Globally Women Have Fewer Legal Rights Than Men And COVID-19 May Be Making It Worse

Do you know that in 18 countries, husbands can legally stop their wives from working?

Ria Das
Jul 09, 2020 13:47 IST
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micro finance rural India, Women Fewer Legal Rights

Unemployment issues or cases of domestic violence, many such incidents have been reported in the past four months. The increasing rate of violence needs attention, action and of course long-term solution to protect legal rights for women. Though there are various legal reforms, globally, women not only face gender inequalities at work but also have only three-quarters of the legal rights as compared to men, as per a recent report by The World Economic Forum. Compared to men, women face inequalities in legal matters related to family relationships, employment, control of economic assets and violence. They also have only three-quarters of the employment rights that men enjoy worldwide, the World Bank’s Women, Business and the Law index reveal. In comparison to other countries, women in the Middle East and North Africa still have half the rights of men, the study shows.


The situation has even worsened during COVID-19 which is creating more obstacles for women to get equal access to justice. The National Domestic Violence Hotline reports that women aged between 18 to 24 and 25 to 34 generally experienced domestic violence. But they are not providing equal legal support. According to the study, 81 percent of these women, who have experienced rape, stalking, or physical violence by their partner, have reported significant impacts such as post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms and injury. The WE Forum states that an estimated 4.5 billion women, the poor, and other vulnerable people are facing this persistent justice gap which is heavily gendered. They are excluded from the protections and opportunities that the law provides.

The World Economic Forum’s 2020 Gender Gap Report found that women will not be able to enjoy equal rights with men any time soon, not at least for a century to come.

COVID-19 and the impact on women's rights

The pandemic has caused an unjust impact on the economy, especially for migrant, disabled, and regional women workers. They are discriminated and the global crisis of inaccessible jobs is working against them. They are less privileged in an already existing gender-biased society with a massive legal disparity to deal with. With no financial resources to back them, their defence against gender discrimination and sexual harassment in the workplace gets overpowered. It is important for women to seek legal help but mostly achieving a positive result is doubtful. "Women do not necessarily experience more legal problems than men. But they tend to face specific problems with issues like alimony and child support, sexual violence, lack of legal identity, and access to social safety nets. Taken together, the socioeconomic impact of such problems is enormous," the report cited.

"Social norms, which often are more restrictive than laws, may prevent them from taking legal action. And even when they do act, gender-biased public officials may undermine them. And women who must already balance family care with formal or informal jobs may lack the time to go to court," it added.

A study by Women, Business and the Law 2018 reveals:

  • Over 2.7 billion women are legally restricted from having the same job as men in the world.
  • 104 countries prevent women from working in certain jobs.
  • In 18 countries, husbands can legally stop their wives from working.

But due to the pandemic, women are also facing financial constraints like if one's husband dies of COVID-19, she "may lose access to sources of wealth such as land and savings." So here's another injustice women are likely to face - loss of assets. "In many countries, the poor rely disproportionately on legal aid services, which have been shown to have positive social and economic effects on women and their households. But the sharp economic downturn is likely to threaten this resource as well," it said.

Also Read: Know Your Rights As A Married Woman

So how to solve the legal restrictions and challenge unfair laws and practices? "There are two ways to mitigate these risks. First, the pandemic must not be permitted to widen the gender justice gap. This will require assessing whether judicial responses to the pandemic may have planned or unintended negative consequences for women. And we need to view gender in the context of other overlapping dimensions of disadvantage such as poverty, ethnicity, disability, language, and location," it says.

"Second, the crisis gives us an opportunity to add to our growing knowledge of what works in improving women’s access to justice. This calls for monitoring and evaluating new initiatives and collecting data. Above all, measures that help to close the gender justice gap should be made permanent and scaled as appropriate, rather than being regarded as temporary and reversible," it concludes.

Also Read: Law And Her: Let us be the women who know our legal rights

Feature Image Credit: Milaap

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