Legal protection has not prevented women and girls from being discriminated against
Equal treatment between women and men is a fundamental necessity under the law. Equal treatment ensures that women and girls enjoy equal opportunities and rights compared to their male counterparts. However, different societies in the developed and developing economies are characterised by prevalence of different forms of discrimination against women and girls, which constitutes violation of human rights. For example, the United Nations cites violence against women and girls as one of the most prevalent forms of discrimination against women in the Asian countries (Great Britain 2008). Therefore, implementing a well-functioning legal system comprised of laws that restrict discrimination is critical in promoting equality between the male and female genders. According to Chatterjee (2013), laws and legal systems should provide a mechanism for preventing, punishing and remedying instances of discrimination against women and girls.
Lack of an effective legal system increases the vulnerability of women and girls to discrimination. According to Equality Now (2016), ‘amending or repealing discriminatory laws may not eliminate discrimination entirely and enacting laws that promote gender equality may not automatically create equality’ (p.1). This aspect underlines the fact that the effectiveness of laws and the legal systems in preventing discrimination against women and girls depends on states appreciation on the importance of equality and commitment in ensuring that the stipulated laws and policies on discrimination are upheld. Considering these aspects, this paper evaluates the view that legal protection has not prevented women and girls from being discriminated against. The evaluation presents arguments that illustrate the extent to which this assertion is true.
Lack of laws that prevent discrimination against women
One of the major factors that have increased discrimination against women and girls relate to absence of laws that govern discriminative practices. Despite the fact that some societies have formulated laws aimed at promoting human rights, some states do not have laws that restrict discriminative practices against women. This gap has greatly increased perpetration of unethical and illegal practices against women and children. For example, under the international human rights law, Female Genital Mutilation is categorised as form of discrimination against women and women because it deprives them the right of equal enjoyment (Toubia & Rahman 2000). FGM signifies that women and girls have a subordinate role in the society, viz. the roles of being a mother and wife (Kramarae & Spender 2004). According to Toubia and Rahman (2000), the purpose of FGM is to reinforce the inferior role of women in the social, political and cultural realms. Similarly, child marriage is another prevalent practice that increases discrimination against girls and women. For example, girls in Saudi Arabia are not legally protected against early marriage (Vlieger 2012). Thus, men can marry-off their girl children at will. According to the United Nations (2007), child marriage hinders girls’ right to education.
In spite of knowledge on such discriminative practices, some countries such as Yemen have not entrenched laws to curb such practices. Lack of such laws indicates that some governments condone the prevalence of discriminative practices. Similarly, lack of laws prohibiting incest involving children in Pakistan supports the view that legal protection has not prevented women and girls from being discriminated against. Despite the fact that Pakistan has formulated laws on sexual abuse, the laws do not adequately protect children. For example, the law does not provide for legal implications of involving in incest with minors. Goonesekere (2003) emphasise that ‘cases of incest are very seldom reported and even more rarely recognised by the courts in Pakistan’ (p. 174). The prevalence of gaps with reference to laws banning some cultural practices such as FGM and child marriage underline the fact that legal protection has not protected women and girls from being discriminated against.
Prevalence of laws that increase discrimination
In addition to lack of laws on discrimination, some societies have implemented laws that increase discrimination against women and girls. Most of such laws are based under the customary system. For example, in some countries such as Afghanistan, Syria, Lebanon, Morocco and Jordan, perpetrators of rape can escape prosecution under the countries’ legal system by agreeing to marry the victim if she consents (Scorpio 2016). This practice has greatly contributed to increase in discrimination against women and girls because the perpetrators know that they can escape punishment. Despite the fact that Morocco has repealed the law allowing perpetrators of rape to marry their victims, the practice persists in other economies.
Despite the written law allows women to inherit land in Zimbabwe, women are perceived as juveniles under the customary law (World Bank Publication 2006). Similarly, women are perceived and treated as perpetual minors in Saudi Arabia. Under this system, women’s rights are protected by their husbands. On the contrary, women’s rights are protected by their husbands (Vlieger 2012). This gives men the power to subject women to different forms of discrimination such as violence, restriction on freedom of movement, forced marriage, and deprivation of educational opportunities. Therefore, the dominance of customary law over the formal law in such countries increases the rate of discrimination against women and girls. This aspect highlights the inefficiency inherent in some countries’ legal system in promoting equality.
To successfully deal with discrimination against women and girls, it is imperative for states that support such customary laws to undertake extensive legal reforms by ensuring that their legal system is aligned with the international and domestic laws that promote equality within the society. Some countries have made significant progress in eliminating laws that support discrimination against women. Botswana is one of the African countries that have made significant effort in eliminating discrimination against women and girls with reference to property ownership. This aspect is underlined by the court’s invalidation of the customary law that deprived women and girls the right to inherit property (World Bank Publication 2006). Likewise, states commitment in eliminating discriminative practices against women and girls is underlined by the Indonesian government decision to repeal against a previous regulation by the country’s Ministry of Health that allowed FGM if the procedure is performed by a medical professional (Kine 2016). In summary, the above legal reforms underline the fact that discrimination against women and girls has been enhanced by presence of laws that condone the practice.
In addition to the above issues, the prevalence of gaps with regard to the effectiveness of laws and the legal systems in protecting women and girls against discrimination has been spurred by lack of adequate enforcement (Vogelstein 2013). Even though there are significant legal changes being undertaken to promote equality between the male and female gender, the effectiveness of the changes in eliminating discrimination depends on the extent to which the laws are enforced. For example, in 1997, the Ethiopian government enacted laws that illegalise forced marriage and abduction. As a result, the country has experienced a significant reduction in cases of forced marriage across different regions. Some of the regions that have recorded low cases of forced marriage include Gambella and Tigray. Nevertheless, cases of forced marriage are prevalent in some regions such as Oromiya and Amhara. A study conducted in 2013 showed that 52% of girls in Amhara region are married before they are 15 years old. Most of the girls are abducted and forced into marriage (Vogelstein 2013). These cases indicate existence of significant gaps in the countries quest to eliminate discrimination against women and girls. One of the factors that might explain the prevalence of inefficiency in enforcing laws on discrimination relates to lack of commitment amongst the stakeholders within the legal system.
Equality is an essential element in enhancing a country’s economic, social and political growth. To promote equality, it is essential for governments to implement effective laws and legal systems. One of the fundamental areas of equality relates to ensuring that women and girls are equally treated. However, the above review underlines the fact that inequality with reference to discrimination against women and girls is a prevalent issue across the world. One of the factors that have contributed to prevalence of discrimination against women and girls entail existence of significant legal gaps.
First, lack of laws that prevent discrimination against women and girls is has significantly increased incidence of discrimination. This arises from the fact that the available laws fail to recognise some practices perpetrated against women as a form of discrimination. The essay has also identified existence of laws that condone discrimination against women and girls in some jurisdictions as another major legal gap in eliminating the practice. Moreover, enforcement on laws that restrict engagement in acts of discrimination against women and girls has been ineffective, which makes legal protection inadequate. On the basis of the above findings, it is imperative for extensive efforts to be made in addressing the legal gaps by focusing on the three areas evaluated above. First, governments should formulate new laws to cover gaps that exist on discrimination. It is also imperative for governments to amend laws that tend to support discrimination against women and should. In addition to the above approaches, governments should ensure that the stipulated laws are adequately applied. These aspects will lead to significant reduction in cases of discrimination against women and children.
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