Marriage is a formal recognition of a personal relationship between two people. It has historically only been available for relationships between men and women, but a number of countries now recognise same-sex marriage.
Marriage creates a contract with legal, economic, and social implications for those who enter into it. It can provide certain protections, but may also impose restrictions and disadvantages for women in countries where the rights and responsibilities of marriage apply differently to men and women.
In some countries, women are seen to have lower social and legal status than men and this is reflected in the institution of marriage, giving women less rights than men, forcing women into marriage, making it difficult for married women to get a divorce or to get the property and inheritance rights they deserve. There may also be customary limitations which can affect the human rights of women.
Even in countries where there has been legal reform to improve protections for women’s rights, new laws which rectify discrimination in some areas can still retain some discriminatory elements in others.
For example, in Mali, a new family code was adopted in 2012 to replace the former Code of Marriage and Guardianship, which had discriminated against women. The replacement code, however, still includes discriminatory provisions related to wife obedience and polygamy.
Even where adequate legal protections are in domestic law, women may not benefit from these protections if these laws are not enforced in practice by domestic authorities.
For example, the CEDAW Committee noted in relation to Albania that the lack of enforcement of Law No. 33/2012, which provides for joint ownership by both spouses of property acquired during marriage, had continued to deepen discrimination against women in matters of inheritance.
There are a number of issues related to marriage which can lead to women’s rights being violated. But there are various ways to fight for women’s rights when facing these issues.
This guide will provide an introduction and thinking steps on different types of claims you could bring, legal strategies that could help you bring such claims, and highlights organisations and other resources that could help on different issues in relation to marriage, including:
-problems having your marriage recognised
-forced or child marriage
-unequal marriage provisions for women during marriage
-problems when divorcing
-problems benefiting from your rights as a widow after the death of the husband.
This guide is general in scope. It looks at examples of laws and cases in different countries, outlines legal developments and provides general tips on legal strategy. The guide is not a substitute for legal advice.
To bring a case, you have to know the law and legal system in your country and the societal reactions against women who take legal action. If, after reading the guide, you want to explore the possibility of taking legal action, seek a lawyer and the support of an organisation that could help you develop your case and support you on aspects that do not specifically relate to legal advice, like psychosocial support.
There are other aspects like domestic violence, reproductive rights and discrimination which may be part of married life, but will be specifically discussed in the Violence Against Women guide, the Reproductive Rights guide, and the Discrimination guide which Action4Justice is working on.
You can also find a PDF copy of the guide here.