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.
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is pleased to report that more than half of the laws highlighted in our previous reports have been fully or partially repealed or amended (see Annex).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.