Gender justice and the law study
Assessment of laws affecting gender equality in the Arab States region
This study is based on the premise that development is endangered if it fails to address gender inequalities. No country will be able to realize the grand promise of Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development when half of its social and economic power is hampered by gender inequalities. The law and the justice system play a central role in guaranteeing equality, not only as a principle but in functional terms as well.
More than a decade ago, The Arab Human Development Report 2005: Towards the Rise of Women in the Arab World warned that “Many laws in the Arab countries discriminate against women. Constitutional provisions for the protection of women’s rights exist in nearly all countries but are often flouted, contradicted by other legislation or not enforced.” The report went on to illustrate a range of discriminatory provisions and practices that “reveal the bias of the Arab legislator against women.”
On the personal status laws
Article 9 of the Constitution clearly stipulates that the State shall “guarantee to its inhabitants, regardless of their community, the respect of their civil status and religious interests”, it provides therefore each religious community with the right to determine their own familial matters.
Consequently, based on this Article, the relevant rules and regulations known as the personal status laws vary between the 18 Christian and Muslim communities, and the 15 religious courts. This reality resulted in a clear disparity in family affairs (marriage, divorce, alimony, custody and guardianship) among communities which consecrates the discrimination between all citizens who, in this case, are no longer equal citizens subject to one law, but “confessional” beings whose private family affairs are controlled by religious bodies instead of civil authorities.
However, no matter how different the legal texts governing the personal status are, religious legislations and courts agree on two things:
First: They are slow in accompanying change and coping with human rights principles.
Second: They insist on discriminating against women, in text and in practice, and on subjecting women to the authority of men be they husbands, fathers or even uncles and grandfathers.
Hence, the 2015 campaign slogan within the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence “An Archaic Law cannot Govern us Today” which reminds us that it is unacceptable to keep unchanged these outdated laws which are, for most of them, over half a century old and which are “archaic” and patriarchal. It is unthinkable not to have a unified personal status law, one that is single, fair and that equates between partners.