Religious Arbitration and Women’s Rights
(A meeting for BME women in Manchester)
In an Open Letter to Theresa May, an unprecedented number of BME women’s rights organisations and campaigners signed a letter warning against the rapid slide towards privatised justice and parallel legal systems in the UK. (See https://www.opendemocracy.net/pragna-patel-gita-sahgal/whitewashing-sharia-councils-in-uk)
Southall Black Sisters (SBS) with support from Safety 4 Sisters invites you to a public meeting to discuss the role of religious-based arbitration and mediation forums such as Sharia councils as alternative dispute resolution mechanisms to govern private and family matters. Against the backdrop of austerity and legal aid cuts, the threatened repeal of the Human Rights Act, increased racism and community surveillance and religious fundamentalism, our concern is that religious arbitration forums are gaining power and significance as parallel legal systems in which women are treated unfairly, especially in relation to divorce, maintenance, custody over children, inheritance and property matters.
SBS has a long history of campaigning on women’s rights, racism and religious fundamentalism. Together with other BME women’s groups, we have made significant strides in seeking state accountability and protection in relation to domestic violence, forced marriage, honour based violence, child abuse, FGM and other forms of gender-related abuse. These achievements are now under serious threat from the rise of religious identity politics fueled by religious fundamentalism. In our view, State appeasement of religious fundamentalism is now undermining the very principles of equality, justice and the universality of human rights, upon which the BME women’s movement was founded.
Our aim is to start a much needed conversation amongst ourselves about the threat that these developments pose to our struggles for community and state accountability and women’s human rights. The following are just some of the questions that we hope to address:
• Where did the demand for religious arbitration in family matters come from?
• What are the range of injustices faced by women who engage with religious arbitration forums?
• Are BME women really exercising agency or are they making choices in highly constrained contexts?
• Is the legitimation of legal pluralism in the UK the answer to BME women’s lack of access to justice and inequality?
• How can we best protect the rights of all women?
• Is regulation of religious arbitration in family matters viable or even desirable?
• How does the demand for freedom to religion impact on our struggles for freedom from religious and patriarchal imposition?
• What are the links between extremism and fundamentalism?
Speakers include: Survivors of domestic violence and religious abuse of power, Sandhya Sharma, Gita Sahgal, Pragna Patel, Yasmin Rehman, Savin Bapir and Maryam Namazie.
Date: 19th October 2016
Time: 2-5 pm. 1.30pm – Registration.
Manchester Metropolitan University
(Priority will be given to BME women led organisations and those working predominately with BME women.)
RSVP: firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com