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Women's Rights, the European Court, and Supranational Constitutionalism


  • Rachel A. Cichowski

  • The author wishes to acknowledge the MacArthur Foundation and the Woodrow Wilson Foundation for generously supporting the data collection included in this analysis. The study also benefited from the invaluable comments of Alec Stone Sweet and many scholars at the European University Institute, Fiesole, Italy, where I conducted the research. I would also like to thank the special issue editor, Kim Lane Scheppele, and two reviewers for insightful comments on both the empirical analysis and the pregnancy case law. An earlier version of the pregnancy and maternity case law analysis appears in Cichowski (2001).

Address correspondence to Rachel Cichowski, Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Washington, Box 353530, Seattle, WA 98195; e-mail:


This analysis examines supranational constitutionalism in the European Union (EU). In particular, the study focuses on the role of the European Court of Justice in the creation of women's rights. I examine the interaction between the Court and member state governments in legal integration, and also the integral role that women's advocates—both individual activists and groups—have played in the development of EU social provisions. The findings suggest that this litigation dynamic can have the effect of fueling the integration process by creating new rights that may empower social actors and EU organizations, with the ultimate effect of diminishing member state government control over the scope and direction of EU law. This study focuses specifically on gender equality law yet provides a general framework for examining the case law in subsequent legal domains, with the purpose of providing a more nuanced understanding of supranational governance and constitutionalism.