This summary constitutes my Final Report to the Conference on the International Protection of Reproductive Rights (the "Conference") jointly sponsored by the Women & International Law Program at the Washington College of Law of the American University and the Women in the Law Project of the International Human Rights Law Group. The Conference focused on issues that affect the role of women in society and the role played by rules of law in defining and marginalizing women's existence in society. The Conference goals included the reformulation of the international human rights construct to advance and implement women's rights, particularly women's sexual and reproductive health rights and freedoms, in order to create a world for women that makes equality theory a reality in everyday life. To achieve this end, experts in international law, international and domestic women's rights law, and women's health explored international and domestic "rights" law and analyzed its usefulness in protecting and promoting women's reproductive and sexual health rights and freedoms. Participants from all disciplines, after exploring the complex interrelationships between and among (a) domestic and international norms, (b) international norms and cultural/religious customs, and (c) women's well-being and the accessibility, availability, acceptability, and affordability of health care services and facilities, agreed that the development of procedural mechanisms is vital to the effective implementation of a reformulation of rights that focuses on the well-being of women.
To be sure, sex is not the only classification within the human rights construct in which the world has evidenced a gap between rules and realities. Apartheid is an example of a system of discrimination based on race that while expressly proscribed in international law in reality existed as a formal practice long after its prohibition. Because every possible classification applies to women-women have, for example, a race, a national origin, and a color-women are affected by all forms of discrimination. Law-domestic, regional, and international-has developed, however, in a way that has placed public (i.e., male) interests at the center while relegating to the periphery concerns viewed as private (i.e., female) such as the family and the home. Thus, to effect women's rights and eradicate sex-based discrimination against women, law must be developed and applied in a creative and expansive way that eliminates the public/private distinction which has served to ghettoize women's interests. To effect this transformation of law, existing rights and procedures must be developed and extended to eliminate women's historic marginalization. Activists, lawyers, doctors, and sociologists must be trained to rethink the formal construct, work together, and integrate various interdisciplinary approaches adequately to reflect and resolve the plethora of issues that concern women around the world. The dual themes of reformulation of rights and effective implementation resurfaced throughout the Conference. Participants discussed methods of utilizing the human rights construct to develop, expand, and transform the content and meaning of existing rights; to articulate new, emerging rights to reflect women's realities; and to implement women's human rights. All agreed on the need for government accountability regarding promotion and protection of promised rights.
Berta Esperanza Hernández-Truyol, Report of the Conference Rapporteur, 44 Am. U. L. Rev. 1389 (1995)