A new report published over the weekend by Equality Now, an NGO aimed at the promotion of women's rights worldwide, offers a detailed list of the ways in which countries' legal codes discriminate against women.
The report is broken down by category, and features a series of discriminatory laws of varying severity, including family codes codifying child marriage and condoning marital rape, as well as wife obedience laws and discriminatory, male-based status laws. It also includes excerpts from legal codes featuring discriminatory laws on everything from rape and domestic violence to honor killings and court testimony.
The report reminds readers of the most discriminatory laws, ranging from Saudi Arabia's prohibition on women driving automobiles to Kenya's laws allowing polygamy to Yemen's laws which effectively negate the concept of rape within a marriage. It also features lapses in the laws of some developed countries, including the US (related to the granting of citizenship) and Britain (related to women in the army).
The report also highlights the existence of discriminatory labor laws in Russia, explaining that women are prohibited from working in a number of jobs which are considered too strenuous, harmful and dangerous, while pointing out that this constitutes a discrepancy between the labor code and the Russian Constitution, which guarantees equal rights for men and women. Some news resources commenting on the report, including Reuters, were quick to lump Russia in alongside other, arguably far more serious offenders.
Incidentally, many other countries of the former Soviet Union, including Belarus and Ukraine (neither of which were mentioned in the report), have very similar laws on female employment. These laws reflect changes to Soviet-era labor codes which were introduced in the 1990s and early 2000s. They were ostensibly established to account for the changing demographic situation. During the Soviet period, the socialist ideology's prerogative to emancipate women, plus the shortage of men following the First World War, the Civil War and the Second World War, forced women to work in many unconventional sectors, including heavy industry and construction. Many of these were off-limits to women in Western countries at the time, due to legislation or social convention. The presence of Soviet women in these sectors was often the subject of exposes in Western magazines such as National Geographic during the 1960s and 70s, which featured iconic images of burly woman driving steamrollers and working construction cranes. The idea of restricting women from working in certain heavy and dangerous professions emerged in the late Soviet period, alongside initiatives such as three-year maternity leave. While many of these initiatives failed to make it into the legal codes of ex-Soviet countries, the idea of restricting women's participation in a number of professions which were considered dangerous was one that did take root, despite the very different circumstances that have emerged since the time when they were first conceived.
The Equality Now Words and Deeds report, complete with the objectionable legal codes and the contact details for the relevant national authorities, can be found here.
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