Substantive Equality Revisited

I•CON (2016), Vol. 14 No. 3, 712–73


Oxford Legal Studies Research Paper No. 70/2014

27 Pages Posted: 16 Oct 2014

See all articles by Sandra Fredman

Sandra Fredman

University of Oxford - Faculty of Law

Date Written: October 15, 2014


The limitations of a formal interpretation of the right to equality are now well recognized. However, the meaning of substantive equality remains deeply contested. 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.

Keywords: human rights, substantive equality

Suggested Citation

Fredman, Sandra, Substantive Equality Revisited (October 15, 2014). I•CON (2016), Vol. 14 No. 3, 712–73, doi:10.1093/icon/mow043, Oxford Legal Studies Research Paper No. 70/2014, Available at SSRN: or

Sandra Fredman (Contact Author)

University of Oxford - Faculty of Law ( email )

Pembroke College
Pembroke Square
Oxford, OX1 1DW
United Kingdom

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