by Liz Ford, crossposted from The Guardian
More than 130 of 143 countries have gender equality laws, 142 grant equal rights for men and women on property ownership and 129 have laws preventing women from being sacked while pregnant. Some form of parental leave is offered in almost all countries when women give birth, and in 116 countries daughters have equal inheritance rights as sons.
But only 76 countries have legislation that specifically addresses domestic violence – and just 57 of them include sexual abuse. Sixty countries offer equal pay, and in 10 countries women are legally bound to obey their husbands.
Of 194 countries, 187 allow abortion in certain circumstances, although the practice is illegal in five countries – Chile, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Malta and Nicaragua – and subject to severe restrictions in many others
Using data from the World Bank and the UN, we’ve created an interactive that offers a snapshot of how women’s rights are legislated around the world.
We specifically looked at laws related to domestic violence, harassment, abortion, property and employment rights, as well as constitutional laws on discrimination and equality. Countries from across Europe, Africa, Asia and Latin America are included.
All the figures, except those on abortion, are drawn from the World Bank’s 2013 data, and cover 143 countries. The data on abortion are the latest figures from the UN department of economic and social affairs, compiled in 2011 and including 194 countries.
Despite some worrying omissions, the figures reflect a growing acceptance of women’s rights. However, getting legislation passed is just one hurdle to improving the lives of women. There is still a huge gulf between what is written on the statute books and women’s reality.
“We see that even if the countries where rights are recognised, implementation is limited and sometimes doesn’t exist,” says Vanina Serra, a programme officer at Mama Cash, an international women’s fund that supports the rights of women, girls and transgender people.
“There are several obstacles we see through the work of our grantees in accessing justice. The main one is very often the lack of knowledge of women’s rights and how to access the justice systems itself. There is widespread mistrust towards the justice system.” In some countries, the police and judiciary will dismiss women when they want to report offences, and the cost of taking a case to court can be prohibitively expensive, Serra adds.
Often, the organisations to which Mama Cash awards grants are involved in training women about their rights. “Usually women, girls and transgender people are not aware they have rights. Their experience of violence becomes normal to them. There’s a lot of work to do in raising awareness.”
Lee Webster, head of policy and influencing at NGO Womankind, said the hard work begins once the legislative process ends. “We want laws, but the bigger thing is getting them implemented and that goes right to local level. If they are not understood by local police and judiciary, they might as well not exist.”
Srilatha Batliwala, a lead adviser on the Bridge Gender and Social Movements programme at the UK Institute of Development Studies, and an associate scholar at the Association for Women’s Rights in Development, agrees. She says the women’s movement has, rightly, spent years campaigning for legal reform and addressing gender bias in existing laws, but the focus needs to shift to changing attitudes and the social factors that prevent women from exercising their rights. The power of the law to overcome these forces should not be overestimated, she adds.
“The people who actually administer the law are carrying a lot of gender bias,” Batliwala says. She agrees with the words of a feminist judge at a high court in India, who said the problem was that the country’s laws were 100 years ahead of its society. “This is a challenge. To make the law real to people, we now have to work on people, not the law.”
Batliwala says there needs to be a wider support base to push for change. “These aren’t women’s issues, these are everybody’s issues. We can’t make the change by ourselves. We need the other side to get on board … Unless we get a wider spectrum of groups saying no this has got to stop, it’s not going to stop, it’s going to get worse.”