Right to Equal Protection Under the Law

What it means

  • African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (Article 3): Every individual shall be equal before the law. Every individual shall be entitled to equal protection of the law
  • American Convention on Human Rights (Article 24): All persons are equal before the law. Consequently, they are entitled, without discrimination, to equal protection of the law.
  • European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (Protocol No. 12): Having regard to the fundamental principle according to which all persons are equal before the law and are entitled to the equal protection of the law.
  • ASEAN Human Rights Declaration: Every person has the right of recognition everywhere as a person before the law. Every person is equal before the law. Every person is entitled without discrimination to equal protection of the law.
  • Arab Charter on Human Rights (Article 11): All persons are equal before the law and have the right to enjoy its protection without discrimination.

How it relates to violence against women

‘Equal protection under the law’ requires more than the formal recognition of men and women’s equal rights in the text of the law. For any law to become meaningful, there are many authorities who must ensure it is enforced and protected on the ground. ‘Substantively’ guaranteeing women’s rights requires police officers, court officials and all other professions related to the justice system work together to end VAW. If gender-based crimes are not treated with the same concern as other crimes, women cannot be secure in their right to equal protection under the law. Sometimes this means addressing harmful gender stereotypes and practices that are accepted as normal and acceptable in day-to-day life, even though they are deeply discriminatory. If a community believes domestic violence is a matter to be resolved at home, it is likely that police officers will not address this type of violence with the same professionalism as in other cases. Similarly, if a judge believes that a man is justified in killing his wife for the sake of so called ‘honour’, his decision may not be the same as it would had the murder been a random act.

Examples of violence against women that violate this right include:

  • Sexual abuse or rape by police
  • Minimal sentencing for crimes committed in the name of so-called ‘honour’
  • A penal code that allows rapists of women or girls under the age to consent to sexual contact to avoid prosecution by marrying their victim

Click on the cases to the right (or, for mobile users, at the bottom of this page) to learn more about the right to equal protection under the law and violence against women.

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