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Update: Words & Deeds: Holding Governments Accountable in the Beijing +25 Review Process

The UN flag is depicted in the foreground with the flags of other countries behind it.

An overview of all the campaign updates and progress since the March 2020 publication of our report Words & Deeds: Holding Governments Accountable in the Beijing +25 Review Process.

Global: The UN Secretary-General has included the repeal of discriminatory laws as a key priority of the UN’s A Call to Action for Human Rights and law and policy reform will be a key component of the work of Generation Equality Action Coalitions over the next 5 years. At the regional level, in May 2020, the European Parliament Think Tank produced an in-depth analysis of Discriminatory Laws Undermining Women’s Rights, detailing the ways that legal reforms have taken place with the aim of accelerating gender equality in the law around the world, citing Equality Now’s efforts. It highlighted the Global Campaign for Equality in Family Law, and the Global Campaign for Equal Nationality Rights both of which we are co-founding members, and encouraged EU member states to support such campaigns.

CUBA: Amended – On 25 September 2022, a successful referendum was held on progressive amendments to the Family Code, including eliminating exceptions to the minimum age of marriage of 18. Prior to these reforms, Article 3 of Cuba’s Family Code provided that girls may be married off as young as 14 years old, while requiring a boy to be at least 16 years old.

UNITED STATES: Repealed – On 25 January, 2021, President Biden effectively reversed the directive banning transgender people in the military by Executive Order. In addition, on 17 March 2021, the United States House of Representatives took the country one step closer to constitutional equality by passing a resolution on the Equal Rights Amendment. Now the Senate must take action. 

In June 2020, with the pro-bono assistance of Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP, Equality Now and partners around the world filed an amicus curiae brief in Commonwealth of Virginia, et al v. Ferriero in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia in support of the plaintiffs’ (the Attorney Generals of the last 3 states to ratify – Virginia, Illinois and Nevada) demand that the government finally certify and incorporate the ERA into the US Constitution. The brief was featured in an article in the National Law Journal and on Women’s Equality Day in the US (26 August 2020), Ms. Magazine published an op-ed of ours on its homepage about the themes of our amicus brief, including how far the US lags behind the rest of the world on constitutional equality and obligation under international law.  

The District Court dismissed the case for lack of standing and because the deadline for ratification expired. The Attorneys General appealed and in February 2023, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia issued its disappointing decision finding that, “… the States have not clearly and indisputably shown that the Archivist had a duty to certify and publish the ERA or that Congress lacked the authority to place a time limit in the proposing clause of the ERA.” New bills, SJ Res 4 and HJ Res 25, were introduced in Congress at the beginning of 2023 in support of the validity of the ERA, and a historic Senate hearing was held in anticipation of a vote. On 27 April 2023, although the majority of senators voted in favor of SJ Res 4, it did not gain the required 60 votes needed to pass to the House of Representatives. A motion to reconsider has been filed.   

DOMINICAN REPUBLIC: Amended – On 6 January, 2021, President Luis Abinader enacted and published a law and issued a decree banning marriage below the age of 18. We are pleased with this amendment to the law, and hope that further measures will be taken to discourage informal unions between adults and children, which are also common in the Dominican Republic. More information in Spanish here.

SWITZERLAND: Amended – Switzerland voted in a referendum on 27 September 2020 which resulted in the approval of 10 days of paternity leave to begin in January 2021. We welcome the news and encourage the government to continue to review the issue and consider additional paid paternity leave so that all parents are treated equally.

The President of Switzerland replying to our letter encouraging further reform also stated that,  

“In addition, the Government is elaborating a national strategy for equality between women and men. Finally, the Government will undertake a general review of inequalities between women and men in Swiss federal law.”

RUSSIA:  Amended – Resolution No. 162 lists 456 types of work women may not engage in. In July 2019, the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection passed Order 512H  which liberalized the list – but there are still 100 types of works and positions which women may not engage in, including in the production or use of yellow phosphorus, to drive self-propelled vehicles in open-cast mining, or to prepare brown mud manually. The list entered into force on January 1, 2021

SYRIA: Repealed – The Permanent Mission of Syria to the United Nations informed Equality Now that the law was repealed in March 2020.  Law No. 2  of 2020 repealed Article 548 of the Penal Code which granted a mitigating excuse for crimes of “honor” and thus a much lesser penalty. (In 2009 Syria amended Article 548, which previously completely exempted men who killed their female relatives for “honor” from punishment. This amended law, rather than treating “honor” killings as any other murder, merely imposed a minimum two year prison sentence. In 2011 Syria again amended Article 548, which previously imposed a minimum two year prison sentence, to raise the minimum sentence to five years but placed a ceiling of seven years maximum. The punishment for murder is hard labor for 20 years.)