A major voice for ethical law calls for a global feminism to address the deplorable conditions of women in the Third World.
Nussbaum (Law and Ethics/Univ. of Chicago) draws once more on the research behind For Love of Country (1996) and Sex
and Social Justice (1998): the first for her condemnation of the legalized rape—by spouses or strangers—of Third World women
(and child brides), the second for her argument that Americans are morally responsible for alleviating the suffering of the victims
of inequality abroad. Enlivening her argument with legal case histories and personal anecdotes—for example, a story about a
religious Muslim woman who was pained to lose her purdah (her modestly isolated and veiled lifestyle)—Nussbaum considers
the challenges of introducing Western moral and legal standards in entrenched patriarchal societies where women's higher
mortality rate is as endemic as poverty. In India, the primary country discussed here, feminist reform runs up against powerful
religious establishments. The abortion of baby girls has declined and widows are no longer expected to jump on their husbands’
funeral pyres, but until recently Hindu women who had suffered from domestic abuse and fled could be forced back home if they
could not pay a fine. In polygamous Islamic regions and countries, women have fewer legal rights to their own bodies, and the
issues of religious autonomy are stickier. But even when Third World women largely defend the discriminatory practices of their
culture, Nussbaum shows again and again "how resourceful deeply religious women and men can be in adapting the religion's
moral understanding to a changing reality." The author’s prose is dense but readable, though readers daunted by references to
"exogamous marriage, and patrilocal residence" may want to keep a dictionary handy.
Easier to understand is her urgent warning that there must be a global effort to help the millions of women suffering
malnutrition, drudgery, bad marriages, illiteracy, and more.