Effects of Sharia on women debated in House of Lords
A new Bill to curb the discriminatory effects of Sharia law on women was debated in the House of Lords last week (19 October).
Baroness Cox, who introduced the Arbitration and Mediation Services Bill last year, said that many Muslim women were “living in fear” under an unregulated quasi-legal system passing rulings in line with Islamic teachings.
According to a 2009 report by Civitas, approximately 85 Sharia bodies are operating freely in the UK. These include both arbitration Tribunals and Sharia ‘council’s’ which use Islamic principles to adjudicate on a wide range of matters including family and criminal law.
The report found that the rulings enforced by such bodies were largely inconsistent with UK laws, and were inherently discriminatory against women on issues of child custody, domestic violence and divorce.
The Bill, which receieved its first full debate in Parliament last week, will make it unlawful for such bodies to rule on family and criminal law cases, and will create the criminal offence of “falsely claiming legal jurisdiction” on cases that can only be decided by national courts.
The Bill will also make it unlawful to enforce rulings that are incompatible with national equality laws, and expressly require Sharia bodies to uphold women’s right to equality under UK legislation.
During the debate, Baroness Cox gave examples of women who had been treated unfairly under the Sharia system, including one victim of domestic violence who, despite being admitted into hospital, was denied a religious divorce to permit her to remarry.
She said: “These examples are just the tip of an iceberg as many women live in fear, so intimidated by family and community that they dare not speak out or ask for help.”
Meanwhile Baroness Donaghy added: “The definition of mutuality is sometimes being stretched to such limits that a women is said to consent to a process when in practice, because of a language barrier, huge cultural or family pressure, ignorance of the law, a misplaced faith in the system or a threat of complete isolation, that mutuality is as consensual as rape.”
More stories on this topic: