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Legal Customs Seeped in Sexism

There is a common struggle against the deeply-rooted patriarchy that goes far back into history. Women across all sorts of disciplines have resisted this in any way they can. One particular discipline where this still exists would be the justice system. For aeons, legislation has been noticeably gender-dependent, and one’s rights could easily vary from liberty to prohibition.

One glaring instance of this can be seen in the Anglo-Saxon England of 450-1066. At the time, a large number of women owned property and married women were afforded legal rights. The ladies of wealthy families could inherit estates and property during this time, and women had unusually strong legal powers and liberty. In fact, about one in four of all surviving wills from Anglo-Saxon England were drawn up by women. However, as the Norman Conquest of 1066 came about, many women lost these rights. William, Duke of Normandy and the leader of the conquest, held the idea that landholding was a man’s job, thereby taking away the property rights of most women. As a result, women and men didn’t share equal property rights for hundreds of years, as the impacts of the Norman Conquest reverberated through history. It was only in 1922 that the Law of Property Act allowed for women to ‘hold and dispose of property’ like men, reversing the deeply ingrained and highly misogynistic laws once held in England.

The vast majority of nations have made strides forward to reverse previously sexist laws, ending centuries of discrimination. However, this isn’t universal - and there are still many countries with laws specific to gender. In a study by the World Bank Group titled Women, Business and the Law 2020, women in the Middle East and North Africa were found to be afforded as little as half the legal rights of men. In many of these countries there are a variety of gendered employment restrictions such as in Lebanon, where women are banned from skinning animals, or in Belarus, where women are banned from driving buses with over 14 seats. It’s easy to find this trivial or unimportant as I doubt anyone is particularly keen on driving buses or skinning animals, but the discriminatory principle of being denied something simply for being a woman rings true in all these examples. Even so, there are cases that run deeper and have tragic implications like in Iran, where the Iranian Passports Law states that a woman is required to have her husband’s permission to obtain a passport and travel overseas. Even worse, Iranian civil code states that girls can marry at 13 (or younger if authorised by a judge), whereas boys at 15.

There is much to be done before all women globally can say they have the same legal rights as their male peers. For many of us living in more developed countries this isn’t our reality to face, but for others it’s a daily challenge they do not have the privilege to flee.

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