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Girls & Women

Family Laws Are Getting in the Way of Achieving Gender Equality: Report


Why Global Citizens Should Care
Family laws stop women and girls from reaching their full potential by limiting their right to make certain decisions. Global Goal 5 aims to end poverty by achieving gender equality. You can join us and take action on this issue here

Advocacy organization Equality Now released a report on Monday that holds governments accountable in the Beijing +25 Review.

Governments from around the world agreed on a comprehensive plan to achieve global legal equality at the United Nations’ 4th World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995. Equality Now has advocated for human rights for women and girls since, and 2020 marks the 25th year of the agreement. During the UN's Commission on the Status of Women on March 9, leaders will review the current challenges to achieving gender equality.

The organization’s fifth “Words and Deeds” report focuses on sex-discriminatory family laws and looks at how marital status, personal status, economic status, and gender-based violence affects girls and women. Sex-discriminatory laws continue to stop women from reaching their full potential by preventing them from working, receiving an education, and becoming economically secure.

“The principle of universality of human rights with regard to equality in the family should apply to all groups of women and girls, no matter their religion, custom, or tradition,” Antonia Kirkland, the lead author of the report, told Global Citizen in an email.

Family laws are one of the hardest roadblocks to achieving gender equality because they are so intertwined with religious, cultural, and ethnic identity, the report said. 

But one of the commitments made in Beijing in 1995 was to revoke any remaining laws that discriminate on the basis of sex, regardless of if the government or family members enforce them. Reform of discriminatory family laws needs to be prioritized, the organization said. 

Many governments have failed to secure human rights for all women and girls and instead prioritize religious and cultural freedom. 

Governments continue to allow male guardianship systems to exist in Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Sudan, and other countries, preventing women and girls from making basic decisions from travel to work, without the consent of a close male family relative. With these types of systems in place, laws that protect women against sexual harassment or ensure they receive equal pay do not make a difference, the report said.

Sex-discriminatory personal status laws also make it difficult for women and girls to have autonomy. These laws violate women’s civil and political rights outside of the home and bar them from the right to citizenship, travel, and more. They stop women from passing their nationality or citizenship to their children and/or spouses, making them and their families insecure, and limiting their participation in public life. Under Shia Personal Status Law enacted in 2009, women do not have the right to leave the home, significantly limiting their opportunities.

Read More: African Nations Must Enforce Progressive Family Laws to Protect Women & Girls, Say Campaigners

“Governments must protect women’s and girls’ rights in all spaces and relationships, public or private, married or not,” the report said.

The report is intended to be a useful tool for governments and campaigns and urges leaders to “urgently repeal or amend all laws that explicitly discriminate on the basis of sex,” to successfully implement the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.

"We must come together to push back against harmful laws, customs, and traditions at the heart of patriarchy, to benefit all women and girls and their families, including the most vulnerable and excluded," Kirkland said.