Muslim Women In India Ask Top Court To Ban Instant Divorce

Women in India are fighting the harmful talaq divorce practice in court.

Married at 14 and divorced by 16, Seema Parveen had a marriage as brutal as it was short. Now 42, Parveen remembers her husband threatening to hurl her from the balcony of their home. She blinks back tears recalling his rage when she bore him a daughter and not a son.

“His whole family was upset,” she says. In conservative northern India where they lived, boys are preferred over girls — who have been traditionally viewed as a burden. When her daughter was one month old, Parveen went to stay with her mother. “That’s when my husband wrote and said, ‘Talaq. ”

All that’s required for a Muslim man in India to end a marriage is to declare, talaq, which means divorce in Arabic. Pronounced three times, it’s irrevocable. Many Islamic countries have banned the practice.

Parveen says her husband rebuffed all her attempts to return to him.

“I was so young,” she says, “I didn’t know what was happening.”

Maimoona Mollah, president of the All India Democratic Women’s Association, Delhi Chapter, condemns the practice of talaq as “unilateral” and “arbitrary.”

Mollah says women can also initiate divorce. But members of the community say a woman must first consult a cleric, while a man, she says, “severs the relationship” on his own. She says there needs to be a “formal process” for any divorce where a woman and her children receive financial support.

The way talaq is practiced, “it definitely stands in the way of a woman getting her rightful place,” Mollah says.

Several divorced women have petitioned India’s Supreme Court to ban this form of instant divorce. Countries including Pakistan, Tunisia, and Egypt have curbed the practice and moved divorce into the orbit of the state and judiciary.

Zakia Soman, co-founder of the Indian Muslim Women’s Movement,  says the courts provide women “a level playing field.” But she says reforming the Indian Muslim community’s divorce customs won’t be easy.

“Legal reform is just one part of overall reform which is required in society … This is just the beginning,” she says.

Read the full article from NPR.

HRC34: Women human rights defenders challenge fundamentalist and extremist rhetoric and ideologies

A coalition of women human rights defenders draw the attention of the Human Rights Council to the ‘wake-up call of our times’, and reject the normalisation of fundamentalist and extremist rhetoric.

Governments relying on the manipulation of ideas about culture to attack human rights defenders were put on the spotlight yesterday at the Human Rights Council. A coalition of organisations supporting women human rights defenders urged States from all regions to ‘wake up’ and be genuine in their fight against extremist and fundamentalist ideologies.

On behalf of the Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition, International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) highlighted the importance of ensuring the genuine and safe participation of women human rights defenders in policies and programmes to combat fundamentalist ideologies and rhetoric. ‘In too many instances, civil society groups that oppose fundamentalist and extremist ideologies are themselves branded as threats to State security’ said Ms Pooja Patel, Programme Manager at ISHR. She called on States to remove barriers and obstacles for independent civil society members who promote rights in accordance with international standards.

The Human Rights Council engaged in dialogue with the UN expert on Cultural Rights Karima Bennoune on Friday and Monday. In her report, Ms Bennoune outlined that those defending the rights of women to take part in cultural life are de facto cultural rights defenders. As cultural rights defenders, they are the very antidote to fundamentalist and extremist agendas.

In a joint statement on International Women Human Rights Defenders Day last November, a number of other UN experts had also raised concern over the wave of populism and fundamentalism taking place in the world, and highlighted that ‘women human rights defenders represent an essential counter-power and a colossal force of action’.

Read the full text from International Service for Human Rights.

Banned and barred, Israel’s women stand up to religious hardliners

Ultra-Orthodox influence has excluded women from speaking at funerals and public prayers, and taken them off the radio.

Over the last decade in different parts of Israel, women have been barred from sections of buses, banned from speaking at cemeteries, blocked from pavements, physically attacked for their clothing choices, airbrushed from newspapers and magazines and removed from the airwaves and news photos.

These challenges are rooted in the objections of many in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community to men and women mixing in public places, and to public representations of women in any form, from actors in advertisements to public figures on the news, or images in books. They affect everything from morning commutes and interior decoration to the most solemn religious ceremonies. Moody was attacked for joining public prayers and the celebration of a bat mitzvah – a girl’s coming of age ceremony – at the Western Wall.

Women have responded to the many attempts to restrict their public roles and physical presence by turning to Israel’s powerful legal system, and again and again the courts have supported them, insisting that segregation is illegal and women should not be silenced.

They have ruled in favour of a woman prevented from speaking at her own father’s burial, against a radio station that barred women from its airwaves – even blocking them from calling phone-in shows – and against bus companies that tried to segregate seating. The women who gather at the Western Wall each month had their right to worship enshrined by the supreme court.

But important as these legal rulings are, they rely on government enforcement and community respect, and both are in short supply in a country where religion and state are closely entwined, and ultra-Orthodox politicians command a powerful and loyal voting block, women activists say.

Nor can the courts legislate for tastes. Advertisers who remove women from their posters and shops, or bus firms which tried to segregate their buses, insist they are simply catering to a growing market, one tempting even to international giants such as Ikea.

A special edition of the catalogue for the Swedish firm’s affordable modern furniture, printed for Israel’s Haredi community, landed on doorsteps late last month, filled with photos of stylish interiors that would look familiar around the world, but for a single-sex version of model families posing inside them. There were no women or girls studying beside the bookshelves, grabbing snacks in the kitchen or relaxing in interiors populated only by men.

The rapid growth [rate of ultra-Orthodox communities] is changing these communities themselves though, feminists say, and the communities which are the most prominent in seeking to restrict women are also seeing the birth of a feminist movement that may be key to the long-term defence of current rights.

Read the full article from The Guardian.

HRC34: States should reject attempts to weaken mandate of UN expert on human rights defenders

Member States of the Human Rights Council should resist attempts to weaken the resolution mandating the UN’s expert on the protection of human rights defenders, the International Service for Human Rights said today.

The Human Rights Council is currently negotiating a resolution (L.5) to extend the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders, Michel Forst. The resolution, which was formally tabled by Norway on behalf of more than 60 supporters, is now being attacked by adverse amendments tabled by the Russian Federation, China, Cuba and Pakistan. The amendments and the resolution are expected to be considered – and voted upon – as early as Thursday, 23 March 2017.

South Africa has also tabled an amendment, which could – if appropriately rephrased – serve to increase attention to some at-risk groups of defenders.

ISHR’s Director of Human Rights Council Advocacy, Michael Ineichen, said many of the proposed amendments represent a renewed attempt by a minority of hard-line States to undermine the protection international law provides for human rights defenders.

‘The suggestion of replacing the well-established term ‘human rights defender’ in the resolution with a long and convoluted formulation is ridiculous,’ Mr Ineichen said. ‘Human rights defenders are key agents of change, and their work is critical for human rights, the rule of law and democracy,’ Ineichen said. ‘Accessible terminology is vital to increasing public understanding of and support for their work.’

On 7 March, a global coalition of leading civil society organisations called for the consensus renewal of the mandate of the UN expert on human rights defenders. A diverse cross-regional group of ambassadors, experts and human rights defenders has also strongly backed the renewal of the mandate.

Attempts at reducing visibility and legitimacy of human rights defenders

Overall, six amendments have been proposed. ISHR’s overall position on the amendments is that the resolution, as currently drafted, represents a minimum consensus given the ‘unprecedented attacks’ on human rights defenders seen around the world.

  • Two amendments (L.44 and L.45) seek to replace the well-established term ‘human rights defenders’ with a more limiting formulation, seeking to give States the ability to arbitrarily restrict the human rights issues on which defenders work, and remove the term ‘women human rights defenders’ from the resolution.
  • One amendment (L.42), presented by the Russian Federation, seeks to replace consensus language from previous resolutions renewing the mandate with a selective quote from the 1998 Declaration on Human Rights Defenders. Its effect would be to limit the full protection international law provides to human rights defenders, and open a door for States to legislate to restrict defenders in conflict with international human rights law;
  • One amendment (L.43), also presented by the Russian Federation, seeks to remove reference to previously adopted resolutions on the protection of human rights defenders. The inclusion of such references assists States to better understand the situation of human rights defenders and the obligations of States in this regard. Removing the references would run counter to the Council’s efforts at ensuring its work is visible, impact oriented, and provides easy to understand policy guidance.
  • Finally, one amendment (L.51), presented by China, the Russian Federation, Pakistan and Cuba, seeks to downplay the importance of the report of the Special Rapporteur, and thus ignore the evidence of the unprecedented attack on defenders.

ISHR calls on all Member States of the Human Rights Council to reject these amendments, and resist attempts to legitimise arbitrary restrictions and attacks on human rights defenders by their sponsors.

Potential focus on environmental and corporate accountability defenders

A final amendment, L.46, presented by South Africa could potentially contribute to strengthening the text. The amendment seeks to include a particular focus on ‘human right defenders active in the areas of environment, corporate accountability, indigenous issues, children, anti-racism and advocacy against racially motivated killings, and cultural rights’, many of whom have been highlighted by the Special Rapporteur’s recent reports as facing particular risks.

However, its proposed placement in a paragraph forcused on women human rights defenders is problematic in that it would dilute the recognition of the specific threats and protection needs of WHRDs. In order to be acceptable, the amendment should be re-formulated to reflect the full spectrum of defenders who are particularly at risk or exposed as enumerated by the Special Rapporteur, and placed independently of the paragraph focused on women human rights defenders.

Read the statement from the International Service for Human Rights.

OURs - News piece

Donald Trump and Militant Evangelical Masculinity

As Donald Trump prepares to take the oath of office, many white evangelicals will be celebrating. Yet the fact that “family values” conservatives continue to rally around Trump has bewildered many people, including a number of evangelicals themselves.

Trump, after all, is a man who boasted of his “manhood” on national television, who incited violence at his rallies, and bragged of assaulting women. He is a man who spoke in the chapel of a Christian college in Iowa—my alma mater, no less—and claimed that he could “stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody” and not lose voters.

Certainly, his behavior did little to dissuade the 81 percent of white evangelicals who voted for him, a constituency that proved key to his victory.

Yes, there were Supreme Court appointments and fears about religious freedom to consider, and a longstanding alliance with the Republican Party to contend with. But even so, how could the self-professed “Moral Majority” embrace a candidate who seemed to flaunt his own cruelty?

The truth is, many evangelicals long ago replaced the suffering servant of Christ with an image that more closely resembles Donald Trump than many would care to admit. They’ve traded a faith that privileges humility and elevates the least of these for one that derides gentleness as the province of wusses. Having replaced the Jesus of the gospels with an idol of machismo, it’s no wonder many have come to think of Trump himself as the nation’s savior.

Indeed, white evangelical support for Trump can be seen as the culmination of a decades-long embrace of militant masculinity, a masculinity that has enshrined patriarchal authority, condoned a callous display of power at home and abroad, and functioned as a linchpin in the political and social worldviews of conservative white evangelicals. In the end, many evangelicals did not vote for Trump despite their beliefs, but because of them.

Read the full article from Religion & Politics.

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Egypt’s Christians flee Sinai amid Islamic State killing spree

Christian families and students fled Egypt’s North Sinai province in droves on Friday after Islamic State killed the seventh member of their community in just three weeks.

Sectarian attacks occur often in Egypt but are usually confined to home burning, crop razing, attacks on churches, and forced displacement.

Arish residents said militants circulated death lists online and on the streets, warning Christians to leave or die.

Islamic State released a video on Sunday threatening Egypt’s Christians and vowing to escalate a campaign against them after it bombed a chapel adjoining Cairo’s St Mark’s Cathedral, the seat of the Coptic papacy, in December, killing 28 people.

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi told military and police chiefs “to completely eradicate terrorism in northern Sinai and defeat any attempts to target civilians or to undermine the unity of the national fabric”, in reference to the killings, his office said on Thursday.

Egypt is battling an insurgency that gained pace in 2013 after its military, led by Sisi, overthrew President Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood. Hundreds of soldiers and police have been killed.

Read the full article from Reuters.

Sri Lanka: Article 16(1) – Muslim Women and Girls As Unequal Citizens

By Hyshyama Hamin and Hasanah Cegu Isadeen –

In November, we completed ‘Unequal Citizens: Muslim women’s struggle for justice and equality in Sri Lanka’ – a one-year study that sought answers as to why the reforms to the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act (MMDA) was many decades overdue.

In light of the constitutional reforms process, the study also led to the inquiry about whether or not as a result of our religious affiliation and gender – we and our sisters in faith were equal before the law, as others. The answer, as we found out is a resounding ‘no’, and the reasons are many.

Not only are Sri Lankan Muslim women subject to personal laws that deny us equality in an integral aspect of our lives – marriage and family, but there are also no constitutional guarantees and safeguards of our fundamental rights of equality and non-discrimination in these very aspects.

The events and widespread discussions of the past few months around the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act (MMDA) of 1951, has made it clear that the status quo with respect to MMDA is untenable. There are serious shortcomings in provisions of the law, procedures and implementation. There are also serious consequences of these shortcomings in creating a culture of discrimination that has adversely impacted on the rights and wellbeing of women and girls within the Muslim community. The struggle of Muslim women for reform of the MMDA against heavy odds has been led by few committed activists, admirable and long suffering but also riven with limitations.

But the legal discriminations do not end there. Since 1978, Article 16(1) of our Constitution has prevented those affected by the MMDA – women and men – from being able to seek redress against discriminatory aspects of the law and has rendered Muslims less than equal as citizens. In other words, if our rights were in any way violated by said personal laws to which we are compelled to abide by should we choose to marry another Muslim, there is no constitutional redress or remedy.

We are in essence denied protection of our individual rights as citizens, simply because we belong to a certain faith group.

So how can this be resolved? What was clear from the study were certain aspects of politics, law making and societal understanding the needs to come together in ensuring that the struggle for equality and justice for Muslims in Sri Lanka is not in vain.

Sri Lankan government has the right and the primary responsibility to address and intervene on MMDA related issues

For everyone who argues that the MMDA is only up to the Muslim community to decide and debate upon – let us not forget that the Quazi court system was established, administered and is funded by the State and tax-payers money of citizens, Muslim and otherwise. Therefore the Sri Lankan government has the primary duty to address issues and inequalities faced by Muslims under the MMDA. It has the foremost responsibility to ensure that State laws protect the rights of citizens and is not in turn causing discrimination and injustice on the basis of gender and religion.

Abd Allāh Ahmad Naʻīm the author of ‘Islamic Family Law in A Changing World’, which studied the implementation of Islamic family law in 38 countries, wrote that transformation of Islamic family law has been happening to different extents. In the vast majority of countries in which it applies – “The law is enacted in statutory form by the State, rather than being derived from traditional sources of Sharia… Moreover, whether a judgment is based on statute or a selection by a judge, it is legally binding and enforceable only by the authority of the State”.

Ahmad Naʻīm also argues that, “…it is better to recognize openly that this field (Islamic law) like all other law, derives its authority from the political will of the State”. Thus implying that the realm of personal laws if and when mandated by the State becomes the responsibility of the same to address the consequences of the law and to reform, amend or rescind where necessary.
Reforms to the MMDA are critical and long overdue. However as our study shows, it is highly unlikely that 1) consensus will be reached any time soon on all aspects of the MMDA, procedures and Quazi court system 2) the reforms recommended to the MMDA will actually address all the grievances experienced by Muslim women and girls, and 3) that MMDA reforms will be harmonized to ensure that the Act does not infringe fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution.

Therefore it is imperative that in addition to pushing for progressive reforms to the MMDA, it is equally, if not more important to ensure that the new Constitution protects rights of all citizens, regardless of when or whether or not reforms takes place.

Ensuring equality in the Constitution and allowing for judicial review

The ongoing constitutional reforms process has opened many doors of discussion about individual and collective rights. This is particularly poignant with regard to debate about fundamental rights, personal laws and Article 16(1). While there are many myths regarding Article 16(1) that is prompting few individuals to question whether it should be repealed or retained, what is fundamentally clear is that Article 16(1) is not a positively articulated clause that protects 600+ laws including personal laws. Rather it is a negatively articulated clause that protects discriminatory provisions in these over 600 laws, including the MMDA, granting impunity if provisions in these laws violate fundamental rights.

Therefore in principle for anyone and everyone who believes in equality and non-discrimination for ALL citizens of Sri Lanka – Article 16(1) has to be repealed.

There have been extensive calls for repeal of Article 16(1) tracking back to district level consultations organized by the Public Representations Committee (PRC) since early 2016. Both men and women activists, advocates and affected persons particularly in the North and East have testified and given statements before the commissioners calling for a review of the MMDA. Calls have also included the option to marry under the General Marriage Registration Ordinance (GMRO) – which also discriminates against Muslims by exempting Muslim couples from marrying under the ordinance should they choose to do so.

Consequently, it is imperative that the Constitution grants full equality and protection of fundamental rights to all its citizens, regardless of ethnicity, gender, religion or sect, in order to ensure a standard set of basic rights for all.

What use will a new Constitution and Bill of Rights be if a segment of the population are denied unconditional protection of their fundamental rights?

Repeal of Article 16(1) is particularly imperative for the Muslim community, which has been the target of hate speech and violent rhetoric in the recent past. Muslim citizens understand intimately the struggle to be treated as equal citizens as all others and the importance of having our rights protected in this regard. Therefore repealing Article 16(1) and demanding full protection of our fundamental rights should be an essential demand to this struggle for non-discrimination. To ask the State for our right to be free from discrimination, while being complacent and even soliciting the denial of protection of fundamental rights by continuation of Article 16(1) – is hypocrisy of the highest order.

The new Constitution must address discriminations, heal the crevices that have formed amidst citizens and propel Sri Lanka forward. It cannot leave anyone behind, especially not the most marginalized. To do so, is to render the entire process meaningless and futile. To do so is to knowingly perpetrate injustice for decades to come.

Access full study of Unequal Citizens 

Read more about Muslim Personal Law Reforms in Sri Lanka here:

Article originally published by the Colombo Telegraph:  Article 16 (1) – Repeal it or continue to render Muslim women and girls as unequal citizens 

OURs - News piece

Pagara exhorts disciples to educate girls, give rights to women in Pakistan

In Pakistan, the Pir Pagara, spiritual head of the Hurs, exhorted his disciples to educate their children, particularly girls, and give due respect to their women family members and their neighbours.

Wearing traditional robe and ‘kalangi’, he was addressing tens of thousands of his devotees in Awadh, some 20kms from Sanghar, on Sunday.

The Pir Pagaro was on a five-day spiritual tour of the district of Sanghar where a huge majority of his followers live. His address in Awadh mainly dwelt on women’s rights, especially their right to inheritance and education.

He said that in order to face contemporary challenges, education was a necessity. He encouraged them to arrange inter-caste marriages and advised them to discourage underage and forced marriages.

He said that an educated woman was a blessing for a family and urged his followers to give due right of inheritance to their female family members.

Read the full article from Dawn.

Trump’s New “Global Gag Rule” is Much, Much More Far Reaching than George W. Bush’s Policy

President Trump yesterday signed a presidential memorandum re-instating the Global Gag Rule.

For most of the day yesterday the actual text of the memorandum was not released so much of the media coverage — including our own — was based on the understanding that Donald Trump simply re-instated the same policy that existed during the George W. Bush-era administration. In fact, he did not. Rather, after the text became public last night it became clear that Trump dramatically expanded the scope of the Global Gag Rule to include all global health assistance provided by the US government.

Previously, the restrictions embedded in the Global Gag Rule were limited exclusively to NGOs that receive US government assistance for family planning and reproductive health, like contraception. These restrictions include prohibiting that NGO from counseling women that abortion is an option or lobbying foreign governments to liberalize their abortion laws. Even if the funding sources for abortion counseling come from another source, that NGO must cease that counseling or either relinquish its US funding for, say, condom distribution or obstetric surgeries.  That’s how it worked in the Bush administration–to disasterous effect.

But the Trump memo takes this a huge step further. Rather than applying the Global Gag Rule exclusively to US assistance for family planning in the developing world, which amounts to about $575 million per year, the Trump memo applies it to “global health assistance furnished by all department or agencies.” In other words, NGOs that distribute bed nets for malaria, provide childhood vaccines, support early childhood nutrition and brain development, run HIV programs, fight ebola or Zika, and much more, must now certify their compliance with the Global Gag Rule or risk losing US funds. According to analysis from PAI, a global health NGO, this impacts over $9 billion of US funds, or about 15 times more than the previous iteration of the Global Gag Rule which only impacted reproductive health assistance.

Read the full article from UN Dispatch

Joint Statement on Trump’s Global Gag Rule Re-Enactment

We, the undersigned organizations, strongly condemn President Trump’s signing of the Global Gag Rule on January 23rd 2017, one of his first acts as President of the United States.

During the Reagan, Bush Sr. and Bush Jr. administrations, the Global Gag Rule prohibited foreign NGOs receiving U.S. assistance related to family planning and reproductive health from using non-U.S. funding to provide abortion services, information, counseling or referrals and from engaging in advocacy for access to safe abortion services. This policy causes real and serious harm to women around the world and is a violation of international development agreements signed by the United States. The policy leads to shortages in resources, the closure of health facilities offering services for women, a chill-effect on all related care (including the provision of family planning, contraceptive counselling, etc.) and the denial of lawful safe abortion services.

President Trump’s version of the Global Gag Rule is more extreme than past administrations and will extend to all global health assistance provided across US departments. The political and financial impacts will be significant and far-reaching. According to PAI, in monetary terms, this expanded policy will apply to as much as $9.458 billion in global health funding, which includes programming for maternal health, family planning, HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment, and more.

As the largest donor in the area of sexual and reproductive health, the United States has played a critical role in supporting countries to fulfill women’s rights through improved access to modern methods of contraception, strengthening of health systems, provision of essential health services to survivors of gender-based violence, among other areas. These are priority areas identified by partner countries as critical to their own development goals and their obligations under international human rights law.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, unanimously adopted by 193 countries, specifically targets universal access to sexual and reproductive health as critical to the reduction of poverty and the fulfillment of human rights. With the stroke of a pen, the United States has put this agenda in jeopardy and women around the world will suffer the indignities and often fatal consequences of this action.

Canada, and its allies, both governments and civil society organizations, must step up their efforts to safeguard and advance sexual and reproductive health and rights by increasing development financing in these areas in a comprehensive manner and by championing these issues within diplomatic efforts.

This U.S. policy position represents a gross violation of women’s rights and runs counter to the global trend of liberalizing abortion laws worldwide, which has led to significant decreases in unsafe abortions.

Canada cannot be complicit in the rolling-back of the hard-fought gains made over 20 years ago on women’s rights, specifically their sexual and reproductive rights. Together, we call on Canada and all sexual and reproductive rights allies to denounce the enactment of this expanded Global Gag Rule and to make concerted efforts to increase support for safe abortion care as part of a comprehensive package of sexual and reproductive health services, and to champion advocacy related to safeguarding and advancing sexual and reproductive rights locally, nationally and globally.


  • Abortion Access Now PEI
  • Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights
  • AidWatch Canada
  • Asia Pacific Alliance for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (APA)
  • Asian-Pacific Resource & Research Centre for Women (ARROW)
  • ASTRA Network
  • ASTRA Youth and Federation for Women and Family Planning
  • Canadian Council for International Co-Operation
  • Comité québécois femmes et développement
  • Compass Centre for Sexual Wellness
  • Deutsche Stiftung Weltbevölkerung (DSW)
  • Federación de Planificación Familiar Estatal
  • FOKUS – Forum for Women and Development
  • Foundation for Leadership Initiatives (FLI)
  • Inter Pares
  • Island Sexual Health Society
  • International Planned Parenthood Federation – Western Hemisphere Region
  • McLeod Group
  • Margaret Pyke Trust, with the Population & Sustainability Network
  • PEI Abortion Rights Network
  • Planned Parenthood Ottawa
  • Planned Parenthood Toronto
  • Rutgers
  • Sexual and Reproductive Justice Coalition
  • Sexual Health Centre Saskatoon
  • Sexuality Policy Watch (Brazil)
  • Shanti Uganda Society
  • SHORE Centre
  • Simavi
  • Southern African AIDS Trust (SAT)
  • Women’s Global Network for Reproductive Rights (WGNRR)
  • WISH Associates

To include your organization as a signatory, please write to Sarah Kennell

Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights, 25th January 2017