Mere Anglicanism

Sharia Courts, Gender Discrimination and the threat to “one law for all”

This Friday, 23 October, the House of Lords will debate a Bill which seeks to help women suffering from religiously-sanctioned gender discrimination.

This Friday, 23 October, the House of Lords will debate a Bill which seeks to help women suffering from religiously-sanctioned gender discrimination.

Although women from any faith tradition – or none – may suffer abuse, the plight of those in Islamic communities is too often exacerbated by the application of Sharia law principles which inherently discriminate against women and girls.

Such discrimination can take many forms, including:

  • Inequality in access to divorce (for men, free and unconditional; for women, costs and conditions may be prohibitive)
  • Polygamy (practiced by men who have multiple ‘wives’ and numerous children; women may be married into polygamous marriages without knowing)
  • Discriminatory child custody policies
  • Inheritance laws (a woman receives half that of a man)
  • The testimony of a woman only carries half the weight of a man’s
  • Wives forced to return to abusive relationships because Sharia councils say a husband has a right to “chastise”

While some Sharia councils in England and Wales operate within the law, increasing evidence suggests that others are operating as a parallel legal system, threatening the fundamental principle of One Law For All.

Although the Government has this week committed to launch an investigation into Sharia councils in England and Wales, it is yet to support the Bill’s provisions – which are entirely complementary to the review.

Crossbench Peer Baroness Cox, who has introduced the Bill, said:

For the Government to insist that ‘all citizens can freely access their rights’ only serves to demonstrate the inadequacy of their response to date.

The chasm between the ‘de jure’ situation and the ‘de facto’ reality is an abyss into which countless Muslim women are falling. As one brave Muslim lady told me: “I feel betrayed by Britain. I came here to get away from this and the situation is worse here than in the country I escaped from.”

Such testimonies – of which there are many – would surely make the heroines of the suffragette movement turn in their graves.

 

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