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New Report Compares Regulation of Gender Equality in the Middle East and North Africa

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A recent Law Library of Congress report, Legal Provisions on Gender Equality, examines the legal provisions governing inheritance rights, the legal age of marriage, and the transmittal of citizenship through the mother in 18 Middle Eastern and North African countries. The countries surveyed include Israel, Iran, and 16 Arab countries (Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Syria, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen).

Boiling over, by Mabel Lucie Attwell (May 30, 1914), Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress,

According to the report, constitutional provisions promoting the principle of gender equality may be found in many Arab countries. Gender equality in these countries, however, is usually subject to the standards of Islamic law that do not give women equal status with men. Israel does not have a one-document constitution but its Proclamation of Independence guarantees “complete equality . . . irrespective of religion, race, or sex.”

The report notes that Arab countries and Iran apply Islamic law to matters of inheritance. Under this law, a woman’s share of an inheritance is generally half that of a man. Israel is the only country in the Middle East that does not differentiate between males and females with regard to inheritance.

The Israeli Citizenship Law similarly does not differentiate between a husband and wife for purposes of acquisition of citizenship based on marriage to an Israeli citizen, nor does it differentiate between the parents based on their gender or marital status for purposes of conferring citizenship on a child. In contrast, Jordan, Qatar, and Lebanon do not allow mothers to transmit citizenship to their children. Countries such as Libya, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain, condition such transmission on the child’s father being unknown or stateless. In Iran, women were unable to transmit citizenship to their children until the approval of a law allowing this by Iran’s Guardian Council in early October 2019.

Age of marriage laws in the countries surveyed vary. Underage marriage is allowed by the religious courts of many Arab countries. In Bahrain, the minimum age for marriage is 16 for females, while Yemen allow females as young as nine years old to marry. In Iran, the minimum age of marriage for females is 13 with marriages at an even younger age requiring approval by the child’s guardian and a court. In Israel, the minimum age of marriage is 18, and marrying, officiating, or assisting in the marriage of a minor in the absence of judicial authorization granted under special circumstances is a criminal offense punishable by imprisonment or a fine. The criminal liability associated with underage marriage in Israel, however, does not affect the validity of the marriage where it is recognized under the personal status law of the parties.

The report explains that Israel’s Family Violence Prevention Law, 1991-5751, authorizes courts and religious tribunals to issue protective orders, order participation in treatment plans, and confiscate weapons to protect women and other family members from domestic violence. Unlike Israel, Iran, Egypt, Qatar, Oman, and Yemen do not have anti-domestic violence laws. While a number of Arab countries have adopted provisions criminalizing marital rape, countries such as Jordan and Lebanon have not done so.

We invite you to review the information provided in our report. You can also browse the Current Legal Topics or Comprehensive Index of Legal Reports pages for additional reports from the Law Library on related issues such as: Constitutional Provisions on Women’s Equality (July 2011); Inheritance Laws in the 19th and 20th Centuries (Mar. 2015); and Spousal Agreements for Couples Not Belonging to Any Religion—A Civil Marriage Option? (Sept. 2015). To receive alerts when new reports are published, you can subscribe to email updates and the RSS feed for Law Library Reports (click the “subscribe” button on the Law Library’s website).

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