LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - From India where marital rape is legal to Russia where women are banned from 456 jobs, scores of countries have failed to honor a promise to scrap all laws that discriminate against women, campaigners said on Saturday.
Rights group Equality Now called on all governments to review their legislation as it launched a report highlighting discriminatory laws around the world, in areas such as wife obedience, polygamy, inheritance rights and ‘honor killings’.
“We wanted to show how women are treated as children, as property without conscious thought, how they are stereotyped into particular roles, and how these roles are codified in law,” said Jacqui Hunt, Equality Now’s London director.
The review coincides with the 20th anniversary of the 1995 Beijing Platform for Women, when 189 governments pledged to “revoke any remaining laws that discriminate on the basis of sex”.
“We need to hold governments accountable to that promise,” Hunt said.
“A first step to providing women’s equality is to ensure a strong legal framework. If a government discriminates in its laws it shows very clearly the disrespect it has for women and girls.”
Countries picked out include Lebanon, where a rapist will not be prosecuted if he marries his victim, and Iran, where a woman’s testimony is worth less than a man’s.
In Russia women are barred from a long list of jobs including train driver, tractor operator, carpenter, firefighter and sailor. In Saudi Arabia - not one of the Beijing Platform signatories - women are not allowed to drive cars because driving is “a source of undeniable vices”.
Many countries, including Democratic Republic of Congo and Nicaragua, have laws stating that the husband is head of the household and his wife must follow him wherever he chooses to live.
Some countries have not only failed to repeal discriminatory laws but have introduced new ones; Kenya, for example, legalized polygamous marriages last year.
The report is not a comprehensive round-up, but Hunt said the examples showed how discriminatory laws affect women in all aspects of their lives and all regions of the world.
On the other hand, there has been significant progress since the 1995 pledge, she said. More than half the laws highlighted in Equality Now’s previous reviews have been repealed or amended.
Costa Rica, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Peru and Uruguay have scrapped laws allowing a rapist to avoid punishment by marrying his victim.
Malaysia and Tonga have made marital rape a crime, Kuwait has given women the vote, Bahamas has given equal inheritance rights and Algeria has dropped wife obedience.
The report will be discussed at next month’s session of the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women, which meets yearly to review progress toward gender equality.
“Governments must turn words into deeds and finally repeal or amend all laws that discriminate on the basis of sex so the next generation of women and girls can enjoy their rights and live as equal partners in society,” the report says.
Although some discriminatory laws are not enforced, it is still important to repeal them, Hunt said.
“Having them on the books still sends a message that women are worth less and can be discriminated against. And that message is another obstacle to women having equality.”
Reporting by Emma Botha; Editing by Tim Pearce