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We believe that legal equality is the first step towards gender equality, yet almost every country in the world has laws that treat people differently on the basis of sex.

Overview

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. 

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 and girls are legitimized, and become endemic.

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. This involves:

  • 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.

Equality Now’s work on achieving legal equality at a glance

Reforming discriminatory laws. Almost 60% of the discriminatory laws we’ve highlighted since 1999 have been fully or partially reformed

Campaigning for equal nationality rights. We are a founding Steering Committee member of the Global Campaign for Equal Nationality Rights, and several countries we’ve highlighted since 2013 have made full or partial reforms

Demanding equality in the family. We are a founding Coordination Committee member of the Global Campaign for Equality in Family Law, which despite the COVID-19 pandemic, has mobilized international attention around the issue since launching in March 2020

We are committed to holding governments accountable for changing or removing their unfair laws, in line with the Beijing Platform for Action and other international laws and commitments, including reforming laws covering: 

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.  

Economic status

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.

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.

Personal status

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.

In addition, constitutional equality is essential at the national level as constitutions are the highest law of the land – and sometimes constitutions, or other laws, allow exceptions for customary or religious law which may be sex discriminatory.  Or, as in the case of the United States, no constitutional sex equality provision exists, with negative consequences for all.

Equality and equal protection under the law are fundamental to creating a happier, fairer, more just, and more prosperous world for everyone.

Our work

Learn more

Key resources

Words and Deeds: Beijing+25 Report

02 March 2020

The 4th UN Conference on Women in 1995 was the birth of The Beijing Platform for Action, the most progressive blueprint ever …

The State We’re In: Ending Sexism in Nationality Laws – 2022 Edition – Update for a Disrupted World

07 July 2022

We have seen good progress in achieving equality in nationality laws with 19 countries making partial or full legal reforms a…

Litigating the Maputo Protocol: A Compendium of Strategies and Approaches for Defending the Rights of Women in Africa

17 December 2020

Litigating the Maputo Protocol: A Compendium of Strategies and Approaches for Defending the Rights of Women and Girls in Afri…

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Discriminatory laws

More than 25 years ago, governments around the world pledged to change or remove their existing unfair laws and make legal equality a reality. But that goal is far from being realized. Equality Now is committed to holding governments accountable for their promises, creating a better world for women and girls.

DR Congo – Law 87-010 on the Family Code

Country: Democratic Republic of CongoLaw status: Discriminatory law in forceLaw Type: Marriage, Divorce, Polygamy & Wife Obedience Sex discrimination in marital status laws renders women and girls subordinate in many …

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Syria – The Penal Code

Country: Syria Law status: Repealed Law Type: Honor Killings Article 548 (amended in 2009 and 2011) of Syria’s Penal Code allows for a lesser punishment, capped at 7 years’ imprisonment, for men who kill their wives, sisters, mothers or …

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UAE – Federal Law No. 28 of 2005 of the UAE Personal Affairs Law

Article 334 of the Federal Law No. 28 of 2005 of the UAE Personal Affairs Law prescribes that males inherit twice as much as females where there are both male and female heirs. Country: United Arab …

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Join

None of us can afford to sit back and wait for equality to arrive – we need to act now. Only by working together will we achieve the legal and systemic change needed to address violence and discrimination against women and girls.


Take action to demand legal equality

Eliminate the ERA Deadline

Surprisingly, women are not protected by the U.S. Constitution. Join our campaign to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment by calling on your Senators to support the elimination of the ERA deadline. Take action today and tell Congress there is #NoDeadlineOnEquality …

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Lebanon: Give women equal citizenship rights to men under the nationality law

Lebanese nationality laws discriminate against women, preventing them from passing on their nationality to their children and spouses on an equal basis with men. This law has caused Lebanese women …

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Jordan: Give women equal citizenship rights to men

“(My mother is) Jordanian & her nationality is my right.” 28 MARCH 2018 UPDATE:  “My children are in deep depression, despair and stress all the time. My 23 –year- old son is planning to immigrate to Canada after he …

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