The Economic History Review

Gender and justice: The status of women in Ottoman courts

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Authors: Metin M. Coşgel, Hamdi Genç, Emre Özer, Sadullah Yıldırım
Published online: January 16, 2024DOI: 10.1111/ehr.13310

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This paper studies legal disparities between men and women in a patriarchal framework. Throughout history, women have confronted discrimination in matters of inheritance, property ownership, and various other legal rights. We examine the consequences of legal discrimination for women’s differential engagement and success within legal conflicts, using data from Ottoman courts in the early nineteenth century. The results show that women were parties to approximately 30 per cent of cases, with a modest gender gap of around eight to ten percentage points in terms of plaintiff win rates. The gap varied across courts and types of cases, consistent with gender disparities in legal knowledge and trial stakes in patriarchal societies. Notably, when litigating against male defendants, the disparity was more pronounced in provincial courts (Konya and Kütahya), as opposed to courts in the capital city (Galata and Üsküdar). Similarly, while the gender gap was greater in property and probate cases than those involving personal crimes and commercial exchange, the gap was reversed in family matters. The analysis suggests that a significant portion of the gender gap in litigation success can be attributed to disparities in evidence presentation (witness testimonies, written documents and legal opinions).