Rurality as an Intersecting Axis of Inequality in the Work of the U.N. Treaty Bodies

Rurality as an Intersecting Axis of Inequality in the Work of the U.N. Treaty Bodies

Abstract

Rurality intersects with other identities, power dynamics, and structural inequalities—including those related to gender, race, disability, and age—to create unique patterns of human rights deprivations, violations, and challenges in rural spaces. Therefore, accurately assessing human rights and duties in rural spaces requires attention to the dynamics of rurality in a particular context, the unique nature of diverse rural identities and livelihoods, the systemic forces operating in and on those spaces, and the intersections with other forms of structural discrimination and inequality.

Although much of the work of the U.N. treaty bodies has in fact addressed human rights situations in rural areas, the role of rurality as an intersecting axis of structural inequality in those cases has not been systematized. There have been important advances related to rurality, intersectionality, and human rights, but these remain largely invisible to researchers and advocates and from one human rights body to another. Without this crosscutting look at rurality, biases and assumptions remain hidden and unchallenged.

This Article addresses that gap by analyzing the treatment of rurality in two U.N. human rights treaty bodies: the Human Rights Committee and the Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. The aim is to contribute to further engagement with the role of rurality and spatial justice in intersectional approaches to human rights research, policy, and advocacy. The research documents several trends, including (i) the important impact that global agrarian movements have had in achieving recognition of rural difference and rural-specific human rights claims beyond merely measuring urban-rural disparities; (ii) that rurality is most frequently acknowledged in connection with the rights of women, reflecting the sustained work of women’s rights advocates to showcase that intersection, among other dynamics; and (iii) that, in practice and with very few exceptions, rurality is only acknowledged or named in the assessment of countries in the Global South.

Author: Amanda Lyons, University of Minnesota Law School

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