A Shared Vision for Change: Women and Legislative Reform in Muslim Majority Societies (video, English)
Women leaders from Muslim-majority societies discuss strategies for the creation of egalitarian communities and reform of family law based on women’s capability to choose at the WLP/SAIS event, A Shared Vision for Change: Women and Legislative Reform in Muslim Majority Societies.
Azar Nafisi moderates, first introducing the panelists as women who had refused to speak the language of the oppressor and who had rejected the route of violence opting instead for slow painstaking change of cultures and ideology by using consciousness and awakening women to their own power.
Mahnaz Afkhami presents The Guide to Equality in the Family in the Maghreb, a book produced by activists struggling to create egalitarian societies in the Muslim world, focusing on the family laws. She expounded on The Guide as an advocacy tool that treats equality simultaneously as a frame of reference, an evolving social practice, and an action plan based on four strains of argument. A religious argument based on actual historical diversity of Muslim legal doctrines; a legal argument based on national laws; a universal law argument stemming from international human-rights law and; a sociological argument related to social change evidenced in the Maghreb countries. Using processes outlined in The Guide, women in Morocco advocated successfully for reforms of family laws, which included abolishing the duty of a woman to obey her husband.
Rabéa Naciri gives a historical account of family law reform in the Maghreb and of the work that went into producing an alternative code to the existing family law and later developing The Guide. She attributes the successful promotion of reforms of family laws in her country and region to the formation of a regional network the Collectif 95 Maghreb-Egalité that included three countries – Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia. Within the coalition, Tunisian activists advocated for secular family laws while Moroccan took a more pragmatic approach, and they reached a compromise between these two approaches reflecting the combination of authors thinking and pragmatic research in the field.
Zainah Anwar said that Malaysian activists have used the four levels of arguments in The Guide as a framework for advocating reforms of Islamic family laws in her country because it gave a comprehensive, holistic, and compelling approach. She noted that changing laws takes a long time and it is easier to stop a law from being passed than to change it. Sisters In Islam has been submitting proposals for family law reforms to the Malaysian government since 1996 and has met resistance to the reform process. Traditionalists argue that to advocate for equality of women and men is un-Islamic and a means of adopting Western ideals and so women have turned to religious text to advocate for change. Upon realizing that arguments for reform could not be made within the discriminatory family law framework or the traditional Muslim law framework, activists embarked on research which critically examined religious text and sought to establish that if justice is the goal of Sharia, then it must recognize women’s rights. They also argued that construction of gender in classical Islamic theory was of no relevance today since the marriage contract during the classical times was a sales transaction that could not inform the reality of today. Over time Malaysians have decided to abandon the patch work approach to addressing reform of family laws and they now promote an overhaul which will address all laws to provide a framework for equal relationships between men and women.
A Q&A completes the event.