Bringing Gender and Class into the Frame: An Intersectional Analysis of the Decoloniality-As-Race Critique of the Use of Law for Social Change

Authors: Jackie Dugard & Angela María Sánchez

ISSN: 1996-2193
Affiliations: BA LLB BAHons LLM MPhil PhD, Associate Professor, School of Law, University of the Witwatersrand; LLM student, Universidad de los Andes
Source: Stellenbosch Law Review, Volume 32 Issue 1, 2021, p. 24 – 46


During 2017, South African decoloniality theorist Tshepo Madlingozi argued, in relation to the ongoing socio-political and economic exclusion of the black majority in South Africa, that the post-1994 rights-based constitutional order represents more continuity than rupture, consolidating a triumph of social justice over liberation and a privileging of the democratisation paradigm over the decolonisation one. In Madlingozi’s critique of the “neo-apartheid” social justice order, race continues to be the most important dividing line, and human rights constitute a western “perpetuation of the coloniality of being”. This argument resonates with broader contemporary critiques of the weak, compromising and imperial nature of human rights. Against this backdrop, we examine the potential, as well as the limits, of using human rights as a tool for social change. Engaging an intersectional analysis informed by the seminal work of Kimberlé Crenshaw and Nancy Fraser, we find that the focus on decoloniality-as-race obscures other critical fault lines to the detriment of progressive change, and that a radical reading of human rights is capable of correcting this flaw. We argue that the incorporation of gender and class lenses provides a powerful tool to change both the narrative about the drivers of inequality among capitalist democracies and the role of socio-economic rights adjudication within them. Our article is also an invitation to rethink the domestic constitutional histories of the global south by acknowledging rights-based redistributive transformations within the context of market and development policies, and to push for the uptake of rights to empower social struggle and tackle structural disadvantage.