There is one area, however, where international law seems to hold promise; certain cultural practices that pose special, direct threats to the lives and health of women (although male infants and children often share women's vulnerability in this regard). I have in mind sexual slavery, coercive prostitution and pornographic exploitation, rape, compulsory marriage, coerced impregnation and its converse, coerced abortion and sterilization; spousal abuse, dowry deaths and coerced suicide, female infanticide and sex-specific abortion. All of these practices are the product not of microbes, poor hygiene, or a lack of health care, but of deliberate human behavior. All these practices have a double identity; you can call them health problems, epidemics, pandemics, and you can also see them as forms of violence against women--techniques of social control. This dual identity may converge under the rubric of human rights to the extent that the right to health is a component of basic human rights. But whether these practices are considered symptomatic of pathology or the product of power structures, or both, the question remains; does international law have a role to play in response to such phenomena and, if so, what is it?
Vanessa Merton, The Utility of International Law for Protecting Women's Health Rights, 9 Pace Int'l L. Rev. 259 (1997), available at http://digitalcommons.pace.edu/lawfaculty/293/.