By the Coalition of Muslim Women for Justice and Equality in Family Laws (South Asia and South East Asia)
We are a coalition of movements, organisations and concerned individuals who are advocating individually and collectively for reforms in the Muslim family laws in South and South East Asia. We come together at this moment to make a joint call to the 17 Muslim Members of Parliament (MPs) in Sri Lanka who have taken regressive positions on reforms of the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act (MMDA) 1951 and we demand that they reverse their positions to allow the process of reforms to move forward.
The issue of family law reform within the Muslim community has been the most difficult to address not just by Sri Lanka but by all Muslim women’s organisations who are struggling to make their voices heard. Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh in the South Asian region, who also share a similar political past, have struggled even more against Muslim, regressive, patriarchal, religious voices who have joined hands with political dispensations to keep justice away from Muslim women. However, in comparison, the MMDA in Sri Lanka remains one of the most regressive codified Muslim family laws globally.
We come together to stand by our Muslim sisters in Sri Lanka who have been doggedly pursuing family law reforms for many years. Muslim Personal Law Reform Action Group (MPLRAG) and other Muslim women’s groups have done tremendous work in highlighting the voices of Muslim women who are discriminated within the family amidst heavy opposition by conservative groups.
We are appalled that 17 Muslim MPs in Sri Lanka opposed progressive reforms to the MMDA presented in the draft Bill put forward by the Ministry of Justice. Their regressive positions on MMDA reforms include rejecting equal divorce procedures, rejecting 18 to be the minimum age of marriage without exception, rejecting equal sharing of matrimonial property, maintaining discrimination between different sects/madhabs, not allowing validity of a bride’s signature in the absence of a male guardian, maintaining the Quazi system as it currently stands, and excluding Muslim women from holding public office under the MMDA.
These MPs are trying to erase decades of work done by Muslim women’s organisations in Sri Lanka who through debates, consultations, research and ground work have brought into open the lived realities of Muslim women affected by this discriminatory family law. These positions taken by the 17 MPs also dismiss the work of six state-appointed committees of experts spanning over 60 years.
It is not new that the political dispensations are always hand in gloves with the religious dispensations. These are politically opportunistic and self-serving tactics done at the cost of Muslim women whose family lives are led in discrimination and injustice. As MPs, it is their solemn duty to treat all citizens equally and keep their ears open to the voices of the most marginalised. Muslim women in Sri Lanka have stood bravely against the conservative religious groups and look forward to the state to back them up.
How long are Muslim women going to be denied their rightful place in society, how long should they be screaming aloud to be heard by the deaf political empire? How long should Muslim women have to wait for constitutional guarantees of equality and non-discrimination? How long should they be a victim to anti-Islamic rhetoric which is deliberately raked up at any opportunity for Muslim family law reforms?
This Coalition demands:
- The 17 Muslim MPs withdraw their regressive recommendations by recognising the long term damage their position will have on Sri Lankan Muslim women and girls.
- They must rise above their political interests to support Muslim women and girls in their struggle for justice and equality within the family.
- The Ministry of Justice must reject the said regressive recommendations and recognise how those recommendations will reverse all the hard work done by Muslim women and by the Ministry.
- Without any delay the Ministry must immediately accept all the progressive recommendations and move ahead with the Bill based on the recommendations by the 2021 Advisory Committee for reforms so that this long wait for justice ends.
- Justice Dr. Muhammad Khalid Masud, member Shariat Appellate Bench, Supreme Court of Pakistan, Islamabad
- Marwa Sharafeldin
- Maliha Zia
- Dr. Noorjehan Safia Niaz
- Yasmin Rehman
- Munza Mushtaq
- Humay Abdulghafoor
- Saba Qureshi
- Mariam Kahldeen
- Oshadhi Peiris
- Rehana Mohammed
- Seema Khan
- Pera Sopariyanti
- Milena Páramo
- Fer Ghanaa Ansari
- Nepal Muslim Women Welfare society
- Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan/ Indian Muslim Women’s Movement
- Perkumpulan Rahima