Gender in Constitutions

Catharine A. Mackinnon

in The Oxford Handbook of Comparative Constitutional Law

Published in print May 2012 | ISBN: 9780199578610
Published online November 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Law

Gender in Constitutions

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This article explores the role of gender in constitutions. The voices and concerns of women have been largely absent from official constituting processes and decisive interpretations until recently. Historically, constitutions have been almost exclusively man-made, and it shows. The central gender question posed by comparative constitutional analysis is the impact of intervention at the constitutional level on gender hierarchy in life and law. The gendered features of constitutional regimes, in their relations to the social and legal contexts they reflect and shape, can be analyzed along four principled dimensions through which sex inequality is institutionalized, and along which it is being contested. The first concerns equality; the second concerns relative freedom; the third involves the structural private dimension; the fourth involves the political dimension in the broadest sense. Often the four dimensions intersect and interact. For example, the family is considered structurally private and can be controlled by moral rules of religious or customary law, shaping realities of gender hierarchy that would trigger equality law (law that itself may either be constructed around difference or in opposition to dominance). These interconnections can make gendered issues doubly or even triply difficult to reach and remedy constitutionally.

Keywords: constitution; gender issues; women; constitutional analysis; sex inequality

Article.  12571 words. 

Subjects: Law ; Comparative Law ; Constitutional and Administrative Law

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