Human Rights and Gender Violence
Translating International Law into Local Justice
by Sally Engle Merry
2010 J. I. Staley Prize
This innovative book examines the application of international human rights law addressing gender violence to local cultural contexts. In an ethnography that begins in the negotiating rooms of the UN and extends to five local case studies, Merry ranges from gendered inheritance rights in Hong Kong to conflict resolution practices in Fiji, from “husband-wife cruelty” in India to family violence in Beijing. Drawing on a sophisticated, multi-level analysis, she examines how global human rights discourse is translated from international organizations to local communities and families through the mediation of NGOs. In the process, she challenges the notion that local, traditional culture is an obstacle to the implementation of human rights, and argues for a more complex and dynamic understanding of culture. In so doing, she reclaims “culture” as a workable and usable framework for addressing contemporary global problems. This book is significant not only to anthropologists but to anyone interested in the theory and practice of human rights.
According to Merry, “my goal in writing Human Rights and Gender Violence was to show the value of an anthropological understanding of the way the human rights system actually works. I also hoped to make it more comprehensible to non-experts, particularly given the Bush-era hostility to international law and human rights. In the course of the research, I was surprised to discover how the core anthropological concept of culture was being used and misused within global discourse. I hope this book will help other ethnographers studying the complicated space of local, national, regional, and international institutions and cultural circulation.”
Sally Engle Merry, Professor, Department of Anthropology and the Institute for Law and Society, NYU