A Muslim British women’s rights group has today published a report which reveals alarming cases of gender discrimination suffered by many Muslim women in the UK.
Baroness Cox, who has introduced a Private Members’ Bill in the House of Lords to address the suffering of women oppressed by religiously-sanctioned gender discrimination, said: “The response to the report will be a litmus test of the extent to which we genuinely uphold the principle of freedom under the law.”
“In a debate that has so far been dominated by the hypersensitivity of multiculturalism and the fear of giving offence, we must not ignore this latest cry for help and allow these women, and those whom they represent, to suffer in ways which would make our suffragettes turn in their graves.”
Women who are married in Islamic ceremonies, but are not officially married under English law, can suffer grave disadvantages because they lack legal protection. Many of the women interviewed were found to be in such ‘marriages’ but have been misled as to their legal status and are therefore left extremely vulnerable.
One Muslim lady, Hiyam,* aged 35, said: “When I questioned my family about a civil marriage they told me it wasn’t needed. After I separated from my husband he asked me: ‘Why do you think I didn’t have a civil marriage? I’m not giving you anything’.”
Asifa, aged 47, said: “When I was going through a divorce, I went to a lawyer who told me I had no legal rights as I’m seen as a girlfriend and not a wife. I just sat there in shock.”
The report, conducted by ‘Aurat: Supporting Women’, also found many polygamous marriages in the UK, with some ‘husbands’ having up to four ‘wives’. Many of these wives say they receive no support from their husbands and rely on state benefits to support themselves financially.
Durdanah, aged 48, said: “After he went and married a younger woman and had more children, he told me it was his right and I would have to accept it. I felt helpless as I had left my family for a man who has failed me in every way. He never supported me and the children.”
The report also examines the extent to which Islamic divorce proceedings discriminate against women. In many Islamic traditions a husband only has to say “I divorce you” three times in order to obtain a divorce, whereas a wife must meet various conditions and pay a fee.
Women can also face pressure not to seek advice from ‘outside’ professionals or civil courts. Many of the Muslim women interviewed felt they would not receive adequate support from their communities or family if they were to seek a divorce.
Qamar, aged 32, said: “I got married. My parents arranged it. We then found out he had lied and had another wife. My parents told me to stay with him because it was my second marriage and what would people say?”
Baroness Cox said: “Aurat’s timely report highlights the severe difficulties and challenges faced by many Muslim women in our country today”.
“Despite real fear of reprisals from their families or community leaders, these women have had the courage to speak out in order to highlight this totally unacceptable situation pertaining in Britain.”
Last year, Baroness Cox sought to make an amendment to the Anti-social Behaviour Bill which would have protected women who are duped into believing they are married under the law of the land, only to find upon divorce they have little to no rights in terms of finance or property. However, it was rejected by the Government on the basis that existing legislation is sufficient.
Baroness Cox continued: “I hope that this report will demonstrate the fallacy of the Government’s position based on the chasm between ‘de jure’ idealism or political convenience and ‘de facto’ reality. I also hope that it will promote a far more wide-ranging investigation to ascertain the scale of suffering endured.”