In 2015, for the first time in the country’s history, women in Saudi Arabia began registering to vote in the upcoming national elections, thanks to a 2011 royal decree. The Independent reported that Saudi Arabian officials described the new voting rights as a “significant milestone in progress towards a participation-based society.”
Women in Saudi Arabia still face harsh oppression, such as not being allowed to drive, or how some rape victims are forced to marry their rapists. But allowing women to participate in elections is an important step toward gender equality.
“A lot of the most severe stuff comes out of legal or de facto guardianship systems,” said Rothna Begum, a researcher who tracks women’s rights in the Middle East and North Africa for the advocacy group Human Rights Watch.
Here are 5 other remarkable legal restrictions against women, from Asia to Latin America:
1Yemen: A woman is considered only half a witness.
That’s the policy on legal testimony in Yemen, where a woman is not, to quote a 2005 Freedom House report, “recognized as a full person before the court.” In general, a single woman’s testimony isn’t taken seriously unless it’s backed by a man’s testimony or concerns a place or situation where a man would not be. And women can’t testify at all in cases of adultery, libel, theft or sodomy.
2Saudi Arabia and Vatican City: Women can’t vote… still.
This is amazingly the case in Saudi Arabia, through a royal decree, issued in 2011, will let women vote in Saudi elections in 2015. Vatican City is the only other country that allows men, but not women, to vote.
3Ecuador: Abortion is illegal unless you’re an “idiot.”
Begum says this is the policy in Ecuador, where abortions have long been outlawed for everyone but “idiots” and the “demented.” Politicians are considering a policy with the more politely worded term “mentally ill,” but that won’t change abortion’s legal status in Ecuador — or, more importantly, the fact that the law is frequently used to criminalize miscarriages.
4Saudi Arabia and Morocco: Rape victims can be charged with crimes.
Many, many countries fail to protect the victims of rape, but some go a step further — punishing women for leaving the house without a male companion, for being alone with an unrelated man, or for getting pregnant afterwards. The most infamous case may be Saudi Arabia’s “Qatif girl,” but a recent suicide in Morocco also made headlines — 16-year-old Amina Filali killed herself after a judge forced her to marry her alleged rapist, in keeping with a policy that invalidates statutory rape charges if the parties marry.
5India (some parts): Road safety rules don’t apply to women.
In some states of India, women are excepted from safety rules that mandate motorcycle passengers wear helmets — an exemption that kills or injures thousands each year. Women’s rights advocates have argued the exemption springs from a culture-wide devaluation of women’s lives. Supporters of the ban say they’re just trying to preserve women’s carefully styled hair and make-up — which isn’t exactly a feminist response.