Rights of Belonging for Women

Rebecca E. Zietlow

University of Toledo College of Law

August 22, 2013

Indiana Journal of Law & Social Equality, Vol. 1, No. 1, pp. 64-99, 2013
University of Toledo Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2013-16

This Article presents a new way to think about women’s equality, a theory of rights of belonging — those rights that promote an inclusive vision of who belongs to the national community and facilitate equal membership in that community. Rights of belonging are an alternative to the conventional, identity-based civil rights paradigm, which is based on combating discrimination based on identifiable characteristics. In the past half century, women’s equality law has been based primarily in the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and statutes prohibiting discrimination based on identifiable characteristics. While the equal protection model has reduced such discrimination, it has failed to address deeply rooted economic inequality in our society. Because equal protection law only addresses discrimination based on easily identifiable characteristics, including race and gender, it has masked the significance of other fundamentally important, but less visible, characteristics, such as poverty. The persistent poverty of women is a sex equality issue, and pursuing economic rights is crucial to empower women to overcome economic barriers. Thus, rights of belonging must include not only the right to be free of discrimination based on identifiable characteristics, but also economic rights — the material conditions necessary to empower women to participate effectively in the world around them.

Achieving rights of belonging for women requires rethinking the identity constructs in our civil rights discourse. Along with removing barriers to inclusion such as identity-based discrimination, rights of belonging include providing the material conditions needed for effective participation in one’s community. Rights of belonging begin with strengthening the economic safety net and pursuing the right to empowerment within the workplace, including a robust right to organize. While economic rights are not conventionally considered to be women’s rights, they are essential for women to obtain meaningful equality in our society. Effective belonging is not possible without these positive economic rights. Rights of belonging also suggest the need to reconsider the relationship between the individual and the state. The state must play a role not only in removing barriers to opportunity, but also in providing the requisite conditions for enabling individuals to achieve success. A theory of rights of belonging acknowledges the centrality of economic need to women’s lives, and addresses that need as a means of achieving gender equality through economic empowerment.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 37

Keywords: women's rights, legal theory, civil rights, equality

JEL Classification: J50, K31, J70, K19

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Date posted: August 22, 2013 ; Last revised: September 26, 2013

Suggested Citation

Zietlow, Rebecca E., Rights of Belonging for Women (August 22, 2013). Indiana Journal of Law & Social Equality, Vol. 1, No. 1, pp. 64-99, 2013 ; University of Toledo Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2013-16. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2314451

Contact Information

Rebecca E. Zietlow (Contact Author)
University of Toledo College of Law ( email )
2801 W. Bancroft Street
Toledo, OH 43606
United States
(419) 530-2872 (Phone)
(419) 530-7911 (Fax)
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