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PRESS RELEASE: Musawah Urges States to Treat Women and Men Equally Ahead of 2021 UN ECOSOC High-Level Segment

(Kuala Lumpur) 23 April 2021 – Musawah, the global movement for equality and justice in the Muslim family, submitted a statement to the 2021 United Nations Economic and Social Council High-level Segment (HLS) on the necessity to reform discriminatory Muslim family laws. We urge member States to treat women and men as equals in marriage and within families, and give specific recommendations to end discrimination in family laws while building back better. The HLS theme of the July 2021 session, “Sustainable and resilient recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, that promotes the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development: Building an inclusive and effective path for the achievement of the 2030 Agenda in the context of the decade of action and delivery for sustainable development,” allows organisations in consultative status with ECOSOC to contribute to issues of critical concern to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and to discuss the long-term impact of current trends in the economic, social and environmental areas on the realisation of the sustainable development goals (SDGs). 

Statement submission:

Musawah, the global movement for equality and justice in the Muslim family, in our submission to the 2021 Economic and Social Council High-level Segment, highlights to States that the disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on women and girls has exacerbated injustices they already face under discriminatory family laws, especially in contexts where Islam is a source of law and public policies. Musawah urges States to ensure that Muslim family laws that govern 1.8 billion Muslims globally treat women and men as equals in marriage and within families.

Throughout the pandemic, many States called on individuals to stay home to contain the spread. But “home” can be a dangerous place for many women, especially when norms, laws and policies deny them equality and dignity in their families and society. Musawah’s “Survey findings on the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on women living under discriminatory Muslim family laws outlines how lockdowns and resulting financial strain in 12 countries in Asia and the Middle East created space for increased domestic violence, women bearing the brunt of care/domestic work, spikes in harmful practices like child marriage, and heightened precarity in resolving child custody, divorce and maintenance. Interruptions to court systems and proceedings further impeded access to justice. 

SDG Indicator 5.1.1 specifically identifies family law as one of four legal frameworks that must be reformed to accelerate progress on gender equality (SDG5). This has clear intersections with: 

SDG10: Reduced inequalities

The pandemic, combined with patriarchal social norms and discriminatory Muslim family laws that grant men authority and guardianship over women, increased gendered inequalities. Women’s security, decision making, mobility, livelihood opportunities, and access to health care were adversely affected. 


  • Establish strong response systems for survivors and persons vulnerable to domestic violence, and child and forced marriage.
  • Ensure Muslim family laws treat women and men as equals.
  • Centre women’s lived realities and address all areas of discrimination in family matters.

SDG16: Peace, justice and strong institutions

Pandemic-related closures of court systems resulted in a denial or delay of legal redress for many women in cases of divorce, maintenance and child custody. Many countries did not adequately resolve domestic violence, child abuse, and family-related cases. Women also faced difficulties accessing justice due to travel restrictions, inadequate notice, and technology and information gaps.


  • Establish physical and remote services for family dispute resolutions to assist with access to justice and prevent delayed justice and costly litigation.
  • Develop digital payment mechanisms for maintenance, alimony, and child support, and ensure information and technical assistance are readily available.
  • Establish efficient systems to regulate child custody, parenting time, maintenance, and child care/protection.
  • Conduct training for legal professionals to better handle emergencies, work remotely, and acquire technological skills.

Ensuring egalitarian family laws and effective justice systems can work towards achieving the 2030 Agenda. Equality in the family is essential for equality in society. We urge States to end discrimination in family laws while building back better. 

Read the full survey report “Survey findings on the Impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on women living under discriminatory Muslim family lawsand watch the video illustrating highlights from the survey findings and recommendations

Last year in 2020, Musawah—as part of the Global Campaign for Equality in Family Law with Equality Now, Women’s Learning Partnership, FEMNET, Muslims for Progressive Values, and ACT Alliance—submitted a statement to the 2020 Economic and Social Council High Level Segment focused on the action and transformation necessary for equality in family law. The theme was “Accelerated action and transformative pathways: realizing the decade of action and delivery for sustainable development.” The Global Campaign called on all member states to ensure equality for women and men under the law in all matters relating to the family, regardless of religion, culture and tradition.

Press contact: Alex McCarthy, International Advocacy 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.