Why Muslim Family Law Reform? Why Now? Regional Perspectives
Date: Thursday, 25 June 2020
Time: 11:30am Cairo | 12:30pm Kampala | 5:30pm KL
Many countries at the bottom of various gender equality surveys are those whose family laws discriminate against women. Recent research has found that egalitarian family law reform may be the most crucial precondition for empowering women economically. Yet family law reform today remains the most intractable area of law reform.
In this webinar, we unpacked the urgency of reforming discriminatory Muslim family laws in three regions: South and Southeast Asia, Middle East-North Africa, and Sub-Saharan Africa. Some highlights from the webinar below:
- Moderator Hyshyama Hamin opened the webinar by laying the global context on Muslim family laws. She briefly described key findings of Musawah’s research mapping Muslim family laws and reform processes in over 33 countries, including the 12 principal issues of concern that are most common globally in Muslim family laws. Hyshyama also highlighted Musawah’s knowledge building efforts, especially in clarifying Islamic terms such as Shari’ah, fiqh (human jurisprudence) and Islamic law, which are often used in place of one another and cause confusion and resistance to reform efforts.
- Marwa Sharafeldin highlighted Muslim family law-related issues in the MENA region and shared specific challenges that Muslim women living under discriminatory family laws in the region face in the context of COVID-19. These challenges include an exacerbation of domestic violence and heightened control and restriction of autonomy of Muslim women, especially because, “Many Arab and Muslim family laws not only contain provisions that promote an unequal relationship between the genders, but they also condone varying levels of violence.” She also highlighted the impacts of increased domestic and care labour at home during the pandemic, keeping in mind that the region has the highest rate of domestic work for women compared to men in the world during ordinary circumstances. According to Marwa, the impacts of increased care work are closely associated with women’s ability to work for pay outside the home. During her talk, Marwa also shared examples of progressive reform of Muslim family laws in the region and why Muslim family law reform must be a priority issue of concern for Arab governments.
- In her presentation, Hala Al-Karib highlighted the nature of Muslim family laws in the Sub-Saharan African region, with a focus on Horn of Africa countries. She spoke about the interaction between religion and customary laws and practices in the region and the impacts of both codified and un-codified laws and practices on Muslim women and girls. Hala shared examples of family law regimes in Ethiopia, Uganda, Djibouti, Sudan and Somaliland. She also mentioned the contradictions between constitutions that provide for equality and non-discrimination compared to Muslim family laws that contain and exacerbate discrimination against Muslim women. A key point Hala mentioned in her presentation was the need to shift the agenda within women’s rights movements towards family law reform and the need to transfer our lived realities into a political agenda to push for reform of discriminatory family laws.
- Last but not least, Zainah Anwar gave a presentation about the South and Southeast Asian region, which houses the majority of Muslims in the world, including the countries with the largest Muslim-majority and -minority populations (Indonesia and India, respectively). She highlighted the diversity of legislation pertaining to family laws and plural legal systems in the region and the similarities of issues that Muslim women face under discriminatory Muslim family laws. Zainah shared examples of how, in many countries in the region like Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Singapore, and India, civil laws have advanced the rights of non-Muslim women, while Muslim family laws have denied these same rights for Muslim women. In a context where distribution of matrimonial assets is nonexistent in the majority of Muslim family laws globally, Zainah shared examples of exceptional legal provisions pertaining to matrimonial property regimes in Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia. Lastly, Zainah spoke about the need for a Campaign for Justice in Muslim Family Laws to garner regional and international momentum for reform of discriminatory Muslim contexts, and how we see this campaign as part of the global movement for social justice to end all forms of inequalities.
The presentations were followed by a vibrant and energising Question-and-Answer section, where the panelists responded to questions from attendees about the codification of family laws in countries with only customary/religious practices, whether ‘egalitarian Muslim family laws’ is possible, regional and national advocacy strategies to reform Muslim family laws, and the importance of engaging with Islamic jurisprudence and Islamic legal tools in reform processes.
The Zoom webinar was attended by 130 participants from 34 countries. This webinar is part of Musawah’s Campaign for Justice in Muslim Family Laws. Want to know more about the Campaign for Justice in Muslim Family Laws? Email us at campaignforjustice [at] musawah.org.
Hala Al-Karib is an activist and social and gender research practitioner from Sudan. She is the Regional Director of the Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa (SIHA) and the editorial head of the annual journal “Women in Islam”. Hala’s activism specifically focuses on women and girls rights, refugees, displaced persons and the challenges faced by minority communities. She has wide and comprehensive expertise on the Horn and Eastern Africa regions. She is also a regular contributor to many online and print media outlets. Some of her recent articles were published in Al-Jazeera, Open Democracy, Sudan Tribune, The Pambazuka, the New Humanitarian and the East African Newspaper.
Marwa Sharafeldin is a women’s rights activist based in Cairo. She is the MENA Region Senior Expert at Musawah and a co-founder of the Network of Women’s Rights Organizations in Egypt, as well as several other women’s rights organizations in the country. She has been involved in activist work on women’s rights with numerous NGOs in Egypt. Marwa has served as a Board Member in Musawah, and as an Advisor for the Global Fund for Women and the Asian-Pacific Resource & Research Centre for Women (ARROW). She completed her Ph.D. in the Law Faculty at Oxford University in the UK on NGO reform efforts of Muslim family law using both Islamic law and international human rights law, and has been published in a number of academic books and media platforms.
Zainah Anwar co-founded two groundbreaking women’s rights groups that engage with Islam from a rights perspective to promote the rights of women living in Muslim contexts. She is a founding member and the executive director of Musawah, a global movement for equality and justice in the Muslim family. She was a founding member and former executive director of Sisters in Islam, a Malaysian NGO working on women’s rights within an Islamic framework. A prolific writer, speaker and activist of women’s rights, Zainah was awarded the United Nations Malaysia Award 2019, and has a monthly column, Sharing the Nation, in Malaysia’s largest English-language daily, The Star.
(Moderator) Hyshyama Hamin is the Campaign Coordinator for the Campaign for Justice in Muslim Family Laws led by Musawah. Hyshyama works closely with activists and groups from different Muslim contexts, as well as UN experts engaged with human rights treaty mechanisms such as CEDAW, in advocating for egalitarian laws, procedures and practices in marriage and family matters. Her work involves mapping of Muslim personal status laws and movements in family law reform globally. Hyshyama is also an activist advocating for reform of the Muslim family law in her home country Sri Lanka.
- Policy Brief #1: Why Muslim Family Law Reform? Why Now?
- Video: Musawah’s Campaign for Justice in Muslim Family Laws Explained by Zainah Anwar
- Video: Muslim Family Laws: What makes reform possible?
- Video: Shari’ah, Fiqh and Islamic Law: Clarifying the terms
- Mapping of Muslim Family Laws in 31+ countries
- Positive Developments in Muslim Family Laws (2019)
- Knowledge building briefs
- Comparative Legal Review of the Impact of Muslim Family Laws on Women Across Commonwealth Asia and Africa