Towards Gender Equity in a Developing Asia: Reforming Personal Laws within a Pluralist Framework


Personal laws are statutory and customary laws applicable to particular religious or cultural groups within a national jurisdiction. They govern family relations in such matters as marriage and divorce, maintenance and succession. Personal laws remain prevalent in Asia and especially in South Asia and South-East Asia, including in India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines. Almost invariably, personal laws entrench inequalities with regard to women in two respects. Firstly, they sanction unequal rights of men and women within a given cultural or religious group. For example, some personal laws permit women to divorce their husbands on narrower grounds than those on which men are permitted to divorce their wives. Secondly, the application of personal laws results in unequal rights amongst women themselves, contingent on their religion or ethnicity. Hence, in a given jurisdiction, Muslim women may be entitled to smaller maintenance payments than Christian or Hindu women, or vice versa.

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Panel I: Defund Means Defund Andrea Ritchie (she/her) is a Black lesbian immigrant whose writing, litigation, and advocacy has focused on policing of women and LGBT people of color for the past two decades. She is currently a researcher with