The Fight for Freedom: Sex Discrimination in Family Law

Written by: Associate Editor, Mazaher Kaila

The status of women in family law is roughly correlated with a country’s traditional legal system. Although, women are not equal to men in all systems ,women rights has long been an issue specifically in religion based legal systems and continues to be an issue today.

Violation of women rights sits at the top of human rights violations. Government implementations such as The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) are developed in order to ensure women and family rights are carried out internationally. CEDAW consist of 30 articles indicating the rights of women and provides national action to end discrimination against women. According to CEDAW discrimination against women is, “…any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field.” Although such laws are implemented, they do not reflect the harsh and degrading treatment of women. Organizations such as the Global Fund for Women calls on all countries to rescind support to nations that abuse women rights and holds them accountable.

Additionally, woman all around the world are raising their voice against cultural and family restrictions of traditional societies. Currently in Sudan, the civilian protest that forced dictator Omar al-Bashir from power is being referred to as the women’s revolution because 70% of the protest population was made up of women. They grew sick of the public order laws regulating their everyday actions including how they dress, cover their hair, and travel in public. Al-Karib said, “The government has an Islamic militant ideology which at its core aims to exclude women from the public space. For 30 years, women in Sudan have fought against this oppression, so it’s no surprise they are out in significant numbers now.”

Although the numbers of women activists continue to rise, women who speak up and protest are ultimately treated to much harsher treatments or killed. For example, Loujain Al-Hathloul, a female activists from Saudi Arabia was sentenced for 5 years in Prison in December because she openly called for women to be given the right to drive, a basic life skill that should not be afforded upon gender. She reported having faced abuses including electric shocks, whippings, and sexual assault.

A study has found that in 2005 when most of the world had moved toward the elimination of sex discrimination in family law, most countries that have not, were strict version Islamic religious law countries. Scholars, pundits, and activists argue that Islamic culture fosters inequality and reform can be achieved when advocacy groups work to make behavioral norms more progressive.

The number of women protestors globally is and will continue to grow. It should be understood that law reforms must take place. Religious courts may choose to comply with high court rulings and reform their rules and procedures by internalizing civil discourses and principles. However, continuous pressure from civil society could ultimately lead to self-reform from religious courts. But, without transnational advocacy groups such as the Global Fund for Women and the international community the fight for freedom will never end.

References: Gender Equality, UN, available at

Mala Htun, S. Laurel Weldon, State Power, Religion and Women’s Rights: A Comparative Analysis of Family Law, Indiana Journal of Global Legal Studies (Winter 2011), available at

Mike Clulow, International Agreements on Women’s Rights: A Framework for Action (Nov. 13, 2017), available at

Saphora Smith, Loujain al-Hathloul, Saudi women’s rights activists, sentenced to nearly 6 years in prison, NBC News (Dec. 28, 2020), available at

The Women’s Revolution in Sudan: We stand in solidarity with feminist activists fighting for their freedom, Global Fund For Women, available at

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