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Gender Equality in Family Law

This week, International Women's Day was celebrated by women all around the world, and yet gender equality with regards to family law is increasingly far from reach in some of the world's most selective countries, particularly the Middle East.

A feminist organisation, The Global Campaign for Equality in Family Law, proposes that in reforming inequitable laws concerned with marriage, divorce and custody (the breadth of family law), "we can achieve enduring equality for women and girls." When societal discrimination towards women encompasses itself into the legal system, however, this cannot be achieved on a fundamental level.

One such example is Bangladesh's marital rape laws, which essentially offers no legal protection for women who have been victim to rape by their husbands. Section 375 of The Penal Code is far too explicit in its defining: "sexual intercourse by a man with his own wife, the wife not being under thirteen years of age, is not rape."

Equally disappointing is Article 23 of the Personal Status Act in Yemen, which only requires express consent to marriage in the event that the woman has previously married. For those who have not been previously espoused, silence acts as sufficient consent to marriage, leaving girls as young as seven years old – as Yemen has no minimum age for marrying – vulnerable to forced marriage. It is therefore unsurprising that Yemen ranks second-to-last (to Afghanistan) on the World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap Report 2021.

Most recently, Iran faced an uproar of protest after the media reported on the murder of 17-year-old Mona Heydari by her husband. This is traditionally known as an 'honour killing' - a brutal crime committed by family members to preserve their prestige or status after, perhaps, a woman refuses a forced marriage, is raped or engages in sexual activities. Mona's murder precisely examples the consequences of a lack of legal protection in family law for young women. How many more are to be sacrificed before the law changes?

Elham Azad, a female lawmaker, exemplifies this in her remark: "there is no law."

Family ideals of women as 'property' have been a grim part of society for centuries; it is when these outdated, patriarchal conventions are enshrined in the very basis of society - our laws - that the dignity and liberties of women around the world are effectively compromised. While laws cannot fully transform societal perceptions that have been set for decades, they enable change. As such, it is vital for the laws that govern us to be more inclusive to the people they represent - women.



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