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PRESS RELEASE: Musawah Launches ‘Campaign for Justice in Muslim Family Laws’

PRESS RELEASE: Musawah Launches ‘Campaign for Justice in Muslim Family Laws’ 


حركة مساواة تطلق حملة نحو قوانين   أكثر عدالة للأسرة المسلمة

(Kuala Lumpur) 15 May 2020 – Today Musawah launched online its flagship Campaign for Justice in Muslim Family Laws to build momentum and support for the urgent necessity to reform discriminatory Muslim family laws. The global coronavirus pandemic has exposed the ways that discriminatory Muslim family laws exacerbate threats to women’s rights, safety and living conditions, underscoring that equality in the family is inextricable from equality in society.

The pandemic has caused a rise in levels of violence against women across the world, making Musawah’s campaign especially relevant now in Muslim contexts. The continued discrimination in Muslim family laws are legitimising various forms of violence against women, compounding the unfair distribution of domestic labour and care work, and intensifying the effects of male guardianship practices on curtailing women’s rights and access to justice.

“The vulnerabilities women face from discriminatory laws, policies and practices—especially those based on so-called religious justifications—have become clearer than ever. The national lockdowns and government responses to COVID-19 have provided further evidence that, without equality in the family, there can be no equality and justice in women’s lives,” Musawah Executive Director Zainah Anwar said. “Muslim women cannot wait any longer for change to be handed to us only when everything else has been fixed. We need our leaders to act now, and to have the political courage to reform discriminatory laws and policies that prevent women from participating as equal citizens in society and equal partners in families.”

On the International Day of Families, Musawah wants to highlight that one of the most significant barriers to Muslim women and girls achieving equality is the discrimination they suffer in Muslim family laws. In many countries, a child can be married off, a woman needs a male relative’s permission to get married, a man can divorce his wife at will, and a woman does not get a share of the marital property upon divorce.

A comprehensive, cross-country study drew the conclusion that “egalitarian reform of family law may be the most crucial precondition for empowering women economically,” (Htun et al, 2019)  because of restrictions that result in women’s low legal capacity: to inherit and accumulate wealth, to own property such as family land and assets such as businesses, to own bank accounts, and to participate fully in the labor force.

The gendered impacts of the pandemic on women living under Muslim family laws make the case for reform even more urgent:

  • Women in Sri Lanka and Malaysia have struggled to receive maintenance, whether from husbands who have not been able to earn as much during lockdowns or those who have reneged on their responsibilities;
  • In India and Palestine, there have been reports of families arranging child marriages to alleviate the economic burden families experience during this crisis;
  • In Singapore, the Shari’ah courts are suspended for people applying for custody of children, divorces and maintenance, leaving women in uncertain and potentially life-threatening situations. Yet, marriage solemnisations are still occurring over video conferencing; in fact, in Palestine, Musawah advocates reported that the only cases judges are taking on are solemnising child marriages.
  • In Morocco and Egypt, some governments have been giving payouts to citizens, but only to men, who are seen as the presumptive heads of households, excluding women in female-headed households and the majority of women working in informal sectors.

Musawah asserts that enough is enough. In the 21st century there can be no justice without equality. 2020 was to be an important year for international action on gender equality, commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Platform for Action and the Sustainable Development Goals, and specifically Goal 5 on gender equality. In fact, one of the indicators for SDG5 identifies family law as one of the legal frameworks that must be reformed to accelerate progress to promote, enforce, and monitor gender equality. The global COVID-19 pandemic has derailed many plans for action on gender equality even as it has highlighted the deep inequalities towards and discriminations against women, with many national lockdowns further exacerbating negative impacts on women’s health, livelihoods and family situations.

The Campaign for Justice is being launched today to propel Muslim family law reform to the forefront of national, regional and global agendas; for there can be no equality in the public sphere without equality in the family.s

About the Campaign

The Campaign for Justice in Muslim Family Laws brings together advocates for family law reform from across three regions—Middle East and North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, and South and Southeast Asia—to build their capacity to make the case for reform in Muslim contexts; to share successful strategies; to build collective strength to face resistance and attacks; and to build public support for the idea that change is necessary and possible to bridge the disconnect between discriminatory laws and women’s lived realities.

Musawah released the following resources tied to the campaign:

  • A campaign video by Executive Director Zainah Anwar;
  • A policy brief on the fundamental arguments for reform of Muslim family laws;
  • A rap song by Egyptian rap artist Felukah, set to animated illustrations by illustrator Rama Duwaji;
  • A campaign poster illustrated by Sri Lankan designer Tahira Rifath;
  • Articles on the significance of Muslim family law reform and its links to COVID-19 impacts on Muslim women; and
  • A campaign concept note;
  • As well as more to come in the lead-up to a Global Meeting of advocates for reform of Muslim family laws from around the world.

This campaign is also linked to the Global Campaign for Equality in Family Law across all regions, religions, cultures, and traditions. Musawah, along with international and regional NGOs including Equality Now, Act Church of Sweden, CLADEM, FEMNET, Muslims for Progressive Values, Women’s Learning Partnership, and UN Women, have jointly formed a Steering Committee to spearhead this five-year campaign, soft-launched through an online webinar on 25 March 2020.

For more information on the Campaign for Justice and to join our campaign, visit www.musawah.org/campaign-for-justice.

Press contact: Alex McCarthy, Communications Programme Officer, at [email protected].

Musawah is the global movement for equality and justice in the Muslim family. Since launching in 2009 in Malaysia, Musawah has built a knowledge-based global movement, bringing together activists, policy makers and scholars to challenge the ways Islam is used to justify discriminations against women in law and practice, and to offer a rights-based discourse and framework to advocate for equality and justice for women and marginalised groups living in Muslim contexts. 

Zainah Anwar is a sought-after international speaker and a prolific writer who most recently wrote a monthly column, Sharing the Nation, in Malaysia’s largest English-language daily, The Star. In 2019, she received the United Nations Malaysia Award 2019 for her contributions to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in the Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms category. In 2018, she was honoured by Harvard Law School as one of the top 25 women globally who contributed in the areas of law and policy. She has been named by Newsweek and The Daily Beast as one of the “150 women who shake the world” and by Women Deliver as one of 100 most inspiring people championing the rights of women and girls, and she was cited by the online International Museum of Women as one of the 10 leading Muslim women at the global level.

What are Muslim family laws? 

The field of family law includes the body of statutes, rules and regulations, court procedures, and uncodified practices that govern relationships within family units, including, but not limited to, areas of marriage and family relations under Article 16 of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). Over 45 countries in the world—some with Muslim-majority populations and some with Muslim minorities—have codified or uncodified laws that govern family relationships. Musawah has identified 12 principal issues of concern around Muslim family laws including the legal framework around equality of spouses in marriage, divorce rights, financial capacity after divorce, women’s consent to marriage, polygamy, child marriage, guardianship and custody, violence against women, inheritance rights, and nationality rights.

Is there one divine Islamic law? 

There is no such thing as one divine ‘Islamic family law’ for all Muslims globally and eternally. Muslim family laws have been influenced heavily by historical events, local customs, and norms, as well as legal and social values introduced in different periods of history, including during colonial eras. The diversity of Muslim family laws is evidence of the role that humans have played in developing these laws and how changeable and adaptable these laws can be. Learn more from our Knowledge Building brief and video on ‘Shari‘ah, Fiqh, and State Laws: Clarifying the Terms.’