Legal Equality for Women and Men Is the First Step to a Better World

Growing up in Pakistan, the defining moment in my life came when I was 10 and laws were changed to make women effectively second class citizens -- they were not able to sign financial documents or give evidence on their own. They could get flogged for being raped. I believe this set the course for the problems Pakistan is experiencing today.

The law makes a critical difference. It is a statement of your worth as a citizen and influences the direction your life will take. We knew this 20 years ago when we advocated for gender equality before the law at the Fourth World Conference in Beijing in 1995. 

This conference offered a watershed moment when governments pledged to "revoke any remaining laws that discriminate on the basis of sex." Ambitions were high, and the UN General Assembly even set a target date of 2005 for fulfilling these pledges. 

Twenty years later, just over half of the discriminatory laws documented in our periodic reports have been changed. In Morocco and Argentina, rapists can no longer escape punishment by marrying or settling with their victims.  

Kenyan, Senegalese, and Surinamese women can now pass their citizenship to their children and spouses on the same basis as men. Iraqi women can get a passport without needing a man's permission. Australian women can now apply for all jobs in the military. Bolivian women have less restrictions on their employment and married Swazi women can register property in their own name. However, many sex discriminatory laws remain on the books. And, alarmingly, new discriminatory laws are being enacted, such as Kenya's 2014 Marriage Act, which permits polygamy.  

Since 1992, Equality Now has worked tirelessly with activists around the world to ensure that women and girls are treated equally and have access to justice. I have seen first-hand the positive impact that a sense of equal worth and dignity has on girls and women. Each discriminatory law that is repealed gives new chances and new hope to women and girls -- girls like 13-year-old Makeda who was abducted, raped and forced into marriage. 

The man who abducted and raped Makeda was enabled by Ethiopia's law that allowed a rapist to go free if he married his victim. This law was repealed because of Makeda's bravery in taking her case to court and showing society the immense harm that such a law does to girls, as well as intense campaigning by Ethiopian groups partnering with Equality Now

However, governments should not wait for brave victims of unjust laws to come forward, and they should not wait for individual campaigns against each and every sex discriminatory law. They should do the right thing and proactively remove all sex discriminatory laws.

It is our hope that the post-2015 development framework will reflect the need for all governments to guarantee legal equality and repeal all sex discriminatory laws as central to global advancement. In recent years international financial institutions, such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, have understood the role that equality for women and men in the family plays in promoting economic prosperity. Even more critically, research has shown direct links between gender equality and the level of peacefulness in a society. 

We all want to live in a just world, a prosperous world and a peaceful world. This International Women's Day is yet another great opportunity for all governments to take a concrete step in this direction by reviewing their legislation and removing all laws that discriminate on the basis of sex. 

Please take action now on Equality Now's website and help make the world a better place for everyone.