Women Profiles: Jenny Goldschmidt

The ICJ continues its series of profiles of its women Commissioners with an interview with Prof. Jenny E. Goldschmidt, who is currently serving her third term as an ICJ Commissioner.

She was first elected to the Commission in 2003 and re-elected in 2008 and 2013.

She is a Member of the Advisory Board of Nederlands Juristen Comité voor de Mensenrechten (NJCM), and NJCM Public Interest Litigation Group. The NJCM is the ICJ’s National Section in the Netherlands.

In this wide-ranging interview, Jenny describes how she started out her career as a lawyer by studying Constitutional law; how her interests began to focus on the haves and the have nots and from there her interest in human rights developed.

She explains how she has always combined academic research and teaching with practical work, particularly during her years as the President of the Equal Treatment Commission in the Netherlands. She also stresses the importance of working in an inter-disciplinarian manner.

For example, she explained that after academics had developed concepts of direct discrimination, indirect discrimination, and systemic discrimination, these concepts were taken on board by lawyers and have been incorporated into case law.

She gave the example of how the European Court of Human Rights and the European Court of Justice are now incorporating this type of stereotyping into their equality concept.

She emphasized human rights law must protect women and that this protection must be embodied in law.

She considered that it is vital to take cases to the Treaty Bodies and courts everywhere to establish severe measures against discrimination and domestic violence.

But human rights lawyers also need sociologists to help find the arguments that convince people and how we can influence their behavior.

“Sometimes soft law and mediation can be effective and you need other disciplines to show in which cases which instruments are most effective,” she said.

She explained that because women are not a homogenous group and because of migration and all the divisions in society, inter-sectionality has become one of the crucial challenges for women’s rights.

She believes in combining a focus on the general problems which all women face as well as taking into account that some women are even less equal than others – that women who belong to minorities, that women who are disabled, that girls are more vulnerable than the majority of women.

“I think one of the things that the disability convention tries to do by giving a specific provision for women and girls rights is that it forces the authorities, the Treaty Bodies, the national and international institutions to be aware of the fact that we are talking about women and disabled people and that we have to take two perspectives at the same time into account,” she added.

When asked what advice she would give a woman who wants to pursue a career in human rights she said: “Don’t give up! And don’t think it will be easy. Human rights world still is a man’s world.”

Jenny Goldsmith is currently Emeritus Professor of Human Rights Law, and was from 2007-2014 Director of the Netherland Institute of Human Rights at the University of Utrecht.

From 1994-2003 she was President of the Equal Treatment Commission of the Netherlands.

She is on the board of Disability Studies in the Netherlands and involved in several NGOs of disability rights, democracy, and human rights.

Watch the interview:

The series of profiles introducing the work of ICJ Commissioners and Honorary Members on women’s rights was launched on 25 November 2016 to coincide with the International Day to Eliminate Violence against Women and the first day of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence Campaign.

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