Reducing Group-based Inequalities in a Legally Plural World

Date: Feb, 2010
CRISE Working Paper No. 75
Author(s): Colleen Sheppard

We live in a world characterized by multiple, overlapping and plural normative orders embracing formal and informal legal regimes, customs and practices. Legal protections for equality and protections against discrimination are found in a plurality of legal instruments, including international, regional, national, state and municipal human rights documents and institutional codes of conduct. Moreover, formal equality rights operate in social and cultural contexts that are deeply influenced by the customs, norms and social practices of everyday life. In assessing how law may be used to reduce group-based inequalities, therefore, it is critical to examine the interaction between different sources of formal human rights protection and diverse, overlapping and coexisting social and cultural orders – or regimes of informal law. Such an exploration provides important insights into systemic, structural and social obstacles to effective enforcement of formal anti-discrimination and equality rights protections – obstacles institutionalized and embedded in both official and unofficial law and custom. Moreover, an appreciation of the intersections and interactions  between a plurality of legal orders (both formal and informal) illuminates how strategic reliance on different sources of protection may advance the effective enjoyment of the right to equality. In this paper, I highlight how the plurality of law affects equality rights in institutional, community and global contexts.

ODID Author(s)