Crossing Borders, Claiming Rights: Using Human Rights Law to Empower Women Migrant Workers

71 Pages Posted: 20 Apr 2005


Focusing on the exploitation of migrant domestic workers, this article develops and then uses the methodology of applied international intersectionality to analyze human rights treaty law. It argues that when intersectionality is used as an interpretive methodology instead of simply a critique, the resulting analysis allows for the identification of robust standards relating to individuals who otherwise appear to be unprotected by the human rights framework. Other scholars, writing in a critical mode, have demonstrated the ways in which the failure to use an intersectional approach leads to the erasure of experience by groups that suffer overlapping forms of discrimination, and have suggested that intersectionality should be used in the human rights context. Shifting the focus, this article argues - more affirmatively - that intersectionality can be applied as an interpretive methodology to existing international human rights standards to produce a wide variety of empowering norms that advocates can begin to use right away.

The paper begins by describing the major forces combining to create gendered labor migration flows. The next section presents the concept of applied international intersectionality, considers the issue of women's "vulnerability," and comments on the power of human rights law to reach "private," non-state conduct. The bulk of the article is devoted to demonstrating the benefits of applied international intersectionality by using the methodology to excavate human rights protections relevant to violations facing migrant domestic workers. The article concludes by emphasizing the need to both insist on enforcement of existing protections, and to remain attentive to emerging claims.

Keywords: Human rights, gender, migration, intersectionality

Suggested Citation

Satterthwaite, Margaret L., Crossing Borders, Claiming Rights: Using Human Rights Law to Empower Women Migrant Workers. Available at SSRN:

Margaret L. Satterthwaite (Contact Author)

New York University School of Law ( email )

40 Washington Square South
New York, NY 10012-1099
United States

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