Policy Department, Directorate-General for Extern al Policies
In the four decades since the adoption of the UN Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against
Women (CEDAW), su bstantial progress has been ma de glo bally a t tack ling ge nder discrim inat ion in law3.
Nonetheless, legal gaps and discriminatory laws continue to exist, affecting and intruding in all aspects of
women’s lives. It is estimated that at the current rate of progress it will take two centuries to achieve formal
gender equa lity wo rldwid e (OE CD, 2019a). Wit h ar oun d half of co unt ries limiting the pro fess ion s that
women can enter and a third of countries having gaps concerning women’s full participation in public life,
much progress remains to be m ade (O ECD, 2019a; UN Wom en, 2019a). Regional differen ces ar e also
notable, with s ome regions, for example South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, continuing to make steady
progress towards closing gender gaps, whereas in others, in particular East Asia and the Pacific and North
America, pr ogress in recent years has been very slow. Female genital mutilation (FGM) is still not prohibited
in a ll cou ntr ies where it is tr adit ionally pra cticed, and the cu rr ent progres s m ade in ad opt ing and
implementing anti-FGM laws is in sufficient in view of th e global s cope of th e problem (UNICEF, 2016). In
some countries the number of minors who are getting married is increasing rather than decreasing (World
Bank , 2015; Fes er, 2017). Ev ery day 137 women on aver age are killed by an intimate partner or family
member (UNODC, 2018). Furt hermore, less than half of all count ries have laws in place that mandate equal
rem uner ation fo r wor k of equa l value (World B ank, 2020 ).
Women may be s ubject to legal discrimination on the basis o f their s ex an d gender. Gender refers to
socially constr ucted identities, attributes and roles for women and men and the cultural meaning imposed
by s ociety on bio logical d ifferen ces 4.
Laws that d iscrimina te against women prevent them from rea lising their full pot ential and impede the
realis ation o f gender equality . When wo men and girls ca n live free from dis criminat ion, with la ws that
protect t heir human r ights, the whole society benefits.
This study aims to provide a nuanced understanding of processes through which legal reforms take place.
Known factors that have proven to facilitate legal reform include legal advocacy and dialogue, feminist
activ ism 5, the r atification of international human rights instruments on women’s rights and gender
equality, an d women’s repr esentation in decision-making pro cesses. The study will present in more det ail
the afor ementioned factors and ho w they can bring about change. It explores th e interplay between legal
reform processes, st rategic litigat ion and f eminist a ctivism, as well as th e implemen tation of EU human
rights policies and financing instruments in support of law reform processes in third countries. Each section
will a lso cons ider th e ways in which the EU cou ld utilise this knowledge to further advance pro-wo men's
rights law reform agendas.
Four cou ntry case studies will also be pres ented: Tunisia, The Gambia, Bangladesh and Ukraine. These case
studies will examine both successes and ongoing challenges in efforts t o reform legislation that
discriminates against women, with a view to illustra ting the st rengths and weaknesses of the EU’s existing
This stu dy addres ses the following five key questions:
• What is the current situation, and what are the recent trends in the reform of discriminatory laws in
coun tries o utside the EU?
3 While ge nder di scriminat ion also enc ompasses per sons who are transgender ed and non-bin ary, this stu dy o nly fo cuse s on
discr imination against gir ls and women.
4 CEDAW General Recommendation on women’s access to justice, 23 July 2015; at para. 7
5 Feminist acti vism and women's ri ghts activism are tre ated as synonyms t hroughout the study. Accordi ng to th e Oxfor d defini tion,
feminist activism is the advocacy o f women's ri ghts on the ground of the e quality of the sexe s.