About Beijing+20

In 1995, at the historic UN 4th World Conference on Women, 189 governments agreed on a comprehensive roadmap – the Beijing Platform for Action – to advance women’s rights and achieve gender equality. In it States declared that laws which discriminate against women undermine equality and pledged to “revoke any remaining laws that discriminate on the basis of sex.” Yet inequality, even in its most overt form, has not been vanquished. In 2000, the General Assembly reviewed the Platform for Action and established a target date of 2005 to revoke all discriminatory laws. This target was far from met.

Equality Now co-founders Navi Pillay and Jessica  Neuwirth at the 4th World Conference on Women,  Beijing 1995

2015 marks both the 20th anniversary of the adoption of the Beijing Platform for Action and the adoption by States of a new post-2015 development framework to eradicate poverty and to promote equality globally. Governments must turn words into deeds and finally repeal or amend all laws that discriminate on the basis of sex so the next generation of women and girls can enjoy their rights and live as equal partners in society. Without good laws women and girls have no formal recourse to protect and promote their rights and cannot fully participate in society. Legal equality is also essential to meeting internationally agreed upon development goals for the greater inclusion and prosperity of all peoples.

In our advocacy reports, Words and Deeds – Holding Governments Accountable in the Beijing Review Process, published in 1999, 2004, 2010 and 2015, Equality Now highlights a sampling of explicitly discriminatory laws relating to: marital status (marriage, divorce, polygamy, wife obedience); personal status (citizenship, weight of court testimony, travel, prostitution); economic status (inheritance, property, employment) and in addressing violence against women (rape, domestic violence, “honor” killings). Such laws demonstrate the clear disrespect of governments for the fundamental right of women and girls to equality and an official endorsement of women and girls as people of lesser worth.

Equality Now is pleased to report that more than half of the laws highlighted in our previous reports have been fully or partially repealed or amended (see Annex). Among the countries that have made reforms are Algeria, Argentina, Australia, the Bahamas, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ethiopia, France, Guatemala, Haiti, India, Iraq, Jordan, Kenya, Kuwait, Latvia, Lesotho, Malaysia, Mexico, Monaco, Morocco, Nepal, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Poland, Republic of Korea, Romania, Serbia and Montenegro, Swaziland, Switzerland, Tonga, Turkey, Uruguay and Venezuela.

However, many other discriminatory laws previously highlighted remain in force. And, new ones continue to be adopted, such as Kenya’s Marriage Act No. 4 of 2014. Other countries had the opportunity to fulfill their pledge while revising their laws recently but failed to remove the discrimination (e.g. the United Kingdom, Mali and Iran). These examples are included in this report.

In 2013 Equality Now took an in-depth look at on one type of personal status law in our report, Campaign to End Sex Discrimination in Nationality and Citizenship Laws. The report shows countries that do not allow women to pass their nationality to their children or spouses on the same basis as men, and the harmful effects of these discriminatory laws, with a call to governments to change such laws. Since its publication, several countries have amended their laws, including Austria, Senegal and Suriname – others are on their way to doing the same. There is now a global initiative to end gender discrimination in nationality laws, which is building momentum among governments to amend such laws in line with the Beijing Platform for Action and other international obligations. With genuine government commitment, revocation of sex discriminatory laws can be easily achieved. In 2014, Equality Now published Protecting the Girl Child – Using the law to end child, early and forced marriage and related human rights violations. In it we call on governments to take a comprehensive approach to ending child marriage, which affects nearly 15 million girls each year, including by raising the minimum age of marriage for women to 18. In a 2014 UN resolution, the world proclaimed ending child marriage as a priority and an essential element to promoting equality and reducing global poverty in the post-2015 sustainable development framework. We must now ensure change is achieved.

All governments need to review and amend their laws as a matter of urgency to protect all people’s civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights protected under the Beijing Platform for Action and other international obligations.

What You Can Do:

  • Urge heads of state in this report to amend or repeal all sex discriminatory laws and fulfill their commitment to the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action and gender equality. You can take action at www.equalitynow.org/beijing20.
  • Write your President or Prime Minister and ask them to review the legislation in your country to amend all laws that discriminate against women or have a discriminatory impact on women. You can find a sample letter to download at www.equalitynow.org/beijing20/sample_letter.
  • Spread the word and increase the impact! Share this campaign with your networks to hold governments accountable to their international legal obligation to ensure gender equality.
  • Join the movement to end sex discrimination in nationality and child marriage laws by taking Action at www.equalitynow.org.


This report was made possible by the collective effort of a talented team of many individuals and organizations around the world. Equality Now would especially like to thank:

The Karsten Family Foundation for its support of our Discrimination in Law program.

Tanya Sukhija, 2013-2014 UCLA Legal Fellow, for her generous contribution of time and resources in researching and drafting this report.

Amy Thesing Design and Grand Junction Design

Translators: Business Language Inc., Thomas Forycki and Waafa Wahba

Lakshmi Anantnarayan
Dee Ashely, via Flickr Creative Commons license
Suzanna Finley, www.suzannafinley.com
Lena Stein, www.lenastein.com