Myth #4 – ‘Not in My Backyard’

I received a web link from my mother saying, ‘You might want to read’. Read I did and couldn’t believe how legal systems can throw up surprises that sometimes are beyond imagination. Here’s the link and I am sure most of us don’t even know such laws exist –

The article highlights some laws within the Indian legal system that need to be immediately scratched out but are a reflection of the unapologetically patriarchal society we live in. Some excerpts –

Section 7 of the Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act, 1956 (HMGA) provides “natural guardianship” only for an adopted son. This is in keeping with the traditional notion that adoption was meant exclusively for those who didn’t have a biological son. HMGA is completely silent on the status of somebody having an adopted daughter.

Further, Section 6 of the HMGA touches on the status of a biological child. It clearly establishes a hierarchy saying that the natural guardian of a Hindu minor is “the father, and after him, the mother”. The Supreme Court tried to lessen the severity of it in 1999 by stating that the term “after” in Section 6 should not be literally interpreted to mean “after the lifetime of the father” but instead be taken to mean “in the absence of the father”. It clarified that “absence” in turn could extend to situations where the father was away for a long time or was totally apathetic to the child or was rendered unfit because of an illness.

So basically, the laws simply don’t see the mother fit to be guardian to her own biological children or specify guardianship for an adopted daughter.

Irrespective of all the campaigns to ensure equal rights to girls, no Indian government has shown urgency to change these and they continue showcasing the blatant patriarchal attitude of the community and reinforcing the belief ‘woman is but man’s property’.

Many of us sitting pretty in our comfort, feel bad about women’s rights in distant lands and talk about the nature of governments there. We thank the universe that our neighborhoods are evolved and such laws don’t muddle waters in our backyard. Or do we feel better in our assumptions and just don’t want to see?

Let’s take a walk around the world and find laws that are still playing havoc with human attitudes.

– Bahamas, Kenya, Nigeria, Malaysia – Married women cannot pass their nationality to children, with foreign fathers, born outside of the country. This is not true for children born to local men. It’s also easier for men to get citizenship for spouses however the woman cannot pass on her citizenship to foreign husbands.(1)

– A 2011 UN Women’s report found that 127 countries do not explicitly criminalize rape within marriage.(2)

– Spousal rape is legal in India if the wife is over 15 years old, in the Bahamas if she’s over 14 and in Singapore if she’s over 13.
– In the Democratic Republic of Congo, women suffering from marital rape have no protection and have to live with the husband and follow him wherever he sees fit to reside.
– Kenya, Nigeria, Ghana, Ethiopia, Cote d’lvoire and Benin permit non-consensual sex in marriage.
– Laws in Yemen and Sudan see refusing sex to husband as an act of disobedience.

– Malta; the perpetrator of a kidnapping is given a lighter punishment if he plans on marrying his victim and isn’t punished at all if he does. In Lebanon and Palestine territories, rapists go unpunished if they marry their victims.(3)
– In the United States, marital rape was legal till 1993 which is when all 50 states criminalized it.

– In Nigeria, violence “by a husband for the purpose of correcting his wife” is just fine.(4)
– Little Rock, Arkansas US, grants a man the right to legally beat his wife, but only once a month and only with a stick that measures no more than three inches wide.(5)

– Kenya’s 2014 Marriage Act legitimizes polygamy. This is also true for Indonesia, Mali, Algeria and Tanzania.(4)

– In Iraq, a woman wishing to obtain a passport has to ask her father’s, brother’s or uncle’s written permission. Similar laws exist in Malaysia, Qatar and Libya.
– In Egypt and Iran, the woman needs her husband’s agreement to obtain a passport.(1)
– In Cameroon, a husband can decide whether his wife may study or work and he can choose the kind of study or work.(1)
– In Guinea women are not allowed to have “a separate profession from that of her husband” if he objects.(4)
– In Russia, Article 253 of the country’s Labor Code bars women from working in 456 types of work, including driving a train and being a professional sailor.(2)
– China bans women from working in mines or doing any job that requires intense physical labor.
– Women in Madagascar can’t work at night.(2)
– Women in Turkey need to have husband’s permission to be able to work.(6)

– Saudi Arabia maintains its 1990 Fatwa prohibiting “women’s driving of automobiles” as “a source of undeniable vices”.(4)

– In the US, Michigan state law says women have to get their spouses’ permission to get their hair done because legally, their wives’ hair belong to them.
– In Vermont, USA; it is illegal for women to wear false teeth without the written permission of their husbands.(7)
– In Owensboro, Kentucky, it is against the law for a woman to buy a hat without first letting her husband try it on first.(5)

– Pakistan considers a woman’s testimony in a court of law to be worth half that of a man’s.
– In Iran, a woman is considered half as valuable if the case involves adultery or some other sexual matter.
– A Tunisian law from 1956 requires that “the male inherit twice as much as the female”. The UAE passed a similar law in 2005.

– In Japan, women are required to wait six months after a divorce before they can remarry, while men are not under such obligation.(8)

– El Salvador, mothers who suffer the pain of miscarriage may be jailed.(9)

– La Paz, Bolivia prohibits married women from drinking wine, unless it’s in the presence of her husband.(6)

– Women in Saudi Arabia and the Vatican City are not allowed to vote. Women cannot legally divorce in the Vatican either.(10)

– In Florida, women (if single, divorced or widowed) cannot skydive on Sundays. (What’s that about!)(6)

– Adjusting stockings in public places in Dennison, Texas and Tennessee can get you 12 months in jail.(10)

– A law in Burundi states that men are the head of the family, of course!(8)

The list goes on with some unfair, many cruel and then some downright bizarre.

United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women meets periodically, to review reports from several of the 188 States part of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

Antonia Kirkland, legal advisory of Equality Now suggests, Why not have an ascendency process – like joining the European Union – where countries get recognized based on demonstrable actions [or] outcomes, not just what they say or sign?”

The same people and governments who decry equal rights for women as foreign or Western or colonial or immoral or ask for ‘patience’ or cultural sensitivity “have no qualms using Western medicine, weaponry, technology, education, media and probably Viagra and pornography.”

These have a far more damaging impact on their culture or going against religion and tradition than giving women the rights to inherit land, get equal pay for equal work, pass citizenship to their children, “or, dare I say, drive,” she concluded.(11)

Many laws across the globe have changed for the better over the years. Not just by women fighting in isolation but beyond culture, ahead of tradition and much removed from perceptions; positive change has been driven by local and global human rights organizations and more importantly, men & women working together. It’s not us vs them but a society can progress only when we see each other for what we are – one half of the whole.

Change comes from us; it begins at home and in our perspectives; one person at a time.

Be aware. Stand up for what’s right. Support each other!


  12. Feature Image –

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