Female Legal Empowerment

The Way it is: Female Inequality in Law & Politics

Women's legal and political empowerment  is enshrined in international law. However, whether it is in Islamic Sharia Law or Western systems of jurisprudence, women are still legally discriminated against in a majority of countries in the world.

Most Muslim-majority countries are not democracies, so issues of who can vote do not apply. Nevertheless, women have a significantly reduced role in the public sphere in these countries compared to men.

If anyone think that the Western countries are so advanced when it comes to women's rights it is good to remember how men reacted in the 19th century to the Suffragette Movement of women fighting for the right to vote.

Strongly conservative and patriarchal beliefs about gender roles are taken very seriously in Islamic societies. Even in the West, where Muslim women have the same legal rights as men, they have been prevented from exercising those rights by their male relatives.

Violations of modesty laws are frequently met with violence in Muslim countries. Western women visiting Muslim-majority countries – for example, Saudi Arabia -- are advised to dress modestly and not to travel unaccompanied by a man. Dubai has notoriously strict public indecency laws.

Other examples of legal discrimination against females under Islamic Sharia law:

  • A man can marry an infant girl and consummate the marriage when she is 9 years old. sexual, reproductive, physical
  • Girls' clitoris should be cut (per Muhammad's words in Book 41, Kitab Al-Adab, Hadith 5251). physical, sexual
  • A woman can have 1 husband, but a man can have up to 4 wives; Muhammad had more.
  • A man can unilaterally divorce his wife but a woman needs her husband's consent to divorce.
  • A man can physically beat his wife for disobedience. Quran Sura 3:34
    Testimonies of four male witnesses are required to prove rape against a woman.
  • A woman who has been raped cannot testify in court against her rapist(s).
  • A woman's testimony in court, allowed only in property cases, carries half the weight of a man's.
  • A female heir inherits half of what a male heir inherits. economic
  • In Saudi Arabia, a woman cannot drive a car, as it leads to fitnah (upheaval).
  • A woman cannot speak alone to a man who is not her husband or relative.

Although various opinions exist regarding certain Islamic marriage laws, the following constants remain:

  • A man is entitled to up to four wives, but a woman may only have one husband. In Western societies, a man typically only takes one wife.
  • The husband (or his family) pays a “bride price” or "dower" (mahr, which is money or property paid to the bride) which she is entitled to keep. This “mahr” is in exchange for sexual submission (tamkin). Sexual submission is traditionally regarded as unconditional consent for the remainder of the marriage.
  • A man can divorce his wife by making a declaration (talaq) in front of an Islamic judge irrespective of the woman's consent. Even her presence is not required. For a woman to divorce a man (khula), his consent is required.
  • The husband is responsible for the financial upkeep of home (nafaqa).
  • “Temporary marriage” (even for less than a half an hour) is allowed by some scholars, others regard it as a form of prostitution. A report by the Gatestone Institute charts its development in Britain.
  • Wife beating permitted according to some scholars and in the Quran (Sura 4:34).
    There is no joint property; the man owns all property, (except for what the woman owned before the marriage).
  • There is no specific minimum age for marriage, but most agree a woman must have reached puberty. Marriage as young as 12 or 13 is not uncommon in Muslim-majority countries. In Yemen in 2013, there was a highly publicized case of an eight-year-old girl who died of internal injuries suffered on her wedding night.
  • According to Al Jazeera, "Nearly 14 percent of Yemeni girls [are] married before the age of 15 and 52 percent before the age of 18." The case prompted calls for Yemen to pass a law setting a minimum age for marriage, although it has not yet done so.
  • A woman becomes subservient to her husband and needs his permission to: "leave the house, take up employment, or to engage in fasting or forms of worship other than what is obligatory."
  • An unmarried woman is under the guardianship of her nearest male relative. Male Guardianship applies to all women whether married or not according to strict interpretations of sharia. In the event of the deaths of male relatives, it can result in mothers being legally subservient to their sons. Under sharia:

The Way it Could Be: Giving women the legal and political tools for gender equality.

Women need the legal authority and training to carry appropriate weaponry to 'equalize the playing field' in terms of their physical disadvantages compared to men. For example women should have a legal right to carry 'defensive weapons' such as pepper spray, mace, guns, tasers. Many women and men can work in the legal field to  defend women who defend themselves. If a woman kills her rapist or a wife kills her abusing husband, women everywhere should flock to her defense. Asylum and refugee status can and should be given to women who do so in traditional countries and then face male judicial wrath.

Power in numbers. Men have physical strength. But in India the Pink Sari Revolution has showed that women can unite and fight back politically and physically against men who abuse and rape them. Much more effective than waiting for the (male) police and male dominated judicial system especially in patriarchal traditional countries.

Politics by Other Means. From the very beginning of the women's movement, females literally had to fight for their legal rights.

'Suffrajitsu': How the suffragettes fought back using martial arts

The suffragettes were exposed to violence and intimidation as they campaigned for votes for women. So they taught themselves jiu-jitsu.

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Bibliographic Sources:

  • 1. http://www.billionbibles.org/sharia/sharia-law.html
  • 2. Towards Gender Equality: Muslim Family Laws and the Sha'riah.
  • 3. http://www.clarionproject.org/understanding-islamism/womens-rights-under-sharia