In the fight to promote gender equality around the world, more governments are realizing the need to challenge the status quo and take active steps towards women’s empowerment. But considering the way women have been represented in different nations’ penal codes, we still have a long way to go.
In India, the Supreme Court expanded its classification of rape in 2017 to state that it is a criminal offense for a man to have sex with his wife if she is under 18 years old, raising the age of consent within marriages from 15. However, marital rape is still legal.
From not allowing women to wear pants under the guise of promoting modesty to preventing women from initiating divorce proceedings, some federal laws are remnants of archaic policies and are no longer enforced. And yet, they have impacted how society views women and led to the creation of harmful practices.
As part of our #MoveTheWorld Monday challenge, we’re taking a hard look at the state of equality for women and girls around the world to see what we can do to effect change. It starts by recognizing the amazing women who fought for progress and serve as inspiration for people everywhere, but who are rarely given the opportunity to be celebrated in the media.
Then, take a look at our round-up of seven of the most sexist laws that exist to restrict women’s rights. While progress has been made to achieve gender equality, we’ll need all hands on deck to make sure the world is an equitable and just place for women everywhere.
1. Unmarried Qatari women under 30 years old are not allowed to check into a hotel.
While Qatar has taken steps to empower women — such as by lifting a restriction in 2020 that stated women must have a male guardian’s permission to obtain a driver’s license — the country still enforces inequitable and sexist practices.
According to Human Rights Watch, the country’s system of male guardianship allows men to dictate many aspects of a woman's life and are still legal today. Some of these include that unmarried women under 30 are not allowed to check into hotels by themselves or travel without permission.
2. Rapists can claim parental rights without restrictions in Minnesota.
Women around the world experience high rates of gender-based violence, which can include sexual assault, harrassment, and abuse. In the United States alone, the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) estimates that 1 in 6 women has been the victim of attempted or completed rape.
There are between 17,000 and 32,000 rape-related pregnancies in the US each year. While it seems obvious that a rapist should not be able to claim parental rights over a child that resulted from rape, the law varies by state.
Currently, 25 states require a criminal conviction of rape in order to terminate a parent’s rights. In others, the court must be provided with “clear and convincing evidence” that proves a child was conceived by rape.
But in only one state, Minnesota, is there no legal provision that restricts or terminates a rapist’s legal right to parent a child.
3. Russian women cannot work certain jobs to protect their fertility.
Some nations have laws restricting the types of jobs that women can have, stating that it is for their “protection” that such restrictions exist. Russia is one such country, with a comprehensive list of jobs that women are prohibited from working to protect their sexual and reproductive health.
While the list used to outline hundreds of jobs that women could not work, such as driving trains and trucks or navigating nautical equipment, it was shortened to 100 jobs in 2019. Some of the employment opportunities for women that are still banned include jobs in oil production, the chemical industry, and coal mining.
4. An Indonesian city banned women from straddling motorcycles.
In the Indonesian city of Lhokseumawe, located on the island of Sumatra, women are prohibited from straddling motorcycles or holding onto the driver of a motorcycle for support, citing that such acts are “improper,” according to the New York Times.
Located in the Aceh province of Sumatra, which adheres to Sharia Law, Lhokseumawe is not the only city in Indonesia to regulate the daily life of women. A 2021 report from Human Rights Watch outlines the many ways that regulations and dress codes disproportionately target women and girls in Indonesia.
5. It is illegal for women in Eswatini to wear “immoral” clothing.
In 2012, the government of Eswatini (formerly known as Swaziland) announced that women would risk arrest if they wore mini skirts or shirts that exposed their stomach, according to the BBC. Wendy Hleta, the public relations officer for Royal Swaziland Police Service, said at the time that “skimpy clothes” make it easier for men to rape women.
The 2012 ban arose from a colonial-era law made in 1889 when Eswatini was ruled by the British government.
6. A woman cannot get divorced in Israel without her husband’s permission.
In Israel, legal courts are run based on Jewish law, according to the Jerusalem Post. For women who are trying to divorce their husbands, this fact may prevent them from seeking the freedom they deserve.
In order for a judge to grant a divorce, a wife has to obtain a get, or a legal document that is provided by her husband agreeing to the divorce.
7. Child marriage is legal in regions around the world.
An estimated 650 million women alive today were married as girls, according to UNICEF, and the problem is widespread in regions around the world.
Disproportionately affecting women and girls, there are several factors that contribute to child marriage, such as cultural traditions and financial insecurity. But studies show that girls married before the age of 18 report higher rates of gender-based violence and experience fewer education and employment opportunities.
While some nations have made progress to end child marriage in recent years, it is imperative that more governments end the practice to achieve gender equality by 2030.
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