Equality before the law is crucial for gender equality but is no guarantee of equality in practice. Women’s rights cannot be separated from the broader political, economic and social conditions that shape livelihoods and social relations.
The idea of substantive equality recognizes that inequality can be structural and discrimination can be indirect; that we must go beyond creating equal opportunities, to ensure equal outcomes; and that ‘different treatment’ may be required to achieve real equality in practice.
Bridging the gap between formal rights and women’s lived experience, to achieve substantive equality, is the key challenge for public policy. To address this gap,
Only when action is taken in all three domains can we bring about the transformation of structures and institutions – including households, labour markets and governance institutions – that maintain women’s subordination.