The intersectional case of poverty in discrimination law

Shreya Atrey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)

2 Citations (Scopus)
8 Downloads (Pure)


Poverty remains largely unfamiliar to discrimination law. Iterations of the right to equality and non-discrimination based on the grounds of race, colour, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, disability, age, etc, have seldom included poverty or its attendant deprivations like unemployment, reliance on social assistance, deprivation of education, homelessness, or starvation. The result is that, poverty not only fails to make it to the inner circle of protected characteristics but also fails to be understood and addressed as discrimination at all.

This article studies the leading examples of judicial engagement with poverty discrimination in some of the most progressive discrimination regimes – Canada, South Africa, and India. The aim is to identify the nature of poverty discrimination, its judicial treatment and possible redressal within comparative discrimination law. The article delineates a key ‘intersectional’ feature of poverty discrimination as one which intersects with: (i) multiple disadvantages of redistribution (joblessness, homelessness, malnutrition, illiteracy), recognition (stereotypes, stigma, humiliation), participation (social and political exclusion), and transformation (structural domination); as well as (ii) multiple grounds and status-identities (race, colour, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, disability, age, etc). The appreciation of this complex and crosscutting intersectional nature is possible – as has been hitherto tried – not only by reading in poverty as a ground, but also by opening up ways of thinking about poverty as central to our substantive understanding of equality and non-discrimination per se. Treating poverty as a matter discriminatory context or as a matter of substantive equality are two such worthwhile lessons to take a cue from.

With this, the article seeks to reclaim the position of poverty in discrimination law, first, by critiquing the exclusion of the worst and most debilitating effects of poverty because of its intersectional nature; and secondly, by providing alternative ways of thinking about poverty as a site of discrimination.

Poverty, Discrimination, Substantive Equality, Grounds, Intersectionality
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)411-440
Number of pages30
JournalHuman Rights Law Review
Issue number3
Early online date28 Aug 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2018


  • Poverty
  • Discrimination Law
  • Intersectionality
  • Grounds

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