A lack of legal equality promotes violence and discrimination, yet almost every country in the world has laws that treat people differently on the basis of sex and/or gender.
In every country, some form of legal inequality exists – either the law itself is sex discriminatory, the impact of the law is discriminatory, or laws are not effectively implemented enabling an environment of inequality and allowing violence and discrimination to be perpetrated with impunity.
How does legal inequality affect women and girls?
Legal inequality for women and girls spans all areas of life
Protection from violence
Sex discrimination in laws purporting to address violence against women including domestic violence and rape, or silence on the issue within the law, can actually promote violence against women and girls.
Marriage and divorce
Sex discrimination in marital laws, including those covering divorce and polygamy, renders women subordinate in many aspects of family relations before, during and after marriage. It also permits girls to be married when they are still children.
Sex discrimination in economic laws restricts women from being economically independent, limiting access to inheritance and property ownership as well as employment opportunities, and reinforces gender stereotypes.
Sex discrimination in personal status laws negatively impacts the ability of women to conduct various aspects of their daily lives. The discrimination goes beyond family law and marital relations to prohibit rights to confer citizenship, to travel, to participate in public life, etc.
Why is Legal Equality important?
We believe that legal equality is the first step towards gender equality.
A country’s laws set the tone for how it treats its people, and how its people treat each other. When its laws are unfair – when they discriminate on the basis of sex – cultural inequality and violence against women are legitimized, and become endemic.
We are committed to holding governments accountable for changing or removing their unfair laws, in line with the Beijing Platform for Action.
Equal treatment under the law is fundamental to creating a happier, fairer, more prosperous world for everyone.
Why is it a feminist issue?
The existence of sex discriminatory laws demonstrates a governmental disregard for the fundamental right of women and girls to equality. Discriminatory laws constitute an official endorsement of women and girls as people of lesser worth and codify discrimination on the basis of sex. Women and girls are prevented from fully participating in society because of violence and legal discrimination in public life, economic access, personal status, marriage, inheritance, nationality, and other areas.
In order for women and girls to enjoy equal rights with men and boys, governments must ensure that the law does not discriminate on the basis of sex.
What does international law say?
Women and girls are entitled to equality, including equal rights before the law. This is affirmed in international and regional treaties. Governments are responsible for ensuring that the law treats men and women equally, and the law is key in protecting and promoting the rights of women and girls.
What is Equality Now doing to achieve it?
At Equality Now, we use a unique combination of legal advocacy, regional partnership-building, and community mobilization to encourage governments to adopt, improve and enforce laws that protect and promote the rights of women and girls around the world.
- Urging governments and policymakers to enact and enforce laws that promote equal rights for all women and girls
- Holding governments accountable to international human rights standards
- Making the justice system works for women and girls
- Elevating cases to national, regional and international courts and bodies
- Inspiring people around the world to fight for equality
In May 2020, the European Parliament Think Tank produced an in-depth analysis of Discriminatory Laws Undermining Women’s Rights, detailing the ways that legal reforms have taken place with the aim of accelerating gender equality in the law around the world, citing Equality Now’s efforts.