Women still facing discriminatory laws

Posted by Mark Turner under Human Rights Education on 12 March 2005

Ten years after 189 countries agreed to reject laws that explicitly discriminate against women, several countries still have such laws in place. Laws in many countries "condone practices such as honour killings, marital rape and wife beating."

Several governments are still failing to repeal laws that explicitly discriminate against women, a decade after 189 countries agreed at a United Nations conference in Beijing to remove them.

At a meeting to review progress since Beijing, Equality Now, a human rights group, warned that despite a number of significant legal reforms, a sampling of 45 countries showed that many discriminatory laws were still in place.

The New York event was intended to reaffirm the Beijing goals for women's rights before a summit of world leaders in September.

A draft declaration to be issued at the end of the New York meeting urges governments to focus on women's welfare in their efforts to meet a wider global goal of halving poverty by 2015.

But it has been marred by controversy over US demands for the declaration to specify that the Beijing conference did not assert abortion as a right.

European governments and non-governmental organisations fear that reopening debate on abortion would dilute pressure on offending governments to implement their promises of reform in other areas of concern to women.

"Although 10 years ago in Beijing governments pledged to revoke these laws, few have done so," Equality Now said, at an event moderated by actress Meryl Streep. That was often despite formal equality under most countries' constitutions.

Equality Now said women were still subjected to state sanctioned violence in many countries "because laws condone practices such as honour killings, marital rape and wife beating".

It added that "in several countries laws are a severe impediment to women's independence because they restrict women's property, employment and citizenship rights".

In India, the penal code did not provide punishment for marital rape, it said. In Lebanon, prosecution for rape was stopped if a legal marriage was concluded after the event. In Syria a man who caught his wife committing adultery and killed her was exempt from penalty. In Lesotho, no immovable property could be registered in the name of a woman.

In Japan, it noted different standards for men and women in marriage. In Chile, the civil code said the marital partnership was to be headed by the husband.

There were some grounds for hope, however, with 13 out of 45 countries reviewed amending discriminatory laws, including Colombia, Ethiopia and Morocco.

Sources and Relevant Links:

FT.Com Women still facing discriminatory laws March 4 2005

UN Wires Several countries still have laws against women

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