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Institutional reform and de facto women’s rights

Institutions & Governance Pakistan

Photo credit: Hasan Almasi on Unsplash

Policy Context

While governments may pass legal reforms, there is often a gap between de jure (“on the books”) legal rights and de facto practice (what is actually done). One reason for the gap may be a lack of understanding of the law. In 2015, the state of Punjab in Pakistan passed a set of legal reforms to strengthen women’s rights in marriage and divorce. However, brides in particular were typically not informed of the terms of the marriage agreements they signed and the terms of the contract were often influenced by the spouses’ parents, marriage registrars, and religious-legal officials.

Study Design

In 2017, the government initiated the first-ever mandatory training of all marriage registrars in the province of Punjab. To evaluate the impact of the training, researchers collaborated with the government’s Punjab Commission on the Status of Women to randomize the rollout of the training across the province of Punjab.

Results and Policy Lessons

The results suggest the training increased registrar knowledge of basic provisions about family law and women’s rights, as well as the likelihood they would ensure women are aware of the terms of the contract they are signing. Researchers’ analysis of 14,000 digitized marriage contracts showed reductions in procedural violations among trained registrars, who were 50% less likely to cross out the section of a marriage contract giving the bride the right to divorce (rather than giving this option to the family to choose whether to give this right).

Building on the background work and administrative data analysis funded by EDI, the researchers are also working on a related project investigating whether the transition to a computerized biometric system of managing land transfers improves women’s access to inherited land. Between 2011 – 2014, Punjab overhauled the old, informal system for transferring land that allowed local ‘middle men’ to influence the process in ways that decreased female heirs’ access to land inheritance. The researchers are using the rollout of new land service centers to identify whether the reform improves women’s access to inherited land (by comparing the amount of land that women inherit to the amount of land that they should be inheriting by law in places with access to service centers, compared to areas still relying on local middle men).

For more information, read the working paper here, and the Impact story here.

  • Erica Field
  • Kate Vyborny
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