The Psychology of Trauma

Domestic Violence

How do women’s rights vary across countries?

The widespread acceptance of the equal rights of women is a fairly new phenomenon, arising only in the last four decades. While women now make up almost half the work-force in the United States and account for about 50 percent of law, medical, and doctoral degrees, only thirty-five years ago women accounted for a small fraction of the professions. According to the U.S. State Department’s 2003 report on international human rights, the movement toward equal rights for women in the developing world is only just beginning.

In many Islamic countries, for example, the role of women is still extremely constricted, and religious conservatives believe that women should be entirely subordinate to men. Consequently, legal rights for women vary drastically across countries. In most developed Western countries women have essentially the same legal rights as men. In other countries, many things are forbidden to women: the legal right to work; to have access to credit; to own property; to initiate a divorce; to have custody of the children; and even to have one’s testimony in court carry as much weight as a man’s testimony. In some developing countries, such as South Africa, new, progressive laws support many rights for women. However the enforcement of such laws is often quite lax, and popular acceptance, particularly in rural areas, is very low. In other countries, such as Saudi Arabia, women are not allowed to drive or to travel without a man accompanying them.


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