The limitations of a formal interpretation of the right to equality are now well recognized. However, the meaning of substantive equality remains deeply contested. Some of scholars think that equality is an idea that should be banished from moral and legal discourse as an explanatory norm. Another part of the learned community holds that the right to equality does not go far enough. Even if equality before the law has been established, disadvantage persists, and this disadvantage tends to be concentrated in groups with a particular status, such as women, people with disabilities, ethnic minorities and others. This article argues that the right to substantive equality should not be collapsed into a single formula, such as dignity, or equality of opportunity or results. Instead, drawing on familiar conceptions, a four-dimensional approach is proposed: to redress disadvantage; address stigma, stereotyping, prejudice, and violence; enhance voice and participation; and accommodate difference and achieve structural change. This reflects the principle that the right to equality should be responsive to those who are disadvantaged, demeaned, excluded, or ignored. The four-dimensional approach is deliberately framed in terms of dimensions, to permit us to focus on their interaction and synergies, rather than asserting a pre-established lexical priority. Drawing attention to all the dimensions and insisting on building complementarities can move us positively towards furthering substantive equality. Conflicts should be addressed by referring to the whole framework, to create a synthesis rather than prioritizing. It is thus not a definition, but an analytic framework to assess and assist in modifying laws, policies and practices to better achieve substantive equality.
About the author
Sandra Fredman – Rhodes Professor of the Laws of the British Commonwealth and the USA, Oxford University; Professorial Fellow of Pembroke College, Oxford; Director, Oxford Human Rights Hub, United Kingdom.
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