Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

First Advisor

Ruth M. Buchanan


Starting from the premise that international human rights law is not a neutral fact, this dissertation is a critical exploration of the promises, transmissions and impacts of intersectionality as an approach to gender protections in international human rights law. I begin with a definition of intersectionality at the individual claimant and jurisprudential levels, as an approach to anti-discrimination and equality law that attempts to move beyond static conceptions and fixed identities of discriminated subjects, and, based on Kimberl Crenshaws powerful metaphor of a traffic intersection, delineates the flow of discrimination as multi-directional, and injury as seldom attributable to a single source. But in its life beyond these early works, intersectionalitys epistemological and ontological claims have since come to express the possibility of a nearly infinite entanglement of human experience as impacted by systems of governance and regulation. In exploring this, I articulate an additional conditioning intersection. That is, in addition to the intersection of multiple harms, forms of discrimination or identitieswhich are, variously, the meanings ascribed to intersectionality as an approach to international human rights lawthe intersection this dissertation fundamentally straddles is that between social critique and instrumental engagement. This dissertation is guided by an engaged ambivalence about the core project of harnessing feminist social critique, such as that invited by intersectionalitys migratory path, to the perilous project of feminist governance. I mobilize a critical international law framework, to review relevant literature, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) practices and decisions, related United Nations memos, documents and Special Rapporteur materials, along with original interviews with CEDAW Committee members to assess the legal status, governance implications and feminist goals realized and missed in the intersectional turn in international human rights. It concludes that intersectionality both advances critical legal practice, and remains entangled in the imperial vestiges of international laws genealogy.


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