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Campaign for Justice in Muslim Family Laws

Executive Director Zainah Anwar explains the Campaign for Justice in Muslim Family Laws: why it is necessary, why now, and how you can join us!

“Mesh Hastanna | مش هاستنى | I Won’t Wait” features song and lyrics by Egyptian rap artist Felukah, set to animated illustrations by Syrian illustrator Rama Duwaji. Music produced by Malik El Messiry.

Campaign for Justice in Muslim Family Laws​

Musawah is spearheading a global Campaign for Justice in Muslim Family Laws, bringing 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 support at the national, regional and global levels for the urgency of reform towards equality and justice for women living in Muslim contexts.

Illustration by Tahira Rifath

Why is this campaign necessary and possible?

Because Muslim women and girls are severely discriminated against.

family laws in


Over 45 countries in the world—some with Muslim-majority populations and some with Muslim minorities, including all members of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC)—have codified or uncodified Muslim family laws that govern family relationships. Many of these laws are discriminatory towards women and girls.

These de facto and de jure Muslim family laws are the source of discrimination against women, at entry into marriage, during marriage, and at the dissolution of the marriage.

Inequality and discrimination in the family affect women and girls in all spheres of life, especially in key decision making about education, employment, livelihood, travel, sexual and reproductive health, financial rights, community and political participation, etc.

For women and girls, there can be no equality in society without equality in the family.

Because there is overwhelming resistance to family law reform.

Several arguments are commonly used to resist family law reform in Muslim contexts; these are often based on religious grounds. Governments, religious authorities, and others in power argue that these laws are ‘God-given,’ and that any attempt to change such laws goes against Islam. Many of those in authority claim that men are the protectors and providers of their families and, thus, men have rights and privileges in Muslim family laws that women do not enjoy. They regard this as a complementarity of rights, not inequality.

Not only do these family laws fail to fulfill the Shari’ah requirements of justice, but they are being used to deny women rights and dignified choices in life. These elements lie at the root of marital disharmony and the breakdown of the family.

Over the past decades, scholarship and activism in the Muslim world have developed to make the case for the possibility and necessity of reform. Growing evidence shows that many provisions in Muslim family laws, as defined by classical jurists and as reproduced in modern legal codes, are untenable in contemporary circumstances and indefensible on Islamic grounds.

Religion, ideology, culture, or tradition can no longer be used to justify discrimination against women and girls.

Because we believe in the collective power of Muslim women to mobilise a global movement to reform Muslim family laws.

Muslim women have played a critical role in developing feminist scholarship on Islam and in organising and advocating for change within their own communities and countries. There is rich knowledge about activism, advocacy, and strategies from within the Muslim world. When women’s rights activists in different countries and regions share successful advocacy strategies and lessons learned in overcoming challenges, it strengthens our communities and national-level movements.

At the international level, there is increasing recognition that egalitarian family laws are essential to achieve gender equality. In compliance with CEDAW, governments have the primary responsibility:

  • to engage Muslim women as a key constituency in developing laws and policies that affect our lives;
  • to enact reforms that better comply with treaty obligations that uphold and advance human rights for everyone, regardless of religious belief;
  • to end discrimination against women in marriage and family and to promote gender equality in families in substantive ways that reflect the needs and realities of today’s families.

In the 21st century, there can be no justice without equality!

NEW! Policy Briefs Series

Past Workshops and Webinars

WEBINAR: Muslim Women Creating New Futures: The Campaign for Justice in Muslim Family Laws

In this webinar, titled “Muslim Women Creating New Futures: The Campaign for Justice in Muslim Family Laws,” speakers Zainah Anwar, Marwa Sharafeldin, and Hala Al-Karib, with moderator Salomé Gómez-Upegui, discuss the work of Muslim women activists campaigning for egalitarian reform in Muslim family laws across Southeast Asia, the Middle East and North Africa, and Sub-Saharan Africa.

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WEBINAR: Indian Muslim Women’s Movement: For Gender Justice and Equal Citizenship

In this webinar, Zakia Soman and Dr. Noorjehan Safia Niaz, co-founders of Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA) and co-authors of “Indian Muslim Women’s Movement: For Gender Justice and Equal Citizenship,” will discuss their pioneering activism for equal rights and equal citizenship of Muslim women in India, advocacy strategies, challenges of advocating women’s rights in a Muslim minority context, and linkages with Muslim women’s movements across the globe. Moderated by Alex McCarthy of Musawah, and co-hosted by Harvard Law School’s Program on Law and Society in the Muslim World and Musawah.

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Selected Resources

Get Involved!

We must get our voices heard. Our experience of living Islam, and of being impacted by unjust Islamic laws and practices that are enforced by authorities who claim to speak in the name of God, give us the absolute right to speak out. How do we change mindsets and understandings if only one voice–the patriarchal authoritarian voice of Islam–is heard, while others are silent, or silenced?

~ Zainah Anwar, Interview with sister-hood