Discriminatory laws in the Arab world are still around, and treating women as second-class citizens doesn't seem to be going anywhere anytime soon, shamefully and unfortunately. 

In a 2020 report titled "Words and Deeds: Holding Governments Accountable in the Beijing +25 Review Process," Equality Now highlights a sampling of explicitly sex discriminatory laws around the world affecting women, girls, and their families. Since 1995, the international human rights organization has been conducting periodic reviews on sexist laws in places around the globe. Though many past laws have been repealed, several laws remain rooted in legal terms.  

One of the focal points of the report is family law, a legal sphere that is dominated by religion, customs, traditions, and ethnic identities in many countries around the world. This sphere covers matters pertaining to marital, personal, economic, and violence matters. Examples of such include marriage, citizenship, inheritance, and rape. 

"There have been some improvements to the status of women in the MENA region, in terms of changing, appealing or enacting some laws that discriminated against women and girls," said Suad Abu-Dayyeh, Middle East and North Africa consultant for Equality Now, in a statement to StepFeed. But that doesn't mean governments are doing everything in their power to make things right for women. 

In fact, many "governments have failed to secure the universality of human rights for all women and girls as they allow the right to religious and cultural freedom to be prioritized over equality and non-discrimination," Equality Now writes in its report

Abu-Dayyah has acknowledged the improvements in women's rights in the Arab world, but says that the amendments "are not sufficient and we still have a very long way to go before we see equal rights in the law for women and girls across the region." 

She pinpointed the problems with certain laws in Arab countries, in particular family laws, which she says is a domain controlled by "patriarchal mentality" and the inclusion of religion in matters as such has made things harder for women. 

"The continuing lack of separation between religion and the state makes it very hard to change these types of laws and means that religious belief is prioritized over women's rights," she continued.

On divorce & male guardians

Some of the laws included in the report highlight the problems that exist in countries across the world when it comes to women's rights even though we have marked the start of a new decade. One would assume that in 2020 discriminatory laws based on race, sex, what have you would be long gone from the planet, but that doesn't seem to be the case ... dismally. The world just marked Zero Discrimination Day on March 1, but it's simply false to say the world doesn't discriminate. There's discrimination in every corner of the world. 

We're going to focus on some of the most detrimental laws mentioned in the report that are still implemented in Arab countries. Enter Algeria, where many sections of the Family Code put women at a disadvantage. 

For example, Article 8 of the family code "permits to contract marriage with more than one wife within the limits of the Shari'a, if there is a just ground and the conditions and intentions of equity can be fulfilled." In the Muslim world, polygamy is still an issue up for debate, as some people tend to forget that there is a set of tight conditions that must be met for it to be "legal". The fact that Article 8 does not provide further information on the set of conditions makes it flawed and open to interpretation. Many men use the vagueness of the law to justify polygamous relationships.

Other articles under scrutiny in the North African country include Article 11, which states that "an adult woman concludes her marriage contract in the presence of her 'wali' [guardian] who is her father or close male relative or any other male of her choice." This idea of a male guardian for women infantilizes women by treating them as though they are not responsible enough to make their own decisions. There's another article that prohibits the marriage of a Muslim woman with a non-Muslim man and another that puts divorce in the hands of the husband. If a woman wants to seek a divorce, certain conditions must be proven. 

"Divorce is the dissolution of marriage . . . It arises from the will of the husband, mutual consent of the spouses, or the demand of the wife as provided in articles 53 and 54," Article 48 states. 

On breastfeeding being the only duty of mothers

Enter Lebanon, a country that has a plethora of laws that treat women as second-class citizens. (Women still can't pass on citizenship ... and that says a lot.) Lebanon gives religious courts the upper hand in personal matters such as custody, inheritance, and divorce among other things. 

Equality Now sheds light specifically on the Personal Status Law of the Catholic Sects, which came into play in 1949 and don't seem to have been updated since. 

Article 123 of the law dictates what parenting is for each sex and limits the role of a woman to breastfeeding, quite literally. 

"Breastfeeding concerns the mother. The other rights and duties of the parental authority are, in principle, confined to the father. These rights and duties are passed to the mother if the father is deprived of these responsibilities provided that the mother is proved to be eligible by the court and the court provides the mother a notice about the transfer of these responsibilities to her," the law states. 

Another article under the law states that a mother could lose custody of her child is "she changes her religion, or changes her Catholic sect" or if she "remarried after the dissolution of the marriage or the death of her husband." How are these articles fair? How are they even reasonable? 

On getting husband's consent before launching your career

Source: JPost

Enter Jordan, where the Personal Status Law No. 36 of 2010 still gives men the power over their wives' career goals. 

Article 61 of the laws states that "a wife, who works outside the home is entitled to Alimony (Nafaqa) under two conditions" including: 

  • The work must be legitimate 
  • The husband gives explicit or manifested consent to the work

In what century are we living in so that a man needs to dictate and consent to his wife's work goals? It's unreasonable that men can go about making life decisions and goals without even consulting their wife for their opinion, let alone consent. But when it comes to women, they can't do anything without getting their husbands' approval first. 

On not being able to pass on citizenship

Source: English.vob

In the Arab world, some countries don't allow women who marry men of different nationalities to grant either the husband or the child citizenship. 

Enter Bahrain, where a man can automatically pass on his citizenship to his children but where women need to put up a fight. (This is the case in numerous Arab countries, unfortunately.) 

Under Article 4 of the Decree-Law No. 12 Amending Bahraini Citizenship Act of 1963, a person shall be deemed a Bahraini national only if:

  • He/she was born in Bahrain or abroad and the father, at the time of the birth, was a Bahraini national
  • He/she was born in Bahrain or abroad and the mother, at the time of birth, was a Bahraini national, providing that the father was either unknown or paternity was not legally proven

There is no mention of Bahraini women. This erasure of women from the law is problematic in and of itself. Under the current law, children of Bahraini women and foreign fathers living in the country are denied citizenship. This is not the case for Bahraini men as you can see above. 

On inheriting less than your brothers


Enter Tunisia, where equality in the sphere of inheritance was proposed, approved, but not yet effective. 

In November 2018, Tunisia's cabinet officially approved a bill that allows for gender equality in inheritance. Though the proposed law has to be discussed in the country's parliament before it takes effect, its approval was seen as a historic legal decision. 

When it comes to inheritance, the law that is currently being implemented in Tunisia states the following:

  • A sole daughter inherits half of the estate
  • Two or more daughters collectively inherit two-thirds of the estate
  • Where there are any sons, the male inherits twice as much as the female

The same rings true for many other Arab countries that use Islamic doctrine as the basis for inheritance laws. The Equality Now report sheds light on the UAE as well in this regard. The male inherits twice as much as the female (when there is a combo of male and female heirs) in the aforementioned country under certain conditions. 

On horrific rape laws, honor killings & violence

Source: Mpac

The "Marry Your Rapist" law - which allows rapists to walk free by marrying their victim - was repealed in several Arab countries in recent years, but that doesn't mean the Arab world is void of it. 

Enter Kuwait, where one version of that law is still in place. 

Article 182 states that "If the abductor marries the one he abducted, in a legally-recognized marriage with the permission of her guardian, and the guardian agrees that the abductor not undergo punishment, then he is not sentenced to punishment." 

Issues pertaining to domestic violence, rape, sexual harassment, and honor killings are still viewed as taboo subjects in many parts of the Arab world. It's so bad that sometimes such acts go unreported as victims fear being shamed and blamed for the violence they endure. 

In Iraq, for example, domestic violence is not a crime "if the act is committed while exercising a legal right." It defines the latter as "the punishment of a wife by her husband, the disciplining by parents and teachers of children under their authority within certain limits prescribed by law or by custom."


Honor killings are still a reality in several Arab countries including Egypt. Article 237 in the North African country 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 and 236."

The latter articles go as follows: 

Article 234: 

Whoever kills a person deliberately without premeditation, shall be punished with permanent or temporary hard labor. However, the perpetrator of this felony shall be sentenced to death, if preceded, accompanied with, or followed by another felony. Yet, if the intent thereof is to prepare for committing or facilitating a misdemeanor, or committing it in effect, or assisting its perpetrators or their accomplices to escape or get rid of the penalty, the ruling shall be sentencing to death, or permanent hard labor. Capital punishment shall be the penalty if the crime is committed in the execution of a terrorist purpose. 

Article 236: 

Whoever wounds or beats someone on purpose or gives him harmful materials without meaning thereby to kill, but doing that has led to death, shall be punished with hard labor or imprisonment for a period of three to seven years. However, if doing that is preceded with premeditation or ambush, the penalty shall be hard labor or imprisonment. The punishment shall be temporary hard labor or imprisonment if the crime is committed in execution of a terrorist purpose. If it is preceded with malice or premeditation, the penalty shall be permanent or temporary hard labor.