9 Laws & Policies in Europe that Discriminate Against Women
We clearly still have some work to do.
Right now, women and girls everywhere are taking a stand and fighting for their rights.
Whether it’s in Hollywood, the #MeToo movement, or international women’s marches, feminists across the globe are tackling injustices head on.
Yet still, across the world, laws and policies are in place that regard women and girls as second-class citizens, and that hold women back through discrimination.
To remind us why we’re still fighting for gender equality, here are just a few of the discriminatory laws that still exist in Europe. And you can find even more that exist, in the US, here.
1. In Spain and Monaco, men get the throne first.
Most monarchies in Europe have now gotten rid of the older system by which male heirs to the throne get preference over females — known as male-preference primogeniture.
Sweden was first to make the change, passing a law in 1980 to allow equal succession, according to the Washington Post. The Netherlands followed in 1983, Belgium in 1981, and Denmark in 2009. The UK's law change, the Succession to the Crown Act 2013, didn't come into force until 2015.
Neither Spain nor Monaco, however, have changed their succession laws.
For example, the current King of Spain, Felipe VI, is actually the youngest of three children born to the previous King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia. But the first two are female.
Ironically, the constitution also says that all Spaniards are equal and can’t be discriminated against for reasons of birth, race, sex, religion, opinion, or anything else. So…
2. Russia actually decriminalised domestic violence in 2017.
In February of last year, Russian President Vladimir Putin approved a bill to downgrade “battery within families” from a criminal to an administrative offence.
Previously, beating your spouse or child in Russia — the western part of which is European — would result in a prison sentence of up to two years. But the so-called "Slapping Law" has changed that.
Now, a beating of a spouse or child that causes bruising or bleeding, but doesn’t break any bones, will reportedly just result in a fine of anything between five and 30,000 rubles (about £375) or up to 15 days in prison.
According to supporters of the law — including many Russian MPs — it protects the family unit by stopping police or the law interfering in "private matters."
But critics have said it sends entirely the wrong message in a country where estimates say a woman is killed every 40 minutes as a result of domestic abuse.
3. It’s illegal to get an abortion in Malta, including in cases where the mother's life is threatened.
Malta is the only EU country where abortion is banned outright.
Under Malta’s Criminal Code of 1854, anyone who causes the termination of a pregnancy — whether the mother is consenting or not — can face up to three years in jail. That includes the mother herself.
4. The UK’s "hostile environment policy" is claimed to leave migrant women trapped in abusive relationships.
A coalition of women’s rights groups in the UK have spoken out against the government’s hostile environment policy, claiming it’s being used by abusive men to threaten and control their partners.
The policy includes a variety of background checks for immigrants, designed to make it as hard as possible for people without leave to remain. But it’s reported that women who are fearful of being deported aren’t reporting crimes like sexual violence or domestic abuse.
Cases have reportedly included rape and domestic abuse survivors being denied refuge or access to services and instead being pushed back to their abusers, according to several women’s groups, including the Latin American Women’s Rights Service and Southall Black Sisters.
Migrant women are disproportionately at risk from gender-based violence, according to Rachel Krys, co-director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition (EVAW), including forced marriage, trafficking, and female genital mutilation.
5. In Cyprus, married women don’t get the same access to passports.
For married women to get a Cypriot passport, they have to present a marriage certificate. But married men don’t have to.
6. Poland took a step back with retirement ages.
Poland had been making progress for gender equality in the workplace, with a 2012 law that took steps towards setting an equal retirement age of 67 for both men and women.
But a law that came into effect last year actually made a U-turn on that progress. The 2017 law reversed the 2012 law, and means the retirement age for women is set to be dropped back to 60.
The World Bank uses whether or not retirement ages are equal for men and women in a country as one of the indicating factors in its equality report on women, business, and the law.
Legal discrimination against women doesn’t always come about because of laws that do exist, so much as laws that don’t. Here are some examples:
7. In some European countries, mothers aren’t guaranteed their job back after taking maternity leave.
In Austria, Georgia, Germany, Norway, Slovenia, and Turkey, there’s no law that guarantees mothers can return to an equivalent position after taking maternity leave, according to the World Bank’s 2018 Women, Business, and the Law report.
8. In Armenia, there’s insufficient legislation that specifically addresses domestic violence.
In January, Human Rights Watch (HRW) warned that the lives and well-being of survivors of domestic violence in Armenia were in jeopardy, because of the government’s failure to ensure they were protected.
In December 2017, Armenia’s government introduced a law requiring police to urgently intervene “when there is a reasonable assumption of an immediate threat of repetition or the continuation of violence” in the family.
But activists have criticised the law for not going far enough, particularly in supporting women who want to escape abusive relationships. For example, the new law does mandate creating shelters for survivors, but it doesn’t specify a minimum number. Currently, Armenia has just two domestic violence shelters, both in the capital city Yerevan, and both run by NGOs. Each has capacity for just five women and their children.
Given that it has a population of around 2.9 million, HRW said the country should have at least 290 shelters to provide adequate support.
9. Some European countries still don’t have laws for equal pay.
In Ukraine, Macedonia, Hungary, Poland, Armenia, and San Marino, there’s no legal requirement for men and women to get paid the same for work of equal value, according to the World Bank.
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