n South African Journal on Human Rights - Engendering socio-economic rights

Volume 25, Issue 3
  • ISSN : 0258-7203



Socio-economic rights and equality have the potential to form a powerful partnership. However, the precise relationship in the context of gender remains controversial. In this article, I argue that simply extending socio-economic rights to women is not sufficient. This does little to address the gendered nature of social institutions and structures. Instead, socio-economic rights should be 'engendered' or infused with substantive gender equality. This article develops this argument first by developing a multi-dimensional understanding of substantive equality, and then analysing the effect of such an understanding on the characterisation of the right itself. Engendered socio-economic rights aim to take account of the power relations in which rights are exercised, in order to enhance the set of feasible options open to women, while at the same time supporting the values of interdependence, solidarity and care, whether or not based on choice. In the final part, I consider how this approach might inform the interpretation of equality and socio-economic rights in selected human rights instruments. At both regional and international level, there is scope for interpreting equality either as an add-on to rights, or as a means of engendering socio-economic rights. I suggest that the latter gives a richer and more effective way of taking equality and socio-economic rights forward.

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