Tag Archives: Sharia Law

Multiculturalism and sharia

IKWRO were contributors of one section in the report ‘Multiculturalism and Child Protection in the UK‘ produced by the One Law for All campaign.

‘Sharia law is an issue of great importance to us,’ said Director, Diana Nammi. ‘Our clients are often seeking divorce in the cases of abuse and feel the need for a religious divorce. However, their experiences have been extremely negative.’ Accounts of these responses are included within our section which provided women’s real experiences of seeking legal advice, which often include poor responses to revelations of abuse within the family.

IKWRO welcomes bill to limit Sharia Law in Britain

Despite the fact that by law Sharia Councils are not supposed to adjudicate on family or criminal matters, IKWRO staff know of several women who have been pressured to resolve issues such as marriage breakdown, child custody and domestic violence in informal faith-based ‘courts’ in the UK.  One woman who wanted a divorce from her abusive husband was told she should make her marriage work.  Another was sent home because judges said they would not deal with her while she was menstruating. 

Given stories like this, IKWRO celebrated last week when a new bill was launched in parliament which would limit the remit of Sharia Law in Britain and introduce measures to prevent Muslim Arbitration Tribunals from discriminating against women.

The Arbitration and Mediation Services (Equality) Bill, introduced by Baroness Cox from the House of Lords, includes several important proposals:

Firstly, it clarifies that family law and criminal law cases must not be decided by arbitration tribunals.  In law, Muslim Arbitration Tribunals and the Jewish equivalent Beth Din can make decisions in cases involving financial and property issues which, under the 1996 Arbitration Act, are enforceable by UK courts.  However, some Muslim tribunals have been practising other areas of law, including divorce, child custody and domestic violence.   The Bill makes it a criminal offence for bodies other than UK courts to claim a remit in these areas, punishable by up to five years in prison.

The Bill will also bring arbitration tribunals under existing rules on sex discrimination, and will outlaw discriminatory practices, such as giving women’s testimony half the weight of men’s and according men greater inheritance and property rights than women.  It will also make it easier for the courts to overturn rulings and agreements which have breached equality legislation or have been reached through duress or intimidation.  The proposals also make clear that women who have experienced domestic violence are witnesses to an offence and therefore should be expressly protected from witness intimidation.

These are really important steps which will help to protect women’s rights, particularly in situations where they have ended their marriages due to domestic violence.  The changes will also help to guarantee equality before the law, and to ensure that basic human rights as recognised in the Human Rights Act and equality legislation are accorded to all.

So what now?

This is a Private Member’s Bill which means it’s been initiated by an individual member of parliament rather than by the government.  IKWRO really wants to see this important bill become an act of parliament, and this is more likely to happen if the Prime Minister gets on board. 

Back in February, David Cameron criticised “state multiculturalism” and advocated a “muscular liberalism” which would do more to promote equality.  Over the coming months, IKWRO will be putting pressure on the Prime Minister to move from words to action, by backing the Arbitration and Mediation Services (Equality) Bill and making sure it becomes law.

We’ll also be working to get MPs to support the bill, starting by asking them to attend a parliamentary debate on this issue, which is being organised by the One Law for All campaign on June 28.  Find out  more on One Law for All’s website and keep checking our blog for the latest updates.


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100 years of International Women’s Day: Still not equal, and some are less equal than others

This blog was also featured on the Independent’s website for International Women’s Day 2011.

Today is the hundredth anniversary of International Women’s Day.  It’s a day to celebrate the progress that women around the world have made in fighting for their rights over the past century.  And it’s a day to look to the century to come, the challenges that remain for the world’s women and the obstacles that lie ahead.

Despite claims that discrimination is over, women’s rights remain a major concern in the UK.  From lower pay to sexist imagery in the media, women in British society are still not recognised as men’s equals.  But on top of this, women from the UK’s ethnic minorities face a level of discrimination which is unimaginable to most women in this country. 

At the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation we help Middle Eastern women and girls living in the UK to escape ‘honour’ based violence, forced marriage, female genital mutilation and domestic violence.  Since we began in 2002 we’ve worked with thousands of women and girls who have been beaten, locked up, threatened, mutilated, forced into marriage, attacked with acid, forced into suicide and even murdered.  Their families or husbands, who carry out this abuse, try to justify it by reference to culture or religion.  To them, women’s rights is not relevant to their community.  It’s something that happens outside.

Yet discriminatory attitudes come from outside of minority communities too, with many people in the UK still believing that the rights of women from ethnic minorities are somehow culturally relative.  Last week for example a receptionist in a London GP’s surgery said that she could not put up a poster advertising the help that we offer to women.  When asked why, she answered that it might offend men.  Would she have said this had the poster been for a domestic violence charity helping British women?  We don’t think so.

Despite all the international conventions which the UK has signed on to and the growing body of UK legislation on women’s human rights, our national government has also made exceptions to women’s rights on the basis of religion.  In 2007 the government introduced Muslim Arbitration Tribunals, which can resolve disputes related to family issues using Sharia law rather than UK civil law.   Under Sharia, it is extremely difficult for a woman to divorce her husband and child custody automatically reverts to the father after children reach a certain age.  A man can have several wives, a woman’s testimony is worth half of a man’s and sons inherit twice the share that daughters do.  All of this is provided for under UK law.

The irony is that ordinary people and politicians do these things because they don’t want to be racist or culturally insensitive, yet their actions exclude the most vulnerable women from the rights that the rest of us enjoy.  Of course women from ethnic minorities aren’t the only ones to face abuse or sexism.  Women and girls from all walks of life still experience violence and discrimination.  But women from ethnic minorities are even less equal than the rest and if we want to make progress in the UK we need to ensure not only that women are equal to men, but that we protect the rights and entitlements of all of the women who live here.