50 archaic gender laws still in place around the world

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August 15, 2018
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50 archaic gender laws still in place around the world

Despite a global push toward parity, gender inequality still exists today in many forms, both legal and systemic. Even in progressive cultures, advancements in gender equality are often slow to occur. In America, women have only had the power to vote for about 100 years. Other cultures are also embracing a more egalitarian approach. Just this past June, Saudi Arabia began issuing driver's licenses to women for the first time in their nation’s history. The initial 10 licenses that were issued broke a barrier, and there are now more than 2,000 women licensed to drive in the country. In Japan, a divorced female was previously not allowed to remarry for six months. Just a couple of years ago, this waiting period was shortened to 100 days.

August 26 marks the celebration of Women’s Equality Day, which serves to bring attention each year to the cause of gender equality. In order to examine the current state of equal rights, this list was compiled to highlight oppressive gender-based laws that exist both around the world and in the United States. Gender inequality is very much alive today in countries across the globe, but progress is coming—no matter how slowly the wheels of change may turn.

Note: While the enforcement of each of these rules indeed depends on the willingness of local officials to comply with the word of the law, each of these is, in fact, on the books and legally in place today.

RELATED: Industries with the worst gender pay gaps

India: Marital rape over a certain age

In India, marital rape (i.e. non-consensual sex between two married people) is not considered illegal if the female partner is over a particular age. For years, it was legal in India for a man to forcibly have sex with his wife if she was 15 or older. A 2017 Supreme Court ruling amended the law, raising the age to 18.

Israel: Segregation at the Western Wall

Considered universally to be one of the holiest locations in Jewish tradition because of its association with King Herod’s Second Temple, Jerusalem’s Western Wall has separate prayer sections for men and women. The women’s section is considerably smaller than the men’s, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently dismissed a move to have the barrier dismantled.

Malta: Kidnapping with intent to marry

Crimes in the small island nation of Malta incur different punishments depending on the gender of the offender. A Maltese man who kidnaps a woman can have his sentence automatically reduced if he intends to marry the victim. In addition, if a man does end up marrying the woman he kidnapped, the charges are dropped and he won’t face any further prosecution or punishment.  

U.S.-Michigan: Seducing an unmarried woman

While they’re not actively enforced, Michigan still has a number of “morality laws” on the books that seem outdated in today’s society. To this day, men are forbidden from seducing unmarried women. According to the Michigan penal code, “Any man who shall seduce and debauch any unmarried woman shall be guilty of a felony, punishable by imprisonment in the state prison not more than five years or by fine of not more than $2,500.”

Philippines: Prostitution only applicable to women

In an attempt to solve its prostitution problem, the Philippines added a gender-biased law to its books in the form of 2012’s Republic Act No. 10158, which states that “women who, for money or profit, habitually indulge in sexual intercourse or lascivious conduct, are deemed to be prostitutes.” By only defining women as prostitutes, the law ignores male prostitution altogether.

Jordan: Lenient sentencing for honor killings

While the Arabic state of Jordan has made great strides in improving its rape laws, the nation still has troubling codes regarding honor killings. These killings occur when a male family member enacts violence against a female family member due to transgressive behavior in relation to love or sex. Until recently, Jordanian law penalized those accused of honor killings with a maximum sentence of eight years' imprisonment. The crime now dictates a punishment of 15 years—still a woefully short sentence in relation to the crime.

U.S.-North Carolina: Irreversible consent

The Tar Heel State has a law on the books forbidding a woman from withdrawing consent of sex after the act has begun. This law was put into effect as a result of the 1977 North Carolina Supreme Court ruling in State v. Way.

Russia: Sanctioned domestic violence

Russian law dictates that if a man beats his wife, or any relative for that matter, and the damage inflicted is not severe enough to mandate a hospital visit, his maximum penalty is a fine of 30,000 rubles (approximately $450) or up to 15 days in prison. Not only does the husband essentially get off punishment-free, but there are recorded instances of female abuse victims being forced to pay their aggressor’s fine because the funds come from a shared account.

Turkey: Conditional female employment

In Turkey, it’s illegal for a woman to accept employment without her husband’s approval. As a result, only 29% of Turkish women are employed.

United Kingdom: Male primogeniture

Almost all aristocratic titles of nobility are passed to male heirs in the United Kingdom, a practice that has existed for centuries. A lawsuit brought forth by female heirs seeking entry into England’s House of Lords is currently challenging Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights, and the United Kingdom is being taken to the European Court of Human Rights to settle the dispute.

Afghanistan: Household supervision

Afghan husbands have the legal right to decide when their wives can leave the family’s shared domicile. The only exception is when the wife has to leave the house for legal purposes, and even that is only allowed when dictated by local customs.

Japan: Right to remarry

While some of these inequalities deal with marriage, this one specifically addresses what happens after two people are no longer married. In Japan, women can’t marry anyone for 100 days after their previous marriage ends. This is a slight improvement over earlier iterations of the law, which dictated that women wait a full six months post-divorce.

U.S.-Arizona: Wearing pants

As strange as it is to believe, it’s illegal for women to wear pants in Tucson, Ariz. The law dates back over a century when it was against the law to wear clothing that was deemed unsuitable for one's gender. Luckily for Arizona women who enjoy wearing pants, this law is not enforced.

Russia: Appropriate professions

According to Article 253 of Regulation No. 162 enacted in 2000 by Vladimir Putin, a woman is limited to only certain professions deemed appropriate for females. There are currently 456 careers in 38 industries that are off-limits to women based on those jobs “involving heavy work.” Russian women are also not allowed to work underground.

Israel: Male-only divorce filings

Israeli women can become trapped in marriage if the husband does not agree to divorce. That's because only Israeli men are legally permitted to file for divorce. The issue has become a major struggle in Israel where feminists are pushing for “chained women” to gain more rights.

Singapore: Marital rape

In Singapore, it is not considered a criminal offense to commit rape under certain circumstances, specifically when a man forces himself on his wife. Recent recommendations from a government committee, however, may finally eradicate legally-sanctioned marital rape.

Algeria: Polygamy but not polyandry

According to the Algerian Family Code, one man having multiple wives is legal while one woman is prohibited from marrying several husbands. The law dictates that both the “previous” and “future” spouse are informed of the arrangement, and the husband must demonstrate “capacity to offer equality and the necessary conditions for marital life.”

United Arab Emirates: Inheritance inequality

When it comes to inheritance in the United Arab Emirates, the rights of women are severely discounted. Inheritance for women can be as low as one-third (and not more than one-half) of men in similar positions. This is dictated in the Personal Status Code of 2005.

Monaco: Right to pass on maternal citizenship

In the tiny principality of Monaco, children are not permitted to obtain citizenship from their mother. Citizenship can only be passed down from the father’s side of the family, with the only exception occurring if the father is unknown.

China: Specific types of work

China is another country where women are generally dissuaded from doing certain types of work. Chinese universities offer programs like mining that guarantee work post-graduation, but women aren’t allowed to enroll. “China's labor law suggests mining work is unsuitable for women,” according to Professor Shu Jisen.

Chile: Sexual harassment

While Chile has made great strides since the days when a woman’s property was considered her husband's, the country still lacks in terms of protecting against sexual harassment. A law has been under discussion since 1995 to ban workplace sexual harassment, but even that doesn’t forbid harassment at hospitals, prisons, and educational institutions. In the wake of the #MeToo movement, Chilean students have taken to the streets to protest the lack of protection.

Indonesia: Polygamy

Polygamy was once an accepted way of life in the world, dating all the way back to biblical times. Indonesians are still allowed to continue the practice of a man having more than one wife. Even though it is not illegal, it is not generally accepted by mainstream Indonesian society, with second wives suffering the reputation of "homewreckers."

Iran: Dress code

Iran prosecutes women who do not adhere to the strict dress code outlined by Sharia law, which governs the theocracy. Those caught violating the law by not wearing a hijab face the possibility of fines or imprisonment. Recently, Iranian women have been fighting the law, but they’ve been unable to create any meaningful changes.

Cuba: Marital age

Cuban woman face inequality when it comes to the legal minimum age for marriage. A woman in Havana can be married when she’s only 14, while men must be 16.

Saudi Arabia: Undergoing surgery

Saudi Arabia has long been known as an oppressive place for women. In fact, women are unable to make any major decisions—including undergoing surgery. These decisions default to their male guardian for approval.

Yemen: Leaving the house

Women in Yemen are restricted from leaving their homes without their husbands' specific permission. This often leads to pseudo-imprisonment, and a heavy restriction of Yemeni women’s rights. The only exceptions to the rule include emergencies, specifically those relating to a family member in need.

U.S.-Alabama: Sex toys

In Alabama, it’s illegal to sell vibrators and sex toys, except for very specific purposes. In 2009, a sex shop challenged the law, but the Alabama Supreme Court ruled that “public morality can still serve as a legitimate rational basis for regulating commercial activity, which is not a private activity."

El Salvador: Abortion and miscarriage

Abortion was criminalized in El Salvador back in 1997, and some women have even been jailed on the grounds of murder in the Central American nation for having a miscarriage. While a recent pardon and a newly introduced bill provides some hope, the law is still in effect.

United Arab Emirates: Time of work

Although Article 34 of the Emirati Constitution gives every citizen the right to freely choose his or her own occupation, trade, or profession, there are other provisions that render this void. Specifically, women are prohibited from working between the hours of 10 p.m. and 7 a.m.

Nigeria: Marital assault

Sadly, physical and sexual assault in marriage in Nigeria is commonplace. Domestic abuse is not illegal in the African nation, and because marriage is so valuable to women, most Nigerians will not report violence or leave their abusers.

Tanzania: Widow’s loss of home

In parts of Tanzania such as Kilna, women can be kicked out of their matrimonial homes after their spouses pass away. If losing a spouse isn’t enough, this expulsion can be compounded by the accompanying loss of all property and children as well. Although the law still stands, many Tanzanian women are fighting back.

U.S.-California: Wearing high heels

Believe it or not, it’s illegal to wear high heels higher than two inches in Carmel, Calif., without a permit. Thankfully, the law isn’t enforced by the local police. For those who like to do everything by the book, permits are available from city hall at no charge.

Tunisia: Inheritance inequality

In Tunisia, inheritance inequity is a regular occurrence, and Tunisian women are fighting the inequality. A Tunisian son inherits significantly more than a daughter. In addition, if there is only one daughter, she will only inherit half of the estate.

Saudi Arabia: Swimming in public pools

Saudi women aren’t allowed to swim in public pools that are available to men. In fact, women aren’t even allowed to look at swimming pools because they might catch sight of men in bathing suits.

eSwanti: Wearing short skirts

It’s illegal for women to wear mini-skirts or trousers in certain tribes in Swaziland, which was recently renamed eSwanti. The chief of the Maphalaleni chiefdom claims that the ban is in place “out of respect.”

United Arab Emirates: Ability to work

It is up to the discretion of the Emirati husband whether he allows the wife to work at all. When they are permitted to work, women are not allowed to be employed in professions deemed hazardous.

Pakistan: Testimony inequity

In the eyes of Pakistani law, a woman’s testimony is worth less than their counterparts. Their word in court is considered to be only half as valuable as that of a man.

U.S.-Multiple states: Premarital cohabitation

While unmarried couples live happily together in every state in the union, it is still considered illegal to live with your significant other prior to marriage in some states. These states include Florida, Michigan, Mississippi, North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia.

Yemen: Marital rape

In Yemen, a husband can have sexual intercourse with his wife pretty much whenever he wants. To complicate matters, 14 percent of Yemeni wives are under the age of 15, as there is no minimum age requirement for women to marry in Yemen.

Iran: Attending sporting events

The law forbids women from attending sporting events in Iran. Some people believe the ban is due to concerns over women hearing men curse. In September, Iranian women were denied entry to a World Cup qualifying match in Iran despite having tickets, while their Syrian counterparts were admitted into the stadium.

Democratic Republic of Congo: Conditional employment

Without her husband’s permission, a woman in the Democratic Republic of Congo cannot work. In addition, she is restricted from appearing in civil court on her own behalf.

Nigeria: Marital rape

Section 357 of the Nigerian Criminal Code prohibits rape, but leaves a startling omission: A girl cannot give her own consent for the action, which means that a woman can never consent to sex. Specifically, the law states in section 363(b) that “it is immaterial that the girl was taken with her own consent or at her own suggestion.”

U.S.-Tennessee: Women drivers

In Memphis, Tenn., it’s technically illegal for a woman to operate a car without a man walking in front of the car waving a red flag. This regulation is obviously not enforced, as women are free to drive in Memphis as they please.

Guinea: Employment opportunities

A woman cannot be employed in the same profession as her husband in Guinea. It is completely up to the husband if he wants to permit his wife to work alongside him, and the woman has no official say in the matter.

Japan: Marital age

Japanese law dictates different legal ages for when men and women are allowed to marry. A women only has to be 16 years of age, while a man must be 18.

United Arab Emirates: Ability to travel abroad

In the United Arab Emirates, a male guardian can decide if a woman may travel outside the U.A.E. This leads to a higher percentage of women pursuing secondary education inside the U.A.E., since Emirati men often choose to seek master’s and doctoral degrees abroad.

Yemen: Witness testimony

Women are only considered half a witness in Yemen when it comes to legal matters. In addition, according to a 2005 Freedom House report, a woman is not “recognized as a full person before the court.”

Vatican City: Right to vote

Women don’t have the right to vote in the ultra-small municipality of Vatican City. Catholic "suffragettes" protested exclusionary policies last fall, calling on the Vatican to allow women to vote in the annual Synod of Bishops and promote more women to senior administrative positions.

U.S.-Tennessee: Requesting a date

It’s illegal for a woman to solicit a date from a man on the telephone in Dyersburg, Tenn. No legal clarification exists as to whether texting is permitted.

Egypt: Murder for adultery

Egyptian law permits a man who finds his wife committing adultery to kill both his wife and the male adulterer without suffering the penalty for murder. As the law states, "Whoever surprises his wife in the act of adultery and kills her on the spot together with her adulterer-partner shall be punished with detention instead of the penalties prescribed in Articles 234 [unpremeditated murder] and 236 [assault]."

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