Remarks by Julie Mertus

By Mertus, Julie | Proceedings of the Annual Meeting-American Society of International Law, Annual 2012 | Go to article overview
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Remarks by Julie Mertus


Mertus, Julie, Proceedings of the Annual Meeting-American Society of International Law


This panel has concerned itself with various aspects of violence against all different types of women, in different contexts--women with disabilities/women without disabilities, young and old, female and male, rich/poor, educated/ illiterate. The complex manner in which identities are suggested, cultivated, and eventually sold is messier than a game of counting demands. We live lives challenged by inclusion and exclusion, public and private, barriers and open doors, connectedness and estrangement, detained and free. Our identities and the manner in which others respond to them are far more complex than 1+1+1. It would be something more like 3-cubed ([3.sup.3]), or maybe a pyramid, or a series of pyramids, with each block dependent upon the existence of the other.

When I think about these phenomena, which ASIL has termed "complexity," I think about going to the university. I live in Baltimore, so I have to plan well and take everything I need with me. I'll put the most important documents in my orange bag, which serves as a clumsy giant purse. Then I'll take the white binder and maybe the blue folder holding student papers. I'll use one hand to adjust my hair in the mirror and the other hand to grab my key chain. I can't forget my laptop, umbrella, wallet, train ticket, change of shoes, newspaper ... and just when I swoop down to grab the newspaper, I drop everything. My packing up to get to the university is not a matter of adding up burdens. It wasn't l+l+l--but it was multi-dimensional. Somehow, the particular collection of items synergistically worked to throw each other off course.

The Icelandic scholar and human rights scholar Oddny Mjoll Arnardottir has suggested that these phenomena could be called a "multi-dimensional disadvantage equality model." (1) Her model rejects the more prevalent terms for analysis--' 'formal equality and nondiscrimination' '--and suggests instead the "layered" and "complex" approach taken by the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). (2)

According to the concept of "formal equality," as Aristotle put it, equals should be treated equally and unequals unequally--formal equality. (3) This line of thinking tells people with disabilities that they should strive to be what the society views as "normal" and "abled." "This approach," Arnardottir explains, "had the effect to exclude all those who belonged to marginalised groups from the protection of the principle of equality." (4)

The concept of "nondiscrimination" may be even more limited.

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