Thursday, May 1, 2014
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.