Discrimination against women is prohibited under women's rights treaties and under human rights covenants, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. Against this background, any national law that includes discrimination against women and does not ensure gender equality is considered as not in line with international obligations.
The laws reviewed under this indicator include the penal code, the personal status law, the family code, the nationality law, the labor law, where discrimination still pertains. The most important common features of legislation that need to be brought up to these standards are predominantly relating to family laws and penal codes. Those related to the penal code are linked to marital rape that is still not penalized, except in Tunisia, yet not explicitly. The penal codes in all index countries have provisions that consider extramarital sex between consenting adults (adultery) an offense. The criminalization of sexual relations between consenting adults is a violation of their right to privacy, infringing the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Research shows that maintaining adultery as a criminal offense is directed mostly against women and girls and the penalty almost always discriminates against women both in law and practice, even when penal code definitions appear gender neutral and prohibit adultery by both men and women. The CEDAW Committee and the HRC Committee have pointed out that adultery provisions must be repealed so that women are not deterred from reporting rapes by fears that their claims will be associated with a crime of adultery. In 2012 the UN Working Group on Discrimination against women in law and in practice issued a call to governments to repeal laws7.
Personal status laws do not provide equal rights to women and men in marriage and divorce, except in Tunisia. They are discriminating particularly on the question of polygamy, which remains allowed by law, except in Tunisia, even if the consent of the first wife is sometimes requested, as in Algeria and Morocco. Discrimination against women is also maintained in the field of inheritance, as women, in all these countries, inherit less than the men’s share.
Abortion is still prohibited in all countries except in Tunisia. Moreover, in Lebanon, Jordan, and Palestine, abortion is prohibited even for women who have been raped.
The penal codes in the index countries do not consider prostitution as sexual exploitation and a form of violence against women, and a major obstacle to achieving gender equality. The penal codes criminalize both women in prostitution, pimps, and clients and therefore women in prostitution are deprived of the protection of violence and sexual exploitation. CEDAW is unequivocal that trafficking and prostitution are linked to the exploitation of women. Article 6 states that “States Parties shall take all appropriate measures, including legislation, to suppress all forms of traffic in women and exploitation of the prostitution of women.”
Jordan and Lebanon keep discrimination under nationality laws, not allowing women to pass on their citizenship to their children or husband in the same way as men.
Labour laws in all countries include legal restrictions on women’s employment predominantly linked to night work or occupations considered “arduous” or “hazardous”.
7See “Joint Statement by the United Nations Working Group on discrimination against women in law and in practice” of 18 October 2012,see http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=12672&LangID=E