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How does equality start in the family?

Family relationships—the most intimate and fundamental of all human relationships-- are the foundation for power relations in our societies. Starting from birth, boys are told to be courageous, to take risks, and to be innovative; girls are told to focus their energies on matters within the home, to be submissive and not take up space, and to cede control of their decision-making power.

Discriminatory legislation and cultural practices reinforce this inequality. In the Global South, women face laws that determine their right to choose their partner, travel, hold a job, choose their place of residence, access their inheritance, or make decisions about their bodies and/or their children. In the Global North, they must contend with laws limiting reproductive rights, equal pay for equal work, maternity leave, and adequate childcare. Such legislation strips women of power within the family unit, limiting their opportunities and making them susceptible to violence and human rights violations.

The unequal status conferred upon women and girls within the confines of the family robs them of their agency, hindering their ability to reach their full potential in education, livelihood, and civic and political life. To create equality for women in all these spaces, we must begin with the family.

Why is this topic important and relevant in the world today?

WLP partners have been working to amend inequality in the family in their respective countries for years. They have led campaigns for change on issues most important to them, such as equal citizenship rights in Lebanon, honor crimes in Jordan, land rights in Morocco, and abortion rights in Brazil. By conducting research, raising awareness among the public and policymakers, and empowering women to be inclusive leaders, they have amplified the voices of women on the ground and identified grassroots priorities around family law reform.

Now, in our globalized society with increasing conflicts and various forms of social and economic crises, we believe more than ever in the necessity of an international movement to address inequality in the family and its repercussions in public spaces within societal institutions. Although the circumstances are specific to each cultural context, women and girls in all parts of the world face fundamentally similar challenges that stem from a lack of power, respect, and opportunity within the family unit. By leveraging the linkages among countries and building global solidarity, we can more effectively tackle these problems and transform our communities and societies.

What does the research say about inequality in the family in different countries?

WLP conducted extensive research on the topic of discriminatory family laws and feminist advocacy to reform them. Eight country case studies from Brazil, India, Iran, Lebanon, Nigeria, Palestine, Turkey, and Senegal examined diverse approaches to activism. Essays and expert interviews from women leaders in Jordan, Egypt, and Morocco provided additional contextual analyses and firsthand accounts of successful advocacy campaigns. Some of the main conclusions from WLP’s research effort include:

• Family laws, whether stemming from religious or secular justifications, are social and political constructs that can be changed.

• Because the reactions, obstacles, and outcomes to changes in family laws are unpredictable, it’s important for advocates to monitor and evaluate these developments.

• Advocacy campaigns should reflect the cultural, social, and political environments in which they are being conducted. They should adopt a multi-pronged approach: building coalitions, finding allies from different stakeholder groups, and influencing public opinion.

• Building coalitions among diverse women’s groups, as well as with other civil society groups, will provide greater legitimacy to women’s demands. These coalitions should seek allies within and outside the state in order to be most effective.

• By connecting with women’s organizations outside of their countries and engaging in transnational networking around common issues, women’s groups can shape an international policy environment friendly to family law reform. This in turn will likely influence national policy debates, putting pressure on national lawmakers to consider reform.

What is WLP’s strategy for change on the global level?

With their collective experience, WLP partners and their allies are initiating a campaign to pave the way for reform. The Equality Starts in the Family campaign will advocate for gender equality within and outside the home so that women and girls are afforded equal rights and opportunities in all walks of life.

The campaign is designed on the premise that any solution to gender discrimination has to address both legislation and cultural understandings for change to be implemented. As such, the campaign focuses on both reforming discriminatory family laws that are the foundation of the unequal status of women and girls in the family, and changing the culturally determined structures, roles, and beliefs that perpetuate gender discrimination.

Together with activists, scholars, policymakers, INGOs, grassroots organizations, and concerned individuals, WLP will produce and distribute tools for advocacy; conduct culturally-contextualized workshops on advocacy in this area; raise awareness among the public and policymakers on the ways in which discriminatory family laws perpetuate violence and inequality; and raise the visibility of the activists working to reform such laws.