University of Cambridge

The Humanitas Visiting Professorship in Women’s Rights is an initiative that draws on the University of Cambridge’s unparalleled expertise in the fields of gender studies and equality. It explores the many pressing aspects of women’s rights in the world, ranging from the importance of equality in development, religion, law and many other areas.

The Visiting Professorship in Women’s Rights has been made possible by the generous support of Carol Saper and is hosted by King’s College, Cambridge.

Natasha Walter 2014-2015

Natasha Walter is a British feminist writer, human rights activist and the founder of the charity Women for Refugee Women.

Natasha’s first job was at Vogue magazine, she subsequently worked as a reviewercolumnist and feature writer at the Independent, the Observer and the Guardian and became a regular broadcaster particularly on BBC2’s Newsnight Review and BBC Radio 4’s Front Row.

In her first book, The New Feminism, Walter argued that feminists shouldn’t worry so much about sexual objectification but should focus on broader political goals. In her second book, Living Dolls, she left the political​ behind – returning to individual women’s lives and experiences. Personal is political and, in a culture in which women are slowly being turned into primped and hollow dolls, the right to be sexual without fear of shame is “essential for women’s freedom”.

In her Humanitas lectures Walter speaks on the theme of Sexism and Solidarity; not so much highlighting the return of sexism but underscoring that it never left.

Mona Siddiqui 2013-2014

Mona Siddiqui is a British Muslim academic. She is Professor of Islamic and Inter-religious Studies at the University of Edinburgh.

Mona Siddiqui’s Humanitas Visiting Professorship, Feminism, Religion and Women’s Rights, asked important questions about the place of women in contemporary Islamic societies.

Her opening lecture, Can You Text a Divorce? Negotiating Women’s Rights in Law and Society, uses this specific question to open a debate about the relationship between women and fiqh, or Islamic jurisprudence, in the world today.

In Siddiqui’s second lecture, Mary in Christian-Muslim Relations, she examines the significance of the fact that Mary is mentioned with greater frequency in the Qu’ran than in the New Testament, and asked whether, in light of this inter-faith commonality, Mary has a role to play in Muslim-Christian relations.

Siddiqui’s last lecture, From the Feminine to Feminism: Women in Islamic Thought and Literature, addresses the diverse ways that women are represented in Islamic thought and literature, and asks whether the reality of women’s lives lies somewhere between the feminine and the feminist.

Mona Siddiqui’s Humanitas tenure ended with a symposium on Feminism, Religion and Women’s Rights. She was joined in discussion by Turkish author Elif Safak, BBC special correspondent Razia IqbalAsh Amin(University of Cambridge), and the Iraqi novelist, artist, and political activist Haifa Zangana.

Melanne Verveer 2012-2013

Melanne Verveer is Executive Director of the Institute for Women, Peace and Security at Georgetown University.

Melanne Verveer’s first lecture, Women’s Rights are Human Rights: The Beijing Platform for Action: an unfinished agenda, showed how empowering the status of women across the world is essential for broader social progress to take place. Echoing Clinton’s words, Verveer’s lecture showed how issues that affect women affect everyone.

Verveer’s second lecture was on Women as Entrepreneurs and Employees: Critical Drivers of Economic Growth in Both Developed and Emerging Economies. She showed how women are essential for economic growth, both in rich and poor countries.

The third lecture in Verveer’s series, Perspectives on Women’s Political Participation and Role in Peacekeeping and Peacebuilding, argued that the inclusion and empowerment of women are essential for global security and peace-building.

Helena Kennedy 2011-2012

Helena Kennedy QC is a leading British barrister and an expert in human rights law, civil liberties and constitutional issues.

Helena Kennedy QC is a leading British barrister and expert in human rights law, civil liberties and constitutional issues.

In her first lectureWomen Addressing the System: Has it Changed?’ Baroness Kennedy reviewed the changes that have taken place and the remaining challenges for women in the courts as defendants, victims and lawyers. She compellingly argued that although a veneer of equal opportunity and fairness now exists, the system itself resists fundamental change because of the law’s role in maintaining the status quo and its inability to counter the power of vested interests, particularly given the scarcity of women in senior positions in the judiciary.

In her second lecture Women’s Rights and Women’s Woe: Who says Human Rights are Universal?’ she looked at how women fare internationally, especially in societies where brutal practices like female genital mutilation persist.

Her third lecture ‘Bought and Sold: Women and the Global Market’ was concerned with the impact of globalisation on human trafficking and the sexual abuse of women. In each of her lectures, but the second two in particular, her personal experiences as a practitioner were used to bring human rights issues to life.

Nancy Fraser 2010-2011

Professor Nancy Fraser is Henry A. and Louise Loeb Professor of Philosophy and Politics, The New School for Social Research, New York.

In her first lecture ‘A Polanyian Feminism?’ Professor Nancy Fraser rereads ‘The Great Transformation’ from a feminist perspective, identifying the strengths and weaknesses of its signature concepts.

Although it was developed for an earlier era, Polanyi’s diagnosis is, Professor Nancy Fraser will argue, highly relevant today as the current crisis is not merely economic but also encompasses social reproduction and thus can be fruitfully analysed as a “great transformation,” in which a new round of efforts to commodify nature, labour, and money is sparking a new round of struggles.

Her subsequent lectures and symposium built upon this to create a Polanyian-feminist framework for theorising capitalist crisis in the 21st century.


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