Legal differentiation between men and women, i.e, distinctions which may contain prescriptions discriminating against women, or protecting the other sex, are found on many levels. There are, first of all, the provisions of the constitution of a state. In more than 96 constitutions of the world, provisions are made either to assist, protect, or to provide for women. The effect, however, often ends up as de facto discrimination, limiting women's political representation or their right to equal opportunity.
On another level are measures which many governments have promulgated, enacted and decreed as law and which do discriminate against women and inhibit their social, political and economic advancement. In this regard one can also refer to the absence of laws to protect women or to provide for equal opportunities with men.
On a third level there are the laws passed by autonomous regions within a federal structure, for example in India, the United States, Australia or Canada, enabling one state to pass discriminatory measures not existing either in the state right next door or in federal legislation.
Finally there is the vast field of de facto discrimination and the gap which exists between the objectives stated in the constitution, or in national legislation, and the conditions which exist in the marketplace.
There are now 166 recognized nation-states in the world, of which 159 have traditional, one-document, or entrenched constitutions. The United Kingdom, New Zealand, and Israel have a number of basic, organic acts and laws which, collectively, serve as their constitutions. Some countries have no consititutions, such as Bhutan. 1
Constitutions provide a basic expression of the values and goals of society. They are extremely important documents fulfilling important functions. A conventional definition is that they are the framework which structures the assemblage of laws, institutions and customs which govern a nation. But a constitution is also an ideological manifesto, indicating national purpose, the formulation of the rights of its citizens. The general function of a constitution is to contain important legal pronouncements converting power into law, setting up state institutions and providing indications of how legal and political problems should be solved. 2