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Since the adoption in 1979 of the UnitedNations Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), principles of gender equity and non-discrimination have been incorporated into constitutional and statutory law in many countries across the world. International law on the human rights of women has also become entrenched in global development practice. Rights-based approaches to development generally assume that the strengthening of respect for human rights, involving a range of legislative and institutional reforms, education and training will combat gendered forms of discrimination and contribute to greater gender justice and equity.1

However, the connections between law, rights and gender relations are often over-simplified and the legal, political and social contexts where human rights and development initiatives are promoted insufficiently understood. One issue which deserves more systematic consideration in the develop-

ment literature concerned with gender justice and women’s rights is that of legal pluralism. In this volume we prefer the term “legal pluralities” to legal pluralism, believing that the former best evokes the fluid, multilayered, contradictory and transnational forms of legal ordering that shape women’s life prospects today. Most developing countries are characterized by multiple overlapping and sometimes competing legal and normative orders, including codified statutory law, “custom,” transnational norms and procedures, and various informal norms and rules, many of which are often highly ambiguous and difficult to discern. Yet development theory and practise has only recently begun to consider the impact of legal pluralities on the life prospects of marginalized sectors and populations, such as women. As Anne Hellum has argued, in order to effectively contribute to greater gender equity and an improvement in women’s development prospects, the human rights based approach to development must be expanded to take account of a plurality of legal orders (Hellum et al. 2007). However, despite general agreement today on the importance of legal pluralities in determining women’s livelihood options in many developing countries, there is surprisingly little consolidated research examining the relationship between legal pluralities and the prospects for greater gender justice.2