In the UK a number of bodies are offering Islamic divorce services to Muslim women in return for payment, including the Islamic Sharia Council (ISC), the Muslim Law (Sharia) Council and the Muslim Arbitration Tribunal (MAT).
For Muslim women, obtaining a religious divorce can be as important as a civil one. For some this is simply a matter of faith, whereas other women may have practical reasons for seeking religious divorce, for example if they want to remarry or are returning to their home countries. However, in doing so, some women face discrimination and those who have faced domestic violence or forced marriage are put at risk of further abuse.
In June 2011 Baroness Cox of the House of Lords released a private member’s bill which seeks to subject all bodies applying religious law to the provisions of the Sex Discrimination Act. The Arbitration and Mediation Services (Equality) Bill also proposed to make it a criminal offence for bodies involved in private mediation or arbitration to claim a remit in relation to family or criminal law. IKWRO supported the bill as an important first step in recognising and addressing the discrimination faced by women using Islamic divorce services. In October 2012, the Arbitration and Mediation Services (Equality) Bill had its second reading in parliament. However the government has declined to endorse it.
IKWRO has evidence of both direct and indirect discrimination against women by bodies which offer Islamic divorce services. Such discrimination is in breach of the Equality Act 2010, and IKWRO has also identified conflicts with the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, the Children Act 1989 and the Human Rights Act 1998. We are also concerned that by allowing for the application of Sharia Law within this country, the UK may be in breach of its obligations under Article 16 of the UN Convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women (CEDAW), which requires signatories to take all necessary steps to end discrimination against women and girls in relation to marriage and family life.
We are calling on the government to recognise our concerns and to endorse The Arbitration and Mediation Services (Equality) Bill. If it is not able to do so then the government should investigate bodies involved in providing Islamic divorce services without delay, and should take rapid steps to address discriminatory practices within them.
Read more about Sharia Law in the UK