Women's Reproductive Rights: Selves, Others, Bodies


Co-presented with the Master of Human Rights and Democratisation (Asia Pacific) Program, the Centre for Values, Ethics and the Law in Medicine VELiM, and the Sydney Centre for International Law SCIL, at the University of Sydney

Assoc Professor Yasmine Ergas

Assoc Professor Yasmine Ergas
2 November, 2010

For decades the phrase 'women’s reproductive rights' served as a rallying cry for assertions of women’s right to control their own fertility. In the words of the CEDAW Committee: “women are entitled to decide on the number and spacing of their children.” This entitlement is far from having been achieved. Numerous states have explicitly announced their rejection of any obligation to work towards its realization, prompting the question of how to overcome their reluctances.

But the problem cannot simply be posed in 'how to' terms: how to attain what recalcitrant states resist providing. The issues at stake have been complicated by the emergence of “human rights” as the framework within which women’s claims are increasingly understood and by the 'globalization of motherhood' as well as the development of technologies that have facilitated markets in babies and baby-making. If 'reproductive rights' are to be understood as 'human rights' what are the implications for the decision-making capacity of men as well as women as to when and how to reproduce – and what are the consequences for women’s control over their own bodies? And, what kind of rights are at stake in the global market place for reproduction?

Yasmine Ergas is Associate Director of the Institute for the Study of Human Rights and an Adjunct Associate Professor in the Department of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University. A lawyer and social scientist, Ergas has served as the gender coordinator of the Millenium Villages Project, practiced law in major corporate law firms, and acted as a consultant to international organizations and private institutions. Her research interests focus on the intersections of international law and human rights in particular with reference to gender relations.

A former member of the School of Social Science of the Institute for Advanced Study Princeton, Ergas has held fellowships from the American Council of Learned Societies, the Ford Foundation and the Italian Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche and has been a research associate at the Center for European Studies at Harvard University and the Pembroke Center at Brown University. She has served as a consultant to international organizations including the OECD, WHO and UNESCO. From 1985 to 1991, Ergas was on the staff of the Social Science Research Council where, among other responsibilities, she led the initiative to establish a program on the social consequences of the AIDS epidemic and staffed the Committee on Western Europe. As a member of the Committee on International Trade of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York, Ergas led a project on child labor and international trade. She has also served on the Committee on World Sociology of the American Sociological Association and the international Research Planning Group on Gender Politics and Public Policies established by the Council for European Studies. She is currently a member of the Editorial Board of the Journal of Human Rights Practice. Ergas' numerous publications includeNelle maglie della politica (1986); The Subject of Women in M.Perrot and G.Duby (general editors) A History of Women (1994); and Child Care Policies in Comparative Perspective in OECD Lone Parents: The Economic Challenge (1990).

She has appeared on television and radio programs to comment on current events, and has contributed journalistic articles among others to Ingenere.it, The New Republic, and Il foglio and been interviewed by La Stampa. Her essays have been translated into several languages including Portuguese, Spanish, Japanese, French and German.

Ergas holds degrees in Sociology from the Universities of Sussex and Rome and a J.D. from Columbia University. At Columbia Law School, she also earned a Certificate of Achievement with Honors from the Parker School of Foreign and Comparative Law and served as an articles editor of the Columbia Law Review. Ergas has practiced law at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, LLP and Studio Legale Pedersoli of Milan.