This essay, written during a time of Clinton-era welfare reform, was an attempt to reimagine South-North roles. What if "right to development" analysis were applied to poor women of color living in the United States? Some see the right to development as an anachronism in the face of the apparent globalization of market-based economic development. However, “development” in the narrow form of a thriving industrial sector, reliable infrastructure, and steady economic growth, remains beyond the reach of many nations - particularly the poorest African nations. More important, the broader goals of human development - access to basic needs and an improved quality of life - are denied to millions of people within "developed" nations as well.

The symposium in which this essay appeared, “Beyond Rhetoric: Implementing the Right to Development,” explored whether this most theoretical of theoretical human rights could take on practical meaning in context. If the right to development is to extend "beyond rhetoric," then poor and disadvantaged individuals must find it a useful tool.

Women of color who are poor in the United States struggle with the effects of underdevelopment while surrounded by the resources of the most economically developed nation on earth. These women experience violations of their social and economic human rights that are strikingly similar to those affecting poor women of color in the rest of the Global South. They face limited access to affordable health care; encounter discrimination in education, employment, and access to a living wage; lack access to credit; cannot obtain affordable housing; and do not receive equal protection from public and private violence. “Development” implies progress toward better living conditions; instead, the lives of poor women of color, and of those they care for most, grow steadily worse.


Originally published in Law & Policy, v.18 no.3&4, July/Oct. (1996), pp.281-313.


women of color, Black, United States, development, discrimination, women's rights, feminist, Third World, African-Americans, United Nations, UN, Universal Declaration on Human Rights, Keba M'Baye, International Bill of Rights, Declaration on the Right to Development, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, International Covenant on Human Rights, Women-in-Development, WID, Gender and Development, GAD, World Summit on Microcredit, Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era, DAWN, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Cooperative Economics for Women, CEW

Subject Categories

Black Women, Poor women, Social rights, Human rights


Human Rights Law | Women


Blackwell Publishers

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Hope Lewis

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