Laws of Men

In the majority of the world, gender inequality holds strong despite laws designed to protect women’s rights.

Cultural hierarchies, religious mandates and local traditions often supersede government law as leaders of these powerful systems maintain their own methods for procuring justice as they see fit.

By and large, these powerful systems are run by men.

As of the beginning of last year, the world had only 9 female elected heads of state, and only about 20 percent of seats held by women in national parliaments.

On average, less than 10 percent of police, fewer than 30 percent of judges, and only about 25 percent of prosecutors around the world are women. And though the rules are changing in some places, women are still barred from the clergy altogether in many religions.

The laws and customs governing women’s property, labor and bodies are often written and enforced by men in a manner that favors their own interests. Women, as a result, are forced to appeal to men’s decision-making on issues concerning their own well-being.

In Saudi Arabia, all females are legally controlled for their entire lives by male guardians, a practice not based on Islamic law but rather on Saudi tribal traditions.

A 2014 trial was the first time the government of the DRC has taken financial responsibility for running the judiciary process in a war-related rape case, despite the UN security council’s resolution that rape can constitute a war crime.
And in Pope Francis’ home country of Argentina, where abortion is legal in cases of rape or risk to the woman’s health, even women who seek and should be able to obtain legal abortions are often forced underground by medical and judicial systems strongly influenced by the Catholic Church.

In this Special Report, correspondents working with The GroundTruth Project reported around the world — from Egypt to South Africa, Nigeria and Thailand — to examine the ways in which legal systems and other power structures intersect, often hindering justice and creating barriers to women’s rights.

This Special Report, produced by The GroundTruth Project, appeared on in 2014.