Rights within Marriage and the Family


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This briefing paper takes an in-depth look at the standards developed by six United Nations (UN) “treaty monitoring bodies,” or committees, in the area of marriage and family life.

Following a brief overview of the origin and work of the committees, the briefing paper reviews standards each body has adopted as it has monitored governments’ compliance with their duties under international human rights law. The committees have made it clear that, in the context of marriage and private life, governments are bound to protect women’s health and lives.

Government Duties to Ensure Women’s Equality

A woman’s rights within marriage have enormous implications for her ability to participate fully in society and make autonomous decisions about reproduction. When women are betrothed as young girls, forced into marriage roles based on gender stereotypes, and deterred from fleeing violent relationships, they have little opportunity to pursue opportunities outside of the home. Their resulting subordination makes them vulnerable to abuse and exploitation, the impact of which is often invisible to the outside world. International law offers longstanding protections against these abuses within marriage. One of the basic principles governing marriage under human rights law is that no one may be forced to enter into a marriage against his or her will. Moreover, men and women have equal rights upon entry into marriage, during marriage, and at its dissolution.

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