A rash of sex discriminatory laws – including the legalisation of polygamy, marital rape, abduction and the justification of violence against women – remains in statute books around the world. In a new report released here, the New York-based Equality Now has identified dozens of countries, including Kenya, Mali, Iran, Saudi Arabia, India, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the Bahamas, Malta, Nigeria and Yemen, which have continued with discriminatory laws in violation of international conventions and U.N. declarations. Antonia Kirkland, legal advisor for Equality Now, told IPS, “Our report highlights a cross-sample of different sex discriminatory laws from a range of countries, which harm and impede a woman or girl throughout her life in many different ways.
“We urge not only these countries – but all governments around the world – to immediately revoke any remaining laws that discriminate on the basis of sex, as called for in the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action.”
In 2000, she said, the U.N. General Assembly reaffirmed the urgency of doing this by setting a target date of 2005.
“Although this was not achieved, we are encouraged by the U.N.’s continued reflection of this priority in the development of a post-2015 framework,” she noted.
This year the United Nations, spearheaded by U.N. Women, will be commemorating the 20th anniversary of the historic Beijing Women’s Conference, taking stock of successes and failures.
The new study identifies dozens of discriminatory laws, either in existence, or just enacted.
The discriminatory sex laws cited in the study also include Kenya’s 2014 Marriage Act, which says, “A marriage celebrated under customary law or Islamic law is presumed to be polygamous or potentially polygamous.”
An Indian act from 2013 states, “Sexual intercourse or sexual acts by a man with his own wife, the wife not being under fifteen years of age, is not rape.”
A Bahamian act from 1991 defines rape as the act of those over 14 years “having sexual intercourse with another person who is not his spouse”, thereby permitting marital rape.
In Yemen’s 1992 act, Article 40 suggests that a wife “must permit [her husband] to have legitimate intercourse with her when she is fit to do so.”
In the United States, a child born outside of marriage can only be granted citizenship in certain cases relating to the father, such as, if “a blood relationship between the person and the father is established by clear and convincing evidence” or “the father (unless deceased) has agreed in writing to provide financial support for the person until the person reaches the age of 18 years.”
And in Saudi Arabia, a 1990 Fatwa suggests: “women’s driving of automobiles” is prohibited as it “is a source of undeniable vices.”
In Malta, if a kidnapper “after abducting a person, shall marry such person, he shall not be liable to prosecution”; in Nigeria, violence “by a husband for the purpose of correcting his wife” is considered lawful; in the Democratic Republic of Congo, “the wife is obliged to live with her husband and follow him wherever he sees fit to reside”; and in Guinea, “a wife can have a separate profession from that of her husband unless he objects.”
Sanam Anderlini, executive director and co-founder of the International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN) told IPS hypocrisy and double standards are pervasive – not just about the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) or the Beijing Plan of Action but also about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which all countries have signed.
She said the problem is exacerbated by a lack of equality in basic terms – for example there is no equal pay in the United States. Also, the fact that so many countries refuse to live up to their own commitments means the bar is lowered constantly or remains forever low.
“We have to call it what it is – universally sanctioned sexism,” said Anderlini, who was the first senior gender and inclusion adviser on the U.N.’s standby team of expert mediation advisers (2011-2012).