Studying the history of the women’s suffrage movement reveals many social factors that affected and continue to affect Canada’s legal system. As readers of the Ms. Suffragette blog are aware, 2016 celebrates one hundred years of women’s voting rights in Canada. Significant progress in this area has been made over the last century, as women and men now represent approximately equal numbers of voters .
By enacting voting rights for women, Canadian society recognized that women and men had equal voices in the political sphere. The ability to express one’s voice in a political forum reflects the fundamental right to express one’s personal opinions on important, public matters.Therefore, the right to vote is tied to the core of personhood. However, it is essential that equality between men and women extends outside the political sphere. Just as women are considered equal to men politically, they must also be considered equal to men individually, in social situations, and under the law.
In Canadian courts, the evidentiary testimony of a witness is presented through viva voce evidence, which is the legal term referring to oral testimony in court. In the search for the truth, a witness’s factual views on an event can be compared to another’s understanding of the same event. This comparison of views often occurs in the context of sexual assault trials. A complainant of sexual assault can relay the events as he or she views them, and the accused can also testify as to his or her version of the events in question. Courts are sometimes presented with a diametrically opposed, he-said/she-said version of events. In assessing the truth, the court will consider the credibility of the witnesses. In the Canadian legal system, the testimony of women and men is assessed equally, irrespective of their gender . However, in countries that include Islamic Shari’a law in their legal systems, a woman's testimony is not accorded equal weight to a man’s testimony. For example, in countries such as Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and the United Arab Emirates, women are not perceived to be as credible as men in regards to their testimony .
Further, sexual violence tends to be perpetrated by men upon women, and this gender-based trend is fairly uniform globally . In legal systems where women are viewed as having equal voices to men, victims of sexual violence may have better access to justice, and perpetrators are more likely to be reprimanded or rehabilitated. However, in countries that incorporate Shari’a law into their legal systems, victims have less opportunities to have their voice heard under the law. As women are more likely to be victims and as men are more likely to be perpetrators, women have less chances to effect retribution against male perpetrators.
In traditional Shari’a religious courts “the testimony of two women is required to match the value of one man’s testimony” . In Jordan, for example, a woman who applies for a divorce on the basis of domestic violence must provide the court with “two male witnesses” because her own evidence is insufficient . Lebanon, Kuwait, and Syria have civil and criminal court systems for most claims and offences. However, the systems are supplemented with a Shari’a court system . The Shari’a courts, where a woman’s testimony is worth only half of a man’s testimony, prosecute moral crimes. Moral crimes in these religious courts include adultery, marital rape, and “honor” [sic] crimes. An example of a potential honour crime is “the murder or beating of [a woman] for alleged sexual misconduct” .
Due to international pressure, especially from the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (“CEDAW”), many countries have moved away from purely Shari’a-based legal systems in order to increase the legal and political rights of women . Bahrain ratified CEDAW in 2002, but with reservations concerning “family law, equality, freedom of movement, and residence” . Generally, women in Bahrain are equal to men in the legal courts, but Shari’a courts still “state that a valid witness should be two men, or two women and one man” . Egypt ratified much of CEDAW in 1981, and a woman’s testimony is legally equal to that of a man . However, conservative power structures still make access to justice difficult for women when bringing assault claims to the courts . The United Arab Emirates ratified many of the CEDAW Articles in 2004, but retain “precepts of Shari’a regarding [certain traditional] rights” . For example, despite Dubai’s international appeal, in the absence of a confession to sexual assault, four adult male witnesses must supplement a female complainant’s testimony in order for a court to proceed with a conviction .
In Canada’s legal system, a woman’s voice is equal to that of a man in regards to court testimony. However, female complainants of sexual assault still face a stigma that is not attributed to complainants of non-sexual violence. Since sexual violence is a gender-based phenomenon, women are often disproportionately affected and negatively treated when they allege that they were sexually assaulted. The highly-publicized Jian Ghomeshi sexual assault trial was completed last week, and the judgment will be released on March 24th. Check back tomorrow for Ms. Suffragette’s analysis of the treatment of the female complainants and why the history of women’s positions in society is so important to the study of law.
 “Estimation of Voter Turnout by Age Group and Gender at the 2011 Federal General Election” (17 February 2016), online: <http://www.elections.ca/content.aspx?section=res&dir=rec/part/estim/41ge&document=report41&lang=e>.
 Sameena Nazir & Leigh Tomppert, Women's Rights in the Middle East and North Africa: Citizenship and Justice (New York: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2005) [Nazir].
 “The Facts: Gender Inequality and Violence Against Women and Girls Around the World” (17 February 2016), online: <http://www.advocatesforyouth.org/publications/publications-a-z/1556-the-facts-gender-inequality-and-violence-against-women-and-girls-around-the-world>.
 Nizar, supra note 2 at 44.
 Ibid at 114.
 Ibid at 44, 128, 278.
 Ibid at 278.
 Ibid at 54.
 Ibid at 52, 54.
 Ibid at 53.
 Ibid at 73.
 Ibid at 71.
 Ibid at 317.
 “Dubai sentences Norwegian woman who reported rape” (17 February 2016), online: <http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-23381448>.