Marital Status - Equality Now
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Marital Status

Sex discriminatory marital status laws can result in girls being married off at a younger age than boys and facing potentially lifelong harmful consequences.

Sex discrimination in marital laws 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.

What is discrimination in marital status? 

Sex discrimination in marital laws include: 

  • Inequalities between husband and wife 
  • Divorce 
  • Polygamy 
  • Wife Obedience 
  • Lack of minimum age for marriage, leading to child marriage

What is the Impact on Women and Girls?

Sex discriminatory marital status laws can result in girls being married off at a younger age than boys and facing potentially lifelong harmful consequences. Women in polygamous marriages may face severe financial loss, including inheritance rights, and potentially fatal health problems such as HIV/ AIDS due to their husband having multiple sexual partners. If women and girls are required under the law to “obey” their husbands and/or male guardians they may face violence, including marital rape, and be prevented from leaving the home, working, choosing where to live, and be treated less equally by other family members. If women and girls are not able to divorce as easily as men they may be trapped in abusive marriages, and when they do divorce they may face losing custody of their children. Men may be designated the “head of household,” unilaterally making decisions, determining, for example, where the family lives.

What Needs To Change 

States should take immediate steps to end discrimination against women in family laws and practices to respect, protect and realize women’s and girls’ rights to equality in the family regardless of the source of family law, be it codified, religious or customary. 

Beijing Platform for Action Recommendations

Strategic Objective 1.2. Ensure equality and non-discrimination under the law and in practice.

Actions to be taken by Governments:

• 232(d) - Review national laws, including customary laws and legal practices in the areas of family, civil, penal, labor, and commercial law in order to ensure the implementation of the principles and procedures of all relevant international human rights instruments by means of national legislation, revoke any remaining laws that discriminate on the basis of sex and remove gender bias in the administration of justice.

The UN Working Group on discrimination against women and girls has highlighted that failure to ensure the equality of women and girls within the family undermines any attempt to ensure their equality in all areas of society. In its 2018 report to the Human Rights Council, the UN Working Group emphasized that “equality in the private domain - the family - remains one of the biggest hurdles to achieving gender equality.”