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Elimination of discriminatory laws: Accelerating action for gender equality

Statement by the Director-General, Ms Jan Beagle

Elimination of discriminatory laws: Accelerating action for gender equality

Zoom Webinar

Thursday, 10 March 2022

I am pleased to open today’s event on Eliminating Discriminatory Laws.

This year’s theme for International Women’s Day - “Gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow” - celebrates the contributions of women and girls to climate change adaptation and response, towards a more sustainable future for all.

Climate change, COVID-19, and multiple global crises are exacerbating poverty and other drivers of gender inequality. It is clearer than ever that advancing the rights of women and girls against the backdrop of these systemic threats will be one of the great challenges of the twenty-first century.

IDLO is the only global intergovernmental organisation exclusively devoted to promoting the rule of law to advance peace and sustainable development. Gender equality is at the core of our mandate. Through our programmes, research, and policy advocacy, we champion equitable legal reform as a critical enabler of the empowerment of women and girls.

There has been significant progress, with numerous countries introducing reforms or amending laws.

However, legal equality is far from being achieved. Discrimination in law is a serious concern because it both drives and normalises gender inequality, and aggravates existing inequities for women and girls across every sphere.

The disparities they face are inscribed in the statute books: on average, women have only three-quarters of the legal rights afforded to men.

Almost 100 countries do not legally provide for equal remuneration for work of equal value.

Daughters cannot inherit in the same way as their brothers. 

Widows cannot inherit in the same way as widowers.

Many women cannot legally head their households.

And existing protections fail to prevent child marriage, which impacts approximately 12 million girls each year.

Recognising the urgent need to identify and reverse discriminatory laws, IDLO is working with UN Women and national partners to undertake comprehensive reviews of legislation in several countries. Allow me to share five points, drawing on our experience.

First, it is critical to invest in comprehensive assessments of legal frameworks. These reviews can lead to new laws or the repeal of discriminatory ones. They also help uncover potential blind spots in areas not conventionally seen as impacting women’s rights, such as commercial law or climate adaptation.

Second, successful legal reform requires close collaboration with the institutions capable of spearheading legislative change, including ministries of justice, law reform commissions, judiciaries and parliaments.

Third, we must support civil society, especially women’s rights advocates, who play a key role in advancing legal reform through monitoring, capacity development, strategic litigation, and advocacy.

Fourth, legal reform must be coupled with equality in access to justice, whether through formal or informal justice systems. Without effective access to justice, women’s rights commitments will remain only promises on paper.

Lastly, partnerships are key to accelerating action towards the adoption and enforcement of gender- responsive laws.

I would like to thank UN Women and Executive Director Ms. Sima Bahous for our longstanding partnership, including on the elimination of discriminatory laws worldwide.

We are working together to implement the Equality in Law for Women and Girls by 2030 Strategy, which aims to fast-track the repeal of discriminatory laws in 100 countries, and seeks to address the legal needs of over 50 million women and girls.

I would also like to thank our partners in the Philippines and Sierra Leone for their invaluable contributions to the two legal assessments being launched today.

Equality under the law is a prerequisite for gender equality.

Let us renew our efforts to battle discrimination in all its forms, and ensure lasting reform in the legal status of women and girls everywhere.