Blog: Muslim Family Law
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November 16, 2020
Posted by Dana Walters
Since joining Harvard Law School, Salma Waheedi, a clinical instructor and lecturer on law in the International Human Rights Clinic, has devoted a major part of her teaching and clinical legal practice to training students to become effective international women’s rights advocates. A native of Bahrain and a U.S.-trained attorney with a background in constitutional and Islamic Law, Waheedi has led advocacy and social justice-oriented legal projects in partnership with women’s rights activists in Muslim communities. To change the lived experiences of women most acutely, Waheedi and her partners have focused on family law reform.
“Despite its huge impact on women’s lives, it’s an area that receives relatively little attention in human rights circles,” Waheedi said. “We are talking about a system of laws that govern all aspects of women’s private lives, including marriage, divorce, child custody, matrimonial property, inheritance, as well as freedom of movement and work and protection from violence.”
Advocating for family law reform in Muslim legal contexts presents a unique set of challenges and sensitivities. In the majority of Muslim legal systems, Shari’a—Islamic Law—is a part of the constitutional order and often forms the foundation of Muslim family laws. Many of these laws are based on interpretations that entrench gender-based discrimination and fail to protect women’s rights in the family sphere.
Waheedi’s practice focuses on lending legal support to women’s rights advocates working with their local communities, as well as international coalitions working to foster cross-regional collaborations. One key example is Musawah, a global movement advocating for justice and equality in the Muslim family. Musawah takes strong positions against child marriage, forced marriage, and polygamy and calls for equality in spousal rights, custody rights, access to divorce, and inheritance rights. It advocates for these changes through a holistic framework that integrates progressive Islamic legal interpretations, human rights principles, local constitutional guarantees of equality and non-discrimination, and the lived experiences of Muslim women.
“Many current legal provisions are no longer tenable given the lived realities of Muslim women today,” Waheedi said. “Muslim feminist scholarship aims to create a paradigm shift by emphasizing the need to return to the core principles of the Quran, such as justice, equality, and dignity for all, as a basis for an alternative rights-based reading of Islamic legal sources that responds to the contemporary needs of the Muslim family.”
To help conceptualize current reforms and outdated laws, Musawah and Waheedi’s student teams have put together a comprehensive Muslim family law mapping project. The project is a resource for researchers and academics to look comparatively across 31 countries with Muslim majorities or minorities. Importantly, the initiative also outlines positive developments for women’s rights in the Muslim world, celebrating successes, as well as marking lessons for how to continue to advocate for change.Continue Reading…
October 29, 2018
This month, the Musawah Movement for Equality in the Muslim Family submitted a thematic report to the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) Committee advocating for codification of family law provisions to protect the rights of Muslim women in Mauritius. International Human Rights Clinic students Samantha Lint JD’20 and Natalie McCauley JD’19 contributed to drafting the report and developing its legal recommendations, working in close collaboration with Mauritian attorney and family law expert, Narghis Bundhun.
As the report notes, a major cause of the lack of rights protection and inequality for Muslim women in Mauritius is the absence of a clear legal framework that protects rights in the context of religious marriages. The report highlights this legal ambiguity and key resulting inequalities that harm Muslim Mauritian women and in turn damage families, communities, and society as a whole. The report encourages the State of Mauritius to leverage its robust framework of diversity and inclusion to promote equality for Muslim women and take concrete steps to ensure all women in Mauritius enjoy full legal protection.
The report will be considered by the CEDAW Committee in its Constructive Dialogue with the Government of Mauritius. Today, Monday, October 29, the IHRC team has joined Musawah in Geneva, Switzerland, where the session and associated Committee briefings are now taking place. Tune in to the #CEDAW71 Constructive Dialogue starting tomorrow (10:00 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. CET) and follow Musawah on Twitter for updates. Watch live at http://webtv.un.org/…/71st-session-committee-…/5723840293001.
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