Global Campaign for Equality in Family Law Urges States to Accelerate Reforms to Laws that Discriminate Against Women

On International Day of Families 2021, the Global Campaign for Equality in Family Law calls on UN member States to work with Generation Equality Forum Action Coalitions and civil society to accelerate their efforts to repeal or reform discriminatory family laws as soon as possible, and by no later than 2030. Discriminatory family laws are at the heart of women’s unequal status within the family, and underpin their unequal treatment in society.

The Global Campaign, through its committee members, have been engaged with contributing to and strengthening the Generation Equality Forum Action Coalition processes to highlight the link between discriminatory family laws and practices that hinder multilateral and national efforts to achieve full gender equality. SDG Indicator 5.1.1 specifically identifies family law as one of four legal frameworks that must be reformed in order to accelerate progress towards achieving gender equality (Target 5.1: “End all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere”). 

There is a growing body of evidence that unearths the pervasive impacts of discriminatory family and customary laws and practices that hinder women and girls’ full realization of their human rights—and underscores the urgent necessity for comprehensive reforms. World Bank data show that many countries ranked at the bottom of gender equality indices for legal equality have family laws that explicitly discriminate against women and girls. A comprehensive cross-country study drew the conclusion that “egalitarian reform of family law may be the most crucial precondition for empowering women economically”.

In the World Bank’s most recent Women, Business and the Law 2021 report, one main finding was that, on average, women have just three-quarters of the legal rights afforded to men, which adversely affects women’s ability to own land and property, to participate in equal numbers in political and economic fora, to exercise full decision-making autonomy over themselves and their children, and more. In instances where law reform has taken place, for example those governing property ownership and inheritance that are often codified under family or personal status laws, discriminatory social norms sometimes hinder its implementation. But this is no excuse for inaction on the part of States. 

During the UN CSW65 side event hosted by the Global Campaign, UN Women Assistant Secretary-General Anita Bhatia summarised how family law reform is fundamental to the enjoyment of human rights: “Can we dream of a different universe where something as basic as equality is something we can take for granted and not something that we have to fight about?” 

As member States pledge to build back better after a year of the COVID-19 pandemic, the role of family laws that discriminate on the basis of gender in exacerbating the hardships caused by the COVID-19 and gendered impacts of the pandemic on women and girls can no longer be ignored. Unfair and unjust family laws that discriminate against women and girls must be repealed or reformed to uphold equality and justice instead. The world’s changing demographics, diverse family structures, and modern roles and responsibilities within families support the urgent demand for more egalitarian laws that better reflect our lived realities. 

We urge States to commit to working with Generation Equality Forum Action Coalition partners and civil society to eliminate gender-discriminatory laws and policies, including discriminatory family laws, and to adopt and implement gender equality laws and policies that ensure all women and girls can claim their full rights, regardless of religion, custom and tradition. We stand ready to support their efforts.

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ABOUT THE GLOBAL CAMPAIGN FOR EQUALITY IN FAMILY LAW 

The Coordination Committee of the Global Campaign for Equality in Family Law is comprised of Act Church of Sweden, Equality Now, The Latin American and Caribbean Committee for the Defense of Women’s Rights (CLADEM), Musawah, Muslims for Progressive Values, Solidarity for African Women’s Rights network (SOAWR) represented by African Women’s Development and Communication Network (FEMNET), Women’s Learning Partnership, and UN Women.

Musawah Contact: Fatima Qureshi, Communications Programme Officer, info@musawah.org

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