Women in many parts of the world still have very little or no choices on their own lives and are victims of systemic gender discrimination. Historically, no country in the world had similar rights and laws for men and women. Women had to fight for equal rights and access in every aspect of life – starting from voting rights to rights to inherit property, or even to drive cars!
According to a World Bank Report, even now in over 100 countries, women are restricted from doing certain work solely because of gender discrimination. Out of 173 countries, only 18 are free of any legal discrimination between men and women! These 18 countries are Armenia, Canada, the Dominican Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Kosovo, Malta, Mexico, Namibia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Peru, Puerto Rico, the territory of the United States, Serbia, the Slovak Republic, South Africa, Spain, Taiwan, and China.
Some of the important areas still widely affected by discrimination are lack of legal protection from sexual and domestic violence, inheritance and succession rights, rights to passing the Citizenship to children, and even women’s rights to work.
Rights to passing citizenship to children
Women are viewed and treated like second class citizens in many countries. There are 27 countries, where the laws do not allow married women to pass citizenship to their children as fathers can and 44 do not allow married women to pass citizenship to their spouses as married men can. The majority of these States are in the Middle East and North Africa (twelve countries) and Sub-Saharan Africa (eight countries). A mother’s inability to pass her citizenship to her children may mean that they cannot access services, such as free public education or health care. It may also mean that when children seek jobs, immigration laws will not allow them to work. Gender inequality in nationality laws can create statelessness where children cannot acquire nationality from their fathers.
Mandatory male guardians
In Saudi Arabia, all females must have a male guardian, typically a father, brother, husband, or uncle (mahram). Girls and women are forbidden from traveling, conducting official business, or undergoing certain medical procedures without permission from their male guardians. Women are not allowed to leave the house without a male accompany
Women need their guardian’s permission for:
- Opening a bank account
- Elective surgery, particularly when sexual in nature
- Marriage and divorce
Additional restrictions on married women
In 18 countries women still cannot get a job if their husbands feel it is not in the family’s interest; these countries are – Bahrain, Bolivia, Cameroon, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Guinea, Iran, Jordan, Kuwait, Mauritania, Niger, Qatar, Sudan, Syria, UAE, West Bank, and Gaza and Yemen. In Egypt, a woman can lose her right to receive financial support from her husband if she works without his consent
In the Democratic Republic of Congo and Ghana women cannot open a bank account without their husband’s consent.
In ten countries, married women need to provide additional documentation than a married man to get a National ID.
The table below lists some of the major systemic discrimination applicable for married women and the countries where these restrictions are applicable:
|Action||Countries where married women cannot perform some actions in the same way as married men||count of Countries|
|Applying for a passport||Afghanistan | Algeria | Bahrain | Barbados | Belize | Benin | Botswana | Cameroon | Congo, Rep. | Dominica | Egypt, Arab Rep. | Fiji Gabon | Grenada | Haiti | Iran, Islamic Rep. | Iraq | Jordan | Malawi | Mali | Myanmar | Oman | Pakistan | Philippines | Saudi Arabia Seychelles | St. Vincent and the Grenadines | Sudan | Trinidad and Tobago | Uganda | United Arab Emirates | Yemen, Rep.|
|Being head of household||Bahrain | Benin | Burundi | Cameroon | Chad | Chile | Congo, Dem. Rep. | Congo, Rep. | Djibouti | Gabon | Guinea | Honduras Indonesia | Iran, Islamic Rep. | Iraq | Jordan | Madagascar | Mali | Mauritania | Morocco | Niger | Oman | Philippines | Rwanda Saudi Arabia | Senegal | Sudan | Tunisia | United Arab Emirates | Yemen, Rep|
|Choosing where to live||Afghanistan | Bahrain | Benin | Brunei Darussalam | Burkina Faso | Cameroon | Chad | Congo, Dem. Rep. | Congo, Rep. Equatorial Guinea | Gabon | Guinea | Haiti | Iran, Islamic Rep. | Iraq | Jordan | Kuwait | Malaysia | Mali | Niger | Oman | Qatar Rwanda | Saudi Arabia | Senegal | Sudan | Syrian Arab Republic | United Arab Emirates | West Bank and Gaza | Yemen, Rep.|
|Conferring citizenship to children||Bahamas, The | Bahrain | Barbados | Brunei Darussalam | Guinea | Iran, Islamic Rep. | Iraq Jordan | Kuwait | Lebanon | Madagascar | Malaysia | Mauritania | Nepal | Oman | Qatar Saudi Arabia | Sudan | Swaziland | Syrian Arab Republic | United Arab Emirates West Bank and Gaza|
|Getting a job without permission||Bahrain | Bolivia | Cameroon | Chad | Congo, Dem. Rep. | Gabon | Guinea Iran, Islamic Rep. | Jordan | Kuwait | Mauritania | Niger | Qatar | Sudan Syrian Arab Republic | United Arab Emirates | West Bank and Gaza Yemen, Rep.|
|Travelling outside the home||Afghanistan | Bahrain | Brunei Darussalam | Egypt, Arab Rep. Iran, Islamic Rep. | Iraq | Jordan | Kuwait | Malaysia | Oman Qatar | Saudi Arabia | Sudan | Syrian Arab Republic United Arab Emirates | West Bank and Gaza | Yemen, Rep.|
|Obtaining a national identity card||Afghanistan | Algeria | Benin | Cameroon Egypt, Arab Rep. | Mauritius | Oman Pakistan | Saudi Arabia | Senegal|
|Travelling outside the country|
Iran, Islamic Rep. | Iraq Qatar | Saudi Arabia Sudan | Syrian Arab Republic
|Registering a business|
Bhutan | Congo, Dem. Rep. Pakistan Suriname
|Opening a bank account||Congo, Dem. Rep. Niger|
|Signing a contract|
Congo, Dem. Rep. Equatorial Guinea
Restriction on women’s work:
At least 100 countries have some restrictions on working hours, sectors and occupations limit only for women, and some countries directly prohibit women from holding particular jobs. Many Sub-Saharan African economies, and at least 8 OECD high-income economies have such restrictions. The OECD high-income countries that restrict the jobs women can do are Chile, Czech Republic, France, Israel, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Poland and Slovenia.
Currently, women are prohibited from working in 456 specified jobs in Russia, ranging from driving a truck to woodworking!
Restrictions on work and sector can have a significant impact on the earning potentials of income. In fact, many of the jobs prohibited for women are in highly paid industries, such as mining and manufacturing. Below are some of the examples of different types of work prohibited by women in certain countries
|Country||Occupation prohibited to women|
Producing or manipulating explosives, flammable or corrosive materials, or working in or around such areas; working as a machinist or fire-stoker; selling distilled or fermented alcoholic beverages in any location or space in which they are dispensed; distilling alcohol and producing or mixing liquors; sizing or polishing glass, working in any location or site that regularly contains dust or irritating or toxic vapors; greasing or cleaning machinery in movement; loading or unloading ships, cranes or derricks; transporting incandescent materials.
Women may not carry loads greater than 25 kilograms or transport loads of greater than 45 kilograms with a wheelbarrow
Preparing, handling and selling printed literature, posters, drawings, engravings, paintings, emblems, images and other objects whose sale, offer, exposure, display or distribution is punishable under criminal laws or, that without falling afoul of the law, are contrary to morality
Working in the same room as a cotton-opener in a factory; working inside any factory to clean, lubricate or adjust any part of machinery while that part is in motion, or working between moving parts or between fixed and moving parts of any machinery.
Truck driver in agriculture; freight train conductor; deckhand (boatswain, skipper, assistant skipper and sailors of all denominations) on ships of all types of fleets as well as floating docks and cranes for loading grain, cement, coal and other dusty cargo; worker in integrated teams and longshoreman engaged in loading and unloading in ports and harbors; woodworker; installer of antennas at high places; mining rig operator; operator of chemical treatment of wells; lift machinist in oil and gas industry; bulldozer machinist; plumber involving the repair of sewer networks; metal and alloy smelter; driver of loading machine; pipe, furnace and flue cleaner; controller of speed of train wagons
|United Arab Emirates|
Manufacturing lead monoxide or a number of other lead derivatives and compounds; working in the asphalt industry, tanneries, or in bars; working with fertilizer derived from animal droppings or blood; welding by oxygen, ethylene, or electricity; making mercury mirrors; extracting silver from lead ashes; cleaning the workshops used for the three previous jobs; managing and monitoring mechanical machines; repairing or cleaning mechanical machines; flaying, chopping, and depilating animals and melting their fats; manufacturing charcoal from the bones of animals except the operation of isolating the bones before burning them.
Violence against women
There are still 46 countries where there is no legal protection against domestic violence and 41 countries with no laws against sexual harassment! However, the report says, 1 in 3 women worldwide have experienced physical or sexual violence at least once in her lifetime- mostly by intimate partners.
In Saudi Arabia and some other Arab countries, there is no law against domestic violence against women. Rape victims risk being charged with adultery. A survey conducted by the Government of Egypt showed a huge percentage of young women thought to beat the wives for “talking back” to a husband, talking to another man, spending too much money, burning the dinner is acceptable.
In 2014, Lebanon adopted Law 293 on the Protection of Women and Family Members from Domestic Violence—the only law in the Middle East and North Africa to cover all four forms of violence.
In Nigeria, the beating of a wife for ‘the purpose of correction’ is legal by the use of (Section 55 (1) (d) of the Penal Code)!
In Russia, in 2017, domestic violence was re-classified from a criminal to an administrative offence. Under the new legislation, abusers can avoid jail time, and instead pay fine, and if the victim has suffered no lasting harm, such as a broken bone or concussion if it was not a repetitive offense. Men are legally allowed to batter their wives without causing hospitalization!
In Egypt, law allows a man to kill his wife if he catches her in an act of adultery.
In Lebanon, any man who commits a “kidnapping, rape or statutory rape can’t be prosecuted as long as he marries the victim afterward.”
In Malta, the law says “after abducting a person, shall marry such person, he shall not be liable to prosecution,”! If the marriage occurs after a trial and conviction, the abductor’s sentence will immediately be wiped.
In India, marital rape, when the wife and husband live together is not considered to be a crime.
There are 5 countries – Three in Hispanic America (Dominican Republic, El Salvador, and Nicaragua) and two in Europe (Malta and the Vatican City) where abortion is banned and illegal under any circumstance. Women do not have any right to terminate a pregnancy at any stage, even if the pregnancy is a result of rape or is life-threatening for the mother!
Inheritance and succession laws
In many patrilineal societies, women and girls do not have equal inheritance and succession rights as men. Legal systems in some countries do not allow females to inherit property and land on an equal basis with males; in some countries, inheritance is totally patrilineal.
In 35 countries married women do not have the same inheritance rights after their husband’s death, as their male counterparts. Sometimes, women are forced to give up the inheritances they receive after their husband’s death. In many sub-Saharan African countries, colonial laws, constitutional laws, and traditional “customary” laws may be in conflict, making it hard to ascertain precisely what rights women have. In many traditional societies in sub-Saharan Africa, land use, housing, and the transfer of land and housing between generations is regulated by customary law, which largely excludes women from property ownership and inheritance. Women do not have knowledge about their property rights or resources about the legal system. Most find themselves struggling against public beliefs that property ownership is an exclusively male domain.
Having equal laws is not the only factor contributing to gender equality. In many countries having laws on paper does not ensure equal rights for women. True equality by proper enforcement and implementation of the laws depends on several factors. Even when the laws are in place, it takes a very long time for people to realize the importance of a new law before implementing it, especially when the law contradicts age-old beliefs and systems. In most of the courtiers, some harmful social customs are widely practiced even after they were declared illegal. Integration between cultural believes and the legal system is a huge challenge in all societies.
But, when the State or the System fails to provide equal protection, rights, and respect to both women and men, it significantly impacts the social and economic condition of a country and can have far-reaching consequences. Such widespread disparity in the legal system across the cultures is a wake-up call for all stakeholders to the reality that we still have a lot to cover to reach the Global Gender Equality Goals by 2030.