Equality Law in Context: Illuminating Intersections in Search for Global Justice
Global challenges to equality
Equality law scholars and advocates encounter gaps between law in the books and law in action on a daily basis. In an effort at understanding what creates the gap and hopefully closing it, in recent years there have been numerous calls to tackle deep-seated structural and intersectional discrimination. Over the past two decades, significant milestones have been achieved in the struggle for substantive equality, reflecting a growing global commitment to combat discrimination and promote equality.
The adoption of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) has led increasing awareness and expansion of the protection for persons with disabilities, as well as a deepening of the legal understanding of different forms of discrimination. At the same time, the integration of persons with disabilities in the community remains limited and exclusion persists.
We have witnessed a significant advancement in gender equality, including increased representation of women in leadership positions, the adoption of laws aimed at combating gender-based violence, and efforts to address the gender pay gap. That said, gender inequality in education, employment and political representation persist, and women continue to experience higher levels of poverty and gender-based violence. New technologies have also added a layer of complexity, reshaping and blurring the public/private divide and thus impacting women’s chances of participation without risking their personal safety.
A similar situation exists concerning sexual orientation and gender identity. There has been a growing recognition of the right to family life, including the right to marry for same-sex couples, including landmark decisions by courts and national legislatures. These developments have helped to advance equality for the LGBTQ+ community and to challenge discriminatory laws and attitudes, yet they continue to face discrimination, harassment, and violence in many countries.
Racial discrimination also remains complex. There are ongoing efforts to promote equality for racial and ethnic minorities, including initiatives aimed at addressing systemic racism and promoting diversity and inclusion in various sectors, and attempts at understanding the ongoing impact of histories of slavery and colonialism. Yet unequal access to education, employment, and justice persists, and cases of institutional violence resulting in fatalities are frequent news.
Additionally, class and economic inequality are persistent concerns, though not always recognized as such in discrimination law frameworks. Despite multiple commitments to reducing poverty, including adopting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015, economic inequality remains a major challenge, with wealth and income disparities increasing. Moreover, the economic, social, and political disparities between the global North and the global South seem to be worsening, with climate change and environmental degradation increasingly becoming defining features of the North-South divide and feeding into migration patterns.
Furthermore, there are multiple political challenges to the realization of equality. Historically, the idea of substantive equality has often been seen as a threat to tradition or contrary to cultural values and has been resisted because of political and economic interests. However, in recent times, there have been multiple reactions against progress or advancements made towards gender equality in particular. Such opposition is manifested in resistance to laws and policies aimed at promoting and supporting gender equality and increased opposition to feminist activism and movements. These are clear attempts to dismantle hard-won, progressive legal and policy change and stall such efforts in places where reform is much needed.
Proposed approach: concerted, contextual and interdisciplinary
These global challenges are interconnected and reinforce one another. Addressing them in their full complexity requires an interdisciplinary approach with attention to context, enacted through sustained and collective efforts from governments and civil society, including academics.
Context is critical to understanding and addressing the global challenges of inequality and discrimination since their nature and extent can vary significantly depending on multiple factors such as geography, culture, history, politics, and economics. Inequalities and forms of discrimination can differ considerably depending on the region or country in which they occur. Cultural norms, values, and beliefs can significantly shape experiences of inequality and discrimination. The legacy of past events, such as colonialism, slavery, and apartheid, can continue to shape experiences of inequality and discrimination in the present. Economic systems and policies can have a significant impact on the distribution of resources and opportunities and can either perpetuate or challenge inequality and discrimination. By considering the context of inequality and discrimination, we can better understand the complex and interconnected factors contributing to these global challenges. Context-aware research can inform more effective and sustainable solutions that address the root causes of inequality and discrimination and promote lasting progress towards equality.
A necessary actor in any concerted approach to addressing inequality is civil society, which plays a critical role by advocating for change, raising awareness, and holding governments and other actors accountable. Civil society organizations, such as non-governmental organizations (NGOs), community-based organizations, and advocacy groups, play a vital role in promoting equality and combating discrimination.
The 10th annual conference of the BCCE seeks to foster a sense of community among equality law scholars and advocates around the world. We hope to learn from each other as we compare legal problems and borrow insights from other disciplines as we seek to advance innovative ways of redressing inequalities.