13th April 2024

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Global campaign pushes for equality in family laws

3 min read

A global initiative is underway to create and entrench a level playing field on women’s and human rights issues through family law reforms.

The campaign by Equality Now seeks a review of family laws that disadvantage women in economic and political participation. It is unifying and catalysing an international movement, bringing together like-minded advocates for family law reforms.

The rights organisation argues that biased family laws impede economic prosperity of women and their participation in leadership, further widening gender inequality.

“Without equality in the family, we cannot have equality in society. Discriminatory family laws put women and girls at a marked disadvantage, inhibiting their educational attainment, economic participation and opportunity, health and survival and political empowerment,” says Equality Now in a statement.

It adds that unequal family laws do not just impact the individual but also impede economic prosperity and sustainable development at the national and global levels.

Rights protection

The campaign addresses family law as a body of statutes, rules and regulations, court procedures and customary laws and practices that govern relationships within family units. It includes but is not limited to marriage and family relations that fall under Article 16 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

These rights include women and men entering into marriage, divorce, custody and guardianship of children, property rights, as well as equal rights to inheritance. “We are committed to the relentless pursuit of legal equality in the family, as a prerequisite for a world in which every woman and girl can reach their full potential, and countries can enjoy economic prosperity and sustainable development,” the statement adds.

The organisation wants governments to live up to their responsibility to protect and promote the rights of all women and girls within the family.

Last year, a section of rights organisations, for example, raised concerns about failure by family laws in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) to protect women and girls. Millions of women and girls across Mena do not have the security and safety that a family can bring. Discriminatory family laws across the region have been blamed for failing to protect women and girls.

The absence of a unified secular family code in Mena countries has been blamed for deepening discrimination against women, and among women of different religions and sects. Domestic violence in the region is the second-highest worldwide, with 34.5 per cent of married women having experienced a form of violence by an intimate partner.

These numbers record the highest in Egypt, where it is estimated that 86 per cent of married women face spousal abuse and almost half of the young women have faced physical violence from their brothers and fathers.

Legal loopholes and patchy implementation result in 700,000 child brides in Mena every year. One in five girls is married before the age of 18 and one in every 25 is married before the age of 15. The prevalence of child marriage varies among the region’s countries based on social norms and economic situations. The highest percentage is in Yemen (32 per cent), followed by Iraq (24) and Egypt (17 per cent).

Child marriage has increased significantly among Syrian refugees, reaching almost 50 per cent in Turkey, Lebanon (40 per cent) and Jordan at 32 per cent.

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