Stop pushing British Muslim women towards Sharia courts, say women's groups
By Barfi Culture Team
13th August 2018

A group of British women campaigners are calling on the UK Ministry of Justice to stop "pushing minority women towards religious courts," in a letter published today.

The letter has been signed by a range of campaigners and women's groups including the prominent Southall Black Sisters. In particular it focuses on British Muslim women and the advice issued to them.

What are they asking for?

A key paragraph from the letter explains:

"Our research shows that the power and control of religious fundamentalist networks over Muslims has grown enormously over the last thirty years. This has led to a widespread belief that a civil marriage is not necessary, that women must have a divorce certificate issued by a Sharia ‘court’ in an apparent judicial procedure; and that they must get this ‘certificate’ even if they already have a civil divorce."

It goes on to say:

"The application form for a divorce (Form D8) actively encourages women to turn to religious bodies. It states ‘If you entered into a religious marriage as well as a civil marriage, these divorce proceedings may not dissolve the religious part of your marriage. It is important that you contact the relevant religious authority and seek further guidance if you are unsure.’"

The signatories say that if the government is serious about gender equality and ending violence against women, it should withdraw such advice.

It ends by saying:

"We call on the government to immediately withdraw this guidance from the divorce application form; to address the lack of access to justice brought about by cuts to legal aid; to overhaul outdated marriage and divorce laws and to take active measures to end religious courts and their control over women’s lives."

Gita Sahgal, Director, Centre for Secular Space
Pragna Patel, Director, Southall Black Sisters
Yasmin Rehman, Women’s Rights Campaigner
Maryam Namazie, Spokesperson, One Law for All
Afsana Lachaux, Women’s Rights Campaigner
Ahlam Akram, Founder, Basira
Amina Lone, Women’s Rights Campaigner
Diana Nammi, Executive Director, Iranian & Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation
Gina Khan, Spokesperson, One Law for All
Peter Tatchell, Director, Peter Tatchell Foundation
Rahila Gupta, Writer
Rumana Hashem, Spokesperson, Community Women Against Abuse
Sadia Hameed, Spokesperson, Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain and Critical Sisters Director
Stephen Evans, Chief Executive Officer, National Secular Society

Why is this relevant now?

A few weeks ago, a High Court ruled that a woman who has only had an Islamic marriages, a Nikah, could still obtain a divorce through English courts.

The surprise ruling set an important precedent.

Campaigners say that means British Muslim women may not be required to go to Sharia councils/courts to obtain a divorce any more.

As they do not trust such courts, they are calling on the government to change its advice calling on Muslim women to go to Shariah councils/courts for a divorce.

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