "The injustices that women in poor countries suffer are of paramount importance, in an economic and geopolitical sense the opportunity they represent is even greater." 


Course Description:

This course will provide an introduction and overview of women’s human rights movements in several locations around the world.  This will include the study of women’s political participation as a human rights issue, violence against women and human rights as a framework for social,economic and gender justice. This course will also examine the impact of the local culture on gender identity, human rights policy-making, and the media.  Students will be expected to analyze the effectiveness of transnational human rights cultures on local cultural practices, United Nations and non-governmental organizations policies, and whether or not there can be a "universal human rights culture".  Students will also develop a critique of; the media, the marketing of culture, advocacy groups and then discuss their impact on women.  Students will also have an opportunity to engage in a cross -cultural dialogue  about women’s rights with students from Chiang Mai University in Chang Mai, Thailand, as well as Bangkok University, and the National University of Singapore to discuss course themes using the technology tools that are available in the e-College learning suite. Students will also be provided with the opportunity to engage in service learning and internship opportunities.

Learning Outcomes:

·      Understand the origins of the notion of universal human rights.

·      Establish the relationship between woman’s rights as human rights

·      Understand the role that culture and history and public sentiment play in the development of support for the concept of universal human rights

·      Understand the role of the United Nations in developing and working towards the protection of women’s rights, while understanding the impacts of initiatives as CEDAW and the UN Millennium Development Goals.

·      Understand the role that governments and non-government organizations play in creating, supporting or denying human rights, especially those of women.

·      Understand the similarities and differences among human rights issues in different regions of the world.

·      Identify ways in which students as the future of the word can participate in the global challenge to protect human rights.


Main Texts:


Half the Sky-(Sheryl Wu Dunn and Nick Kristoff)


Inventing Human Rights: A History (Lynn Hunt)

Woman’s Rights and Human Rights (P. Grimshaw, K. Holmes, M. Lake)

Human Rights & Gender Violence: Translating International Law into Local Justice. (Sally Engle Merry)


Course Schedule     


NOTE: Lecturers from global locations will be part of the course.

The schedule for this lecture series will be provided in another document.

Week 1- Women’s Rights as Human Rights -Introduction



WEEK 2 – The Universality of Human Rights


Universal Declaration of Human Rights

 Human Rights Challenges or the New Secretary General

Audio Reading: NPR : A Rapper out of Sudan’s Civil War




WEEK 3 –Gender Violence


 Read selected passages from Merry


WEEK 4-  Cultural Relativity, Women’s Rights, and Taboos

Read Selected passages from Merry



 WEEK 5- Media Representation of Women Around the World



WEEK 6-Cultural Relativity and  Women


Female Genital Mutilation- World Health Organization

Debate Rages over Women and Sharia

Wudunn and Kristoff- Chapter 1-4



WEEK 7-  Human Trafficking


Meeting with COSA, Childrens Organization of South East Asia, the Sold Project, Representatives from the UNDP.


Week 8 Human Trafficking (Continued.)


Cultural Relativity Assignment Due


WEEK 8-The Disappeared

Monday, October 20th-

Clips Senorita Extraviada

Audio Reading:  Who is Killing the Women of Juarez?

Audio Reading: Women Dying at High Rates in Mexican Cities:


 WEEK 9 – Women’s Rights and the Traveler

 A Small Place: Jamaica Kincaid Part 1

The Guardian: Slum Tours: A Day Trip to Far? Amelia Gentleman


A Small Place Jamaica Kincaid Part 2

The Smithsonian Magazine- March 2007, John Lancaster: Next Stop, Squalor

Watch :  Cannibal Tours



WEEK 10- Women and Public Health

October 26th

Farmer, Paul: Chapter 7 :Medical Ethics and Social Rights in the Global Era

Audio Reading : A Model for Distributing AIDS  Drugs in South Africa

On Maternal Mortality

Clips: State of Denial


Week 11, Rape as a Tool of War

Wednesday, October 29th-

– Rape as a Tool of War

Audio Reading: Pakistan Rape Laws

Afghan Girls Back in the Shadows

Cambodia’s penchant for Gang Rape grows more common:

Buying the freedom of Sex Slaves :





WEEK 12-  Corporate Accountability and Women’s Rights

Monday, November 3rd

Naomi Klein, Chapter 16 : A Tale of Three Logos (Handout)

Burma’s Dirty List- Campaign for Human Rights And Democracy Burma


Wednesday, November 5th

Where Vultures  Feast: Shell, Human Rights and Oil in the Niger Delta

Audio Reading: After Twenty Years Effects of Bhopal Tragedy Linger



WEEK 12 – Dynamics of Women’s NGO’s

Monday, November 17th-

NGO Fever: Democratization and its Discontents in Cambodia

Clips: The Sixth Section

Wednesday, November 19th-

Wrap up


WEEK 13 –Presentations


WEEK 14- Presentations




In addition to the readings, “handouts” that will be posted and writing reaction papers for the readings, students will have the following additional assignments:


Cultural Relativity Assignment- Rituals and practices considered taboo in Western culture are often integral to a national identity and community. The United Nations Declaration of Human Rights outlines a standard of rights that is supposed to be universal for the world, but as we will learn in class, these standards are not always applicable. Students are to select a cultural practice on a select continent and analyze how it is depicted in Western culture through images, media and policy. What is the representation of the practice? What stereotypes or ideologies does this reinforce about the country? Does the practice violate human rights? Is there a similar practice in Western Culture that is excluded from being taboo? Analyze the cultural framework and lens in which a particular cultural practice is deemed as a human rights violation or deemed as a traditional ritual. 5 pages.


Ethical Travel Presentation- Poverty Tourism or “Poorism” has rapidly increased in globalizing countries such as  South Africa, Brazil, India, and Thailand. Tourists join organized tours to observe areas they would not normally venture, such as townships, favelas and slums. While these tours are meant to engage in “awareness and exchange,” the behavior of the tourists may create a climate of voyeurism rather than tourism. Students will be required to form a presentation based on ethical tourism and women’s rights (group of 5 or 6). You will highlight the issue and explain the ethical controversy surrounding your topic. (I.e- Volun-tourism-Does it help communities or create dependency? ) Then, Students will be expected to suggest three best practices for tourists.

The project requires you to utilize visual media such as video, pieces of art, photographs to depict your travel issue and documentation or first hand testimony from people who lived through the ethical travel issue. (i.e, Someone in Dharvi discusses what it is like for their home to be looked at by tourists.) Students should easily be able to engage with the issue by using new media and critical analysis to create cutting edge dialogue about their topic. The presentation should be succinct and be no more than twenty minutes-twenty five minutes. 


Social Action/Service Learning- Students will be asked to become involved in a semester long service learning project of your choice on a local or global level, more details of the options and service opportunities available will be provided in class. Students will also be required to attend the lecture series associated with the class.


 Participation- A large part of students grade will be based on participation.  You should complete all of the readings and be prepared to work with your partner or in the smaller groups. Please make sure you have done the reading. If you have not done the reading, you can’t expect to contribute effectively. Please understand that if you miss more than three sessions and or three assignments/pair work, collaborations, you will fail the course as stated by University policy. Any violation of University policy or academic integrity issues, including plagiarism will result in automatic failure of the course.


Media Final Project/Portfolio – Students will critically analyze the portrayal of women’s human rights issues in the media. Are the portrayals accurate? Does the media representation empower or disempower the women they portray? What is the cultural subtext and what are the power dynamics that come into play? More information to be handed out in class.