The European Court of Human Rights regards gender equality as one of the key principles underlying the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. At the same time, the jurisprudence of the European Court currently reveals certain approaches that may lead to a denial of protection against discrimination on the basis of sex. Starting from the concept of transformative equality, the author explores such approaches of the Court based on several categories of cases related to the protection from domestic violence, as well as the implementation of social and reproductive rights. On the one hand, the approaches of the European Court in these cases confirm the Court’s attention to the issues of discrimination and protection of women’s rights. On the other hand, a detailed analysis demonstrates that gender discrimination cases imply several risks for applicants. These risks are connected, first, with the Court’s restrictive approach to dealing with cases under Article 14 of the Convention and its limiting the subject of the analysis to violations of the substantive provisions of the Convention. In some cases, this approach leads to a simplification of the legal problem by ignoring the gender dimension of the issues raised by the applicants in their complaints. This risk is demonstrated by the author through the cases on domestic violence. Second, when considering cases on gender discrimination, the Court relies on the doctrine of the margin of appreciation of the States in regulating issues affecting gender equality, and defines it as substantially wide. In this respect, the States can justify discriminatory measures by the existing perceptions of gender roles within society, which are not always condemned by the European Court. Based on the cases related to the distribution of social guarantees and the exercise of the right to an abortion by women, the author shows that this approach practically results in an inability to eradicate the roots of inequality.
About the author
Olga Podoplelova – Senior Lawyer, Institute for Law and Public Policy, Moscow, Russia.
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