Discriminatory Laws Undermining Women’s Rights
planned by par ents or relatives (OECD, 2019e). Forced marr iages of girls abducted fr om religious minority
families are not uncommon in some countries (OECD, 2019f).
Further, the rights of married women remain limit ed. In Afg hanista n, marr ied women are ob liged by law
to obey t heir husba nds in sexual matters under the Sh i’a Personal Status law (OECD, 2019e). Sri Lanka does
not yet recognise marital ra pe as a criminal offence (OHCHR, 2017c). Mos t countries in the region have
discr iminat ory la ws conce rning the righ t to divorce 59. Regarding physical integrity, women’s reproductive
rights are further limited by restrictive abortion laws in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Sri Lanka.
Approximately 20 % of MPs in parliaments across the region are women, below the global av erage of 25%,
but in Sr i Lan ka t he figu re is ju st 5 %60.
5 Factors facilitating change
Given the inherent cultural, political and situational differences that exist around the world and that are
present in different legal bodies, th ere is ‘no harmonised understanding of how to identify and investigate
goo d practices , part icularly in the context o f the elimin ation o f discrimin ation a gainst women’ (OHCHR,
2017a, p. 5 B. 15). F or t his reas on, program mes need to be a dapt ed to the local cont ext (IDLO, 2019).
Further more, researchers face methodological challenges in att empting to isolate t he precise f act ors that
trigger legal r eform in specific contexts.
Nevertheless , some broader conclusions can be dra wn from a comparative study of 70 states over three
decades on the factors that underpin legislative change in favour of women. Htun and Weldon are able to
ascribe different logics behind sta te action relat ed to d ifferent ty pes of wom en’s right issu es (Htun &
Weldon, 2018). The three logics identified describe how the broad range of laws on women’s rights
conform to different policy logics and are championed by different actors for varying ends.
Firstly, t he authors iden tify that achievements toward t he elimination o f violence against women have
been lin ked t o a log ic of ‘s tat us po litics’ , referring to the a im of a ddressin g discrim ination or iginating in the
deva luatio n of p eople who ident ify with a spe cific gr oup , and u ltima tely t ran sforming t he gr oup’ s status.
In this context the idea is applicable to how feminist movements and international agreements have
advanced th e acknowledgement of women as a specific ‘status group’. Through campaigning and
mobilising s ocietal action, feminist movements ha ve successfully manag ed to challenge the historical
social order , where women have been treated as a lower sta tus group. Such actions demanding legislative
reform h ave been the main tr igger behind government action on violence against women (Weldon, 2002).
Achieving equality in the workplace is another iss ue where development s have been linked to the
increa sing recog nition, g lobally and a t nat ional lev el, of wo men a s a s tat us gro up.
As d iscus sed abov e, fam ily law is the le gal field which is mos t difficu lt to refo rm a nd wher e lega l plura lism
is mo st co mmo n (UN Wo men, 2019c). St rong ins titution al prese nce of relig ious au thorities has been linked
to slower pr ogress in family law reforms. The va riation between states does not lie in differences in religion
but in ho w inst itut ionalis ed re ligion is in so ciety ( Htun and We ldon, 2013a). Ch ange s in fa mily law, as well
as issu es relating to health and reproductive rights, tend to be motivated by a logic that Htun and Weldon
call ‘ doctr inal po litics’ , as t he t hemes tou ching upo n the historic do main o f relig ious d octrine are de bated
and often resolved in a manner that reflects the historical relationship between state and religion. Feminist
movement s’ challenges to t hese policy areas ess entially challenge this relations hip and for this reason
reform effo rts ar e often perceived by traditionalists as a th reat to the ent ire religious and state sy stem.
59 World Bank (2020) Women, Business and the Law data for 2009-2020.
60 IPU, 2019: https://www.ipu.org/ parliament /BD and https://www.ipu.org/parl iament/ LK