Despite a global push toward parity, gender inequality still exists today in many forms, both legal and systemic. Even in progressive cultures, advancements in gender equality are often slow to occur. In America, women have only had the power to vote for about 100 years. Other cultures are also embracing a more egalitarian approach. Just this past June, Saudi Arabia began issuing driver's licenses to women for the first time in their nation’s history. The initial 10 licenses that were issued broke a barrier, and there are now more than 2,000 women licensed to drive in the country. In Japan, a divorced female was previously not allowed to remarry for six months. Just a couple of years ago, this waiting period was shortened to 100 days.
August 26 marks the celebration of Women’s Equality Day, which serves to bring attention each year to the cause of gender equality. In order to examine the current state of equal rights, this list was compiled to highlight oppressive gender-based laws that exist both around the world and in the United States. Gender inequality is very much alive today in countries across the globe, but progress is coming—no matter how slowly the wheels of change may turn.
Note: While the enforcement of each of these rules indeed depends on the willingness of local officials to comply with the word of the law, each of these is, in fact, on the books and legally in place today.
In India, marital rape (i.e. non-consensual sex between two married people) is not considered illegal if the female partner is over a particular age. For years, it was legal in India for a man to forcibly have sex with his wife if she was 15 or older. A 2017 Supreme Court ruling amended the law, raising the age to 18.
Considered universally to be one of the holiest locations in Jewish tradition because of its association with King Herod’s Second Temple, Jerusalem’s Western Wall has separate prayer sections for men and women. The women’s section is considerably smaller than the men’s, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently dismissed a move to have the barrier dismantled.
Crimes in the small island nation of Malta incur different punishments depending on the gender of the offender. A Maltese man who kidnaps a woman can have his sentence automatically reduced if he intends to marry the victim. In addition, if a man does end up marrying the woman he kidnapped, the charges are dropped and he won’t face any further prosecution or punishment.
While they’re not actively enforced, Michigan still has a number of “morality laws” on the books that seem outdated in today’s society. To this day, men are forbidden from seducing unmarried women. According to the Michigan penal code, “Any man who shall seduce and debauch any unmarried woman shall be guilty of a felony, punishable by imprisonment in the state prison not more than five years or by fine of not more than $2,500.”
In an attempt to solve its prostitution problem, the Philippines added a gender-biased law to its books in the form of 2012’s Republic Act No. 10158, which states that “women who, for money or profit, habitually indulge in sexual intercourse or lascivious conduct, are deemed to be prostitutes.” By only defining women as prostitutes, the law ignores male prostitution altogether.
While the Arabic state of Jordan has made great strides in improving its rape laws, the nation still has troubling codes regarding honor killings. These killings occur when a male family member enacts violence against a female family member due to transgressive behavior in relation to love or sex. Until recently, Jordanian law penalized those accused of honor killings with a maximum sentence of eight years' imprisonment. The crime now dictates a punishment of 15 years—still a woefully short sentence in relation to the crime.
Russian law dictates that if a man beats his wife, or any relative for that matter, and the damage inflicted is not severe enough to mandate a hospital visit, his maximum penalty is a fine of 30,000 rubles (approximately $450) or up to 15 days in prison. Not only does the husband essentially get off punishment-free, but there are recorded instances of female abuse victims being forced to pay their aggressor’s fine because the funds come from a shared account.
In Turkey, it’s illegal for a woman to accept employment without her husband’s approval. As a result, only 29% of Turkish women are employed.
Almost all aristocratic titles of nobility are passed to male heirs in the United Kingdom, a practice that has existed for centuries. A lawsuit brought forth by female heirs seeking entry into England’s House of Lords is currently challenging Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights, and the United Kingdom is being taken to the European Court of Human Rights to settle the dispute.
Afghan husbands have the legal right to decide when their wives can leave the family’s shared domicile. The only exception is when the wife has to leave the house for legal purposes, and even that is only allowed when dictated by local customs.
While some of these inequalities deal with marriage, this one specifically addresses what happens after two people are no longer married. In Japan, women can’t marry anyone for 100 days after their previous marriage ends. This is a slight improvement over earlier iterations of the law, which dictated that women wait a full six months post-divorce.
According to Article 253 of Regulation No. 162 enacted in 2000 by Vladimir Putin, a woman is limited to only certain professions deemed appropriate for females. There are currently 456 careers in 38 industries that are off-limits to women based on those jobs “involving heavy work.” Russian women are also not allowed to work underground.
In Singapore, it is not considered a criminal offense to commit rape under certain circumstances, specifically when a man forces himself on his wife. Recent recommendations from a government committee, however, may finally eradicate legally-sanctioned marital rape.
According to the Algerian Family Code, one man having multiple wives is legal while one woman is prohibited from marrying several husbands. The law dictates that both the “previous” and “future” spouse are informed of the arrangement, and the husband must demonstrate “capacity to offer equality and the necessary conditions for marital life.”
In the tiny principality of Monaco, children are not permitted to obtain citizenship from their mother. Citizenship can only be passed down from the father’s side of the family, with the only exception occurring if the father is unknown.
China is another country where women are generally dissuaded from doing certain types of work. Chinese universities offer programs like mining that guarantee work post-graduation, but women aren’t allowed to enroll. “China's labor law suggests mining work is unsuitable for women,” according to Professor Shu Jisen.
While Chile has made great strides since the days when a woman’s property was considered her husband's, the country still lacks in terms of protecting against sexual harassment. A law has been under discussion since 1995 to ban workplace sexual harassment, but even that doesn’t forbid harassment at hospitals, prisons, and educational institutions. In the wake of the #MeToo movement, Chilean students have taken to the streets to protest the lack of protection.
Polygamy was once an accepted way of life in the world, dating all the way back to biblical times. Indonesians are still allowed to continue the practice of a man having more than one wife. Even though it is not illegal, it is not generally accepted by mainstream Indonesian society, with second wives suffering the reputation of "homewreckers."
Iran prosecutes women who do not adhere to the strict dress code outlined by Sharia law, which governs the theocracy. Those caught violating the law by not wearing a hijab face the possibility of fines or imprisonment. Recently, Iranian women have been fighting the law, but they’ve been unable to create any meaningful changes.
Cuban woman face inequality when it comes to the legal minimum age for marriage. A woman in Havana can be married when she’s only 14, while men must be 16.
Saudi Arabia has long been known as an oppressive place for women. In fact, women are unable to make any major decisions—including undergoing surgery. These decisions default to their male guardian for approval.
Women in Yemen are restricted from leaving their homes without their husbands' specific permission. This often leads to pseudo-imprisonment, and a heavy restriction of Yemeni women’s rights. The only exceptions to the rule include emergencies, specifically those relating to a family member in need.
In Alabama, it’s illegal to sell vibrators and sex toys, except for very specific purposes. In 2009, a sex shop challenged the law, but the Alabama Supreme Court ruled that “public morality can still serve as a legitimate rational basis for regulating commercial activity, which is not a private activity."
Although Article 34 of the Emirati Constitution gives every citizen the right to freely choose his or her own occupation, trade, or profession, there are other provisions that render this void. Specifically, women are prohibited from working between the hours of 10 p.m. and 7 a.m.
Sadly, physical and sexual assault in marriage in Nigeria is commonplace. Domestic abuse is not illegal in the African nation, and because marriage is so valuable to women, most Nigerians will not report violence or leave their abusers.
In parts of Tanzania such as Kilna, women can be kicked out of their matrimonial homes after their spouses pass away. If losing a spouse isn’t enough, this expulsion can be compounded by the accompanying loss of all property and children as well. Although the law still stands, many Tanzanian women are fighting back.
Believe it or not, it’s illegal to wear high heels higher than two inches in Carmel, Calif., without a permit. Thankfully, the law isn’t enforced by the local police. For those who like to do everything by the book, permits are available from city hall at no charge.
It is up to the discretion of the Emirati husband whether he allows the wife to work at all. When they are permitted to work, women are not allowed to be employed in professions deemed hazardous.
In the eyes of Pakistani law, a woman’s testimony is worth less than their counterparts. Their word in court is considered to be only half as valuable as that of a man.
While unmarried couples live happily together in every state in the union, it is still considered illegal to live with your significant other prior to marriage in some states. These states include Florida, Michigan, Mississippi, North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia.
In Yemen, a husband can have sexual intercourse with his wife pretty much whenever he wants. To complicate matters, 14 percent of Yemeni wives are under the age of 15, as there is no minimum age requirement for women to marry in Yemen.
The law forbids women from attending sporting events in Iran. Some people believe the ban is due to concerns over women hearing men curse. In September, Iranian women were denied entry to a World Cup qualifying match in Iran despite having tickets, while their Syrian counterparts were admitted into the stadium.
Without her husband’s permission, a woman in the Democratic Republic of Congo cannot work. In addition, she is restricted from appearing in civil court on her own behalf.
Section 357 of the Nigerian Criminal Code prohibits rape, but leaves a startling omission: A girl cannot give her own consent for the action, which means that a woman can never consent to sex. Specifically, the law states in section 363(b) that “it is immaterial that the girl was taken with her own consent or at her own suggestion.”
In Memphis, Tenn., it’s technically illegal for a woman to operate a car without a man walking in front of the car waving a red flag. This regulation is obviously not enforced, as women are free to drive in Memphis as they please.
A woman cannot be employed in the same profession as her husband in Guinea. It is completely up to the husband if he wants to permit his wife to work alongside him, and the woman has no official say in the matter.
Japanese law dictates different legal ages for when men and women are allowed to marry. A women only has to be 16 years of age, while a man must be 18.
In the United Arab Emirates, a male guardian can decide if a woman may travel outside the U.A.E. This leads to a higher percentage of women pursuing secondary education inside the U.A.E., since Emirati men often choose to seek master’s and doctoral degrees abroad.
It’s illegal for a woman to solicit a date from a man on the telephone in Dyersburg, Tenn. No legal clarification exists as to whether texting is permitted.
Egyptian law permits a man who finds his wife committing adultery to kill both his wife and the male adulterer without suffering the penalty for murder. As the law 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 [unpremeditated murder] and 236 [assault]."