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Family Law Project (2016-2018)

Working with Associate Dean Rangita de Silva de Alwis, Distinguished Adviser to the Executive Director of UN Women, Penn Law students collected and curated a compendium of family laws around the world, identified gaps in the data collection, and develop a mapping of the gender gaps in family laws. This data was last updated in December 2018.

Family Law is a litmus test of the status of women and has an intimate and powerful impact on women’s lives. The cultural construction of gender determines the role of women and girls within the family and in turn shapes women’s citizenship. Martha Minow has defined family law as “forming underneath everything that grows,” in the sense that its “rules about roles and duties between men and women, parents and children, families and strangers historically and conceptually underlie other rules about employment and commerce, education and welfare, and perhaps the governance of the state.” Globally, family law inequalities are often translated into gender inequalities in the public sphere including in the workplace. Around the world, family law reform has had a cause and effect relationship on gender equality. 

A link to the database can be found here.


In preparation for the mapping, a series of preliminary indicators (consistent with the CEDAW) will help the Student Fellows to identify the lacunae and gender asymmetry in the laws. They include:

  • Gender discriminatory age of marriage;
  • Restrictions to the freedom of marriage (including but not limited to consent of male guardian);
  • Unequal rights to separation, divorce, custody and guardianship of children;
  • Legal requirements to obey husband; Legally allowed moderate chastisement of wife;
  • Gender differences in conveying citizenship to non- national spouse;
  • Restrictions on freedom of movement: spousal or male guardian’s permission to travel outside the home; spousal or male guardian’s permission to work outside the home;
  • Spousal or male guardian’s approval to sign a contract or register a business;
  • Lack of legal recognition as “head of household”;
  • Gender differentials in conferring citizenship to children,
  • Spousal or male guardian’s permission to open a bank account, registration of land ownership and land tenure;
  • Equal decision-making powers including choice of residence, administration of marital property, including its sale;
  • Unequal inheritance rights over property;
  • Gender discriminatory tax deductions, credits or benefits related to family members or dependent spouses;
  • The recognition of gender discriminatory customary law and personal law; 
  • Inheritance rights to the property of the deceased husband;
  • Gender biased as opposed to gender neutral language in the law;
  • The concept of “illegitimate children” and children born outside of marriage as the responsibility of the mother’s;
  • The concept of “husband obedience”                                    

Field Researchers & Student Fellows

  • Africa – Amanda Nasinyama LLM ’17
  • Asia - Amal Sethi, SJD Candidate
  • Europe – Georgia Strati
  • Israel - Talya Djemal LLM’18 & Ortal Mendelawe LLM’18
  • India - Teresa Akkara L’18 & Akila Sarathy L’18
  • Latin America - Gabriella Goncalves LLM’17
  • Pakistan - Arhama Rushdi L’18
  • Turkey - Rana Ozer  LLM’18
  • Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia - Meroua Zouai  L’20
  • Lebanon - Joelle Hageboutros L’21