For most, our self-concept is a complex creation, mingling together different aspects of our life experiences and personal traits. Too often, however, in academia and in the law, this inherent complexity is glossed over in favor of essentialism—the idea that the human “self” can be reduced to a singular essential characteristic such as race or gender. Professor Johanna Bond has spent her career fighting this notion, particularly on behalf of African women and others in the Global South who both reject discrimination based on their gender and yet hold tightly to the positive aspects of their culture.
Professor Bond’s engagement with these issues began early in her legal life. As a law student at the University of Minnesota, she worked with the International Women’s Rights Action Watch, (IWRAW) which gathered information about the violation of women’s human rights to assist U.N. committees. Through these efforts she met a number of pioneering African feminists, such as Sarah Longwe from Zambia, who brought suit against the Intercontinental Hotel for gender discrimination after it prohibited her from attending a children’s party because she lacked a male escort. Unity Dow from Botswana, the first female justice on the High Court of Botswana, similarly brought suit for gender discrimination and won her case against steep odds. Reflecting back, Professor Bond describes these associations as being, “truly inspirational.”
Through these personal contacts and her own evaluations of critical race and feminist theories, she began to focus on the plight of those who face discrimination from their culture yet do not wish to completely reject their culture. In a seminal 2003 piece, International Intersectionality: A Theoretical and Pragmatic Exploration of Women’s International Human Rights Violations (52 Emory L.J. 71), Bond criticizes the prevailing framework of women’s human rights for not adequately reflecting the experience…”[of] women who may experience discrimination or human rights violations as a result of both gender and another ground.” She further argues that the U.N. and other international legal organizations such as NGO’s have compounded this theoretical shortcoming by structuring responsibility for human rights along rigid lines of race, gender, and sexual orientation.
In a series of subsequent articles, Bond has applied these insights and explored attempts in particular situations to accommodate both culture and gender rights.
Gender, Discourse, and Customary Law in Africa (83 S. Cal. L. Rev. 509 (2010)), Pluralism in Ghana: The Perils and Promise of Parallel Law, (10 Or. Rev. Int’l L. 391, 418 (2008)), and Culture, Dissent, and the State: The Example of Commonwealth African Marriage Law, (14 Yale Hum. Rts. & Dev. L.J. 1 (2011)) all discuss the effects on women’s rights when the state cedes legal jurisdiction over particular matters, mainly family law, to minority groups. In some cases that has resulted in discrimination against women because it removes them from the protective influence of equality laws; even if those laws are too often ignored by the regular judiciary.
Professor Bond recently broke new ground with a 2012 article, Honor As Property, (23 Colum. J. Gender & L. 202). It surveys the topic of honor-related violence, where women or girls who commit or are alleged to commit sexual improprieties are beaten or killed by their own family members to “cleanse” or repair the family honor. She argues that this stated justification for violence parallels in many ways justifications for violence in protection of real or personal property in jurisdictions, worldwide. This understanding of family honor as a form of non-tangible property owned collectively by the family and controlled primarily by males opens up new possibilities for innovative, grass roots driven reform. She suggests that while stiffer criminal penalties would help at the margin, the biggest advances will require cultural change where women gain the ability to share control of the honor property and the family’s honor is not tied so closely to the behavior of the female members.
Looking ahead, Bond envisions her work continuing to tackle the hard questions of gender intersecting with other identities. In her view, real change will not come from either government enforced laws and edicts, or imperialist pronouncements from Western human rights advocates. Real change, she believes, can only come as discursive space is carved out for dissenting voices within each culture and tradition.
Several Washington and Lee Law School faculty members presented last week at the annual meeting of the Southeastern Association of Law Schools (SEALS). In addition, David Millon, J. B. Stombock Professor of Law at Washington and Lee University School of Law, took the helm as President of SEALS for the 2012-13 term.
In addition to his duties with the organization during the conference, Millon also served as a panelist in a session on how recent Supreme Court decisions and congressional legislation are affecting business and regulatory issues and in a discussion group focused on teaching business law in a new economic environment. Other presentations by W&L faculty included:
- Johanna Bond, who participated in a discussion group on contemporary issues in gender and the law.
- Christopher Bruner, who presented a paper during a panel on recent developments in corporate governance.
- Mark Drumbl, who participated in a discussion group on the growing importance of international matters to legal education.
- Jill Fraley, who presented her research on maps as legal arguments in a new scholars panel.
- Brant Hellwig, who participated in a discussion group on tax reform in 2012.
- John Keyser and Todd Peppers, who participated in a panel on social science and the law.
- J.D. King, who participated in a panel on implicit racial bias in the criminal justice system.
- Joan Shaughnessy, who served as a moderator of a new scholars panel.
- Robin Wilson, who participated in a panel on cutting edge issues in family law.
Professor David Millon, the J. B. Stombock Professor of Law and Law Alumni Faculty Fellow at Washington and Lee University School of Law, was named president-elect of the Southeastern Association of Law Schools (SEALS) at its recent annual meeting. Millon will serve in this position during 2011-12 and will become president of the organization for the 2012-13 term.
Started in 1947, SEALS is comprised of 65 institutional member schools, 23 affiliate member schools and several foreign member schools. The primary activity of the organization is an annual legal conference held during the summer at a family-friendly venue. SEALS just completed its 64th annual meeting, which was attended by more than 500 scholars, the largest attendance in the history of the conference.
W&L Law faculty are very active within SEALS. This year Professors Christopher Bruner, Johanna Bond, Mark Drumbl, Jim Moliterno, Tim MacDonnell, Joshua Fairfield, and Robin Wilson all joined distinguished panels to present their research. In addition, John Keyser, Associate Dean for Administration and Technology, presented on teaching empirical methods, outcome measurement compliance and was also named chair of the conference technology committee.
The full press release can be found here.
Professor Johanna E. Bond, Associate Professor of Law, recently published her article, Culture, Dissent, and the State: The Example of Commonwealth African Marriage Law, 14 Yale Hum. Rts. & Dev. L.J. 101 (2011), in the Yale Human Rights and Development Law Journal.
The article is the first to explore the transnational applicability of recent theoretical critiques of marriage emanating largely from the global North. Critics of contemporary marriage charge that the state’s role in marriage regulation is obsolete, preferring to let contract law or generalized registration systems govern intimate relationships. Professor Bond rejects the notion that the state should minimize its role in marriage regulation. Indeed, she argues that a robust, rather than enervated, state response is necessary to combat inequality in individual relationships and to ensure equality among different types of intimate associations. Although the article explores marriage law in Africa as a case study, it also provides a blueprint for resolving broader theoretical questions regarding the proper role for the state in marriage regulation.
Congratulations to Professor Bond.
Professor Johanna E. Bond recently published her article, Gender, Discourse, and Customary Law in Africa, in the Southern California Law Review (83 S. Cal. L. Rev. 509). It was also featured on the AVON Global Center for Women and Justice at Cornell Law School.
The article is the first to comprehensively explore the potential of discourse ethics and deliberative democracy theory, as embodied in procedural, dialogical human rights provisions, to improve women’s rights within Africa. It provides a blueprint for resolving broader questions that arise in the context of tension between the rights of cultural minority communities and the individual members of those communities.
Professor Bond draws upon philosophical currents in discourse ethics theory to argue that inclusive deliberative processes, such as the procedural rights in select human rights treaties, allow women to systematically engage with cultural meaning and facilitate acculturation of human rights norms among traditional leaders in Africa. The article argues that discourse ethics do not adequately account for the very real power disparities that pervade localized discussions of customary law. It proposes a two-part solution. First, Professor Bond proposes limiting the scope of deliberation in the context of African customary law. She argues that dialogue should focus not on norm definition, but on localized modes of implementation. Second, Professor Bond argues that litigation is a useful backstop in Commonwealth Africa when dialogical political decision-making results in illiberal outcomes.
Congratulations to Professor Bond on the publication of this article.