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Conference with New Evidence on Sharia Courts in Britain and Adverse effects of Legal Pluralism for Women

Press Release
For Immediate Release
29 April 2016

On Saturday 30 April 2016, women’s rights campaigners will speak at a “Conference on Sharia Law, Legal Pluralism and Access to Justice” in central London from 11:30am-5:30pm.

The conference proceeds correspondence with the Government following a hand delivered letter to 10 Downing Street on 10 December 2015 signed by nearly 400 individuals and organisations urging David Cameron to hold an inquiry into and dismantle discriminatory Sharia courts and other religious arbitration forums.

At the conference, and for the first time in the UK, Humanist Muslim Elham Manea, a professor at the University of Zurich, will present the finding of her soon to be published book: “Women And Sharia Law: The Impact Of Legal Pluralism In The UK,” which includes first-hand analysis of the Islamic Sharia councils and Muslim arbitration tribunals in various British cities, interviews with experts on extremism, lawyers, politicians and activists in civil society and women’s rights groups. She will offer a scathing critique of legal pluralism, with evidence of its connections with Islamism and the adverse consequences for women in Muslim communities.

Representatives from women’s and human rights organisations – namely British Muslims for Secular Democracy, Centre for Secular Space, Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain, Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation, Southall Black Sisters and One Law for All – who have led successful campaigns preventing public authorities such as the governing body of UK Universities and the Law Society from incorporating aspects of Sharia laws into their public policies will present their case against legal pluralism . They will continue to call on the government to exclude Sharia and all other religious forums, including the Jewish Beth Din, from presiding over divorce and family matters; to reinstate legal aid; to stop the repeal of the Human Rights Act and to re-affirm the principle of the separation of religion and the law. The law is a key component of securing justice for citizens and one law for all.

Pragna Patel of SBS says:
“Discriminatory religious codes are very much a part and parcel of the continuum of domestic and gender based violence and other abuses that BME women face in their daily lives since they reinforce discrimination, deny exit and prevent women from accessing justice or from asserting their right to equality…For these reasons and more, parallel legal systems must not be allowed to exist.”

Maryam Namazie of One Law for All says:
“Dismantling religious courts isn’t a denial of people’s right to religion, it’s a defence of human rights, and particularly women’s rights vis-a-vis the religious-Rightwing and their attempts at restricting women’s rights in the family. By allowing religious courts to operate, we are saying that Muslim or Jewish women do not have the same rights as others in this country. This is unacceptable.”

Gita Sahgal of Centre for Secular Space says:
“Sharia Councils drag women into living out a fundamentalist vision of Islam. They do this by promoting ‘Islamic law’ as higher than the law of the land and by marketing divorce as a solution for a problem they have created. It is a disgrace that they are tolerated by the authorities and allowed to become charities. All parallel legal systems are discriminatory and undermine women’s rights under the law. It is time that they are dealt with.”

Diana Nammi of IKRWO says:
“The whole premise of religious ‘courts’ is discrimination to women, they represent a major barrier to women’s rights and not only do they deny women justice, they also distance women from the mainstream court system and safety measures, such as civil protection orders, which can have dire consequences. Given that religious ‘courts’ are community based and often mediate, there are dangerous implications including locking women within violent marriages and “honour” based violence. The government must prioritise women’s safety by ensuring access to mainstream justice and preventing the proliferation and deepening entrenchment of these parallel legal systems.”

Nasreen Rehman of British Muslims for Secular Democracy says:
“Government, Parliament and the courts have a duty to protect the rights and prevent the exploitation of the most vulnerable members of society. But all too often we find they abrogate this responsibility by condoning parallel systems of justice that promote cruel and discriminatory practices perpetuated by obscurantists and fanatics in many faith communities – often, falsely pleading divine sanction as a smokescreen for cruelty. The only way to ensure equality and justice is to stand together for clarity and ‘one law for all.’ This does not mean that we do not accept religious, cultural and ethnic diversity; rather we raise our voices against injustices perpetuated in the guise of faith and culture.”

For a Press Pass, please contact:
Maryam Namazie
One Law for All
BM Box 2387, London WC1N 3XX, UK
tel: +44 (0) 7719166731


Day Conference on Sharia Law, Legal Pluralism and Access to Justice
30 April 2016
Central London, near Kings Cross Station (location disclosed to press who register for the event)


11:00-11:30am Registration with tea/coffee

11:30-11:40am Opening with MC Rayhana Sultan, Spokesperson of Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain

11:40-1:10pm Elham Manea, Academic and Author of “Women And Sharia Law: The Impact Of Legal Pluralism In The UK”

1:10-2:30pm Lunch (on your own)

2:30-3:00pm Tea/Coffee Break

3:00-3:15pm Comedy by Kate Smurthwaite

3:15-5:15pm Panel Discussion with Diana Nammi, Director of Iranian Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation; Gita Sahgal, Director of Centre for Secular Space; Pragna Patel, Director of Southall Black Sisters; Maryam Namazie, Spokesperson of One Law for All and Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain; Nasreen Rehman, Co-Founder of British Muslims for Secular Democracy and Yasmin Rehman, Women’s Rights Campaigner. Panel Chair: Women’s Rights Activist Gina Khan.

5:15-5:30pm Next Steps and Closing


Diana Nammi is the Director of Iranian Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation, which she founded in 2002 to provide advice, advocacy, training and counselling to women and girls from Middle Eastern and North African communities affected by so called “honour” based violence, including forced marriage and Female Genital Mutilation as well as domestic violence. In 2012 she was named in a list of 150 women who shake the world by Newsweek and The Daily Beast. In 2014 she received the Special Jury Women on the Move Award from UNHCR, The Forum and Migrants Rights Network, she was honoured with the Woman of the Year Award and was recognised as one of BBC’s 100 Women. In 2015 she won the Women of Courage Award from the Women’s Refugee Commission in New York, the XX1 Premis Ones Mediterrania Award in Spain and the Red Woman of the Year Community and Charity Award.

Elham Manea is an Associate Professor specialised on the Middle East, a writer, and a human rights activist. She is a Fulbright scholar who holds a PhD degree in political science from the University of Zurich, Master degree in comparative politics from the American University in Washington D.C, and a Bachelor degree in political science from Kuwait University. She has published several academic and non-fiction books including The Arab State and Women’s Rights: The Trap of Authoritarian Governance. She works at the Political Science Institute at the University of Zurich and a consultant for Swiss government agencies and international human rights organizations. Recently, she has been appointed by the Swiss Federal Council as a Member of the Federal Commission for Women Affairs. Her concept of humanistic Islam was first published in a series of articles in Arabic. Her most recent book is: Women And Sharia Law: The Impact Of Legal Pluralism In The UK.

Gina Khan was born in Birmingham to Pakistani Muslim parents. Gina is a Human Rights activist and researcher. Personal experiences prompted Gina to break her silence in 2005 by speaking out in radio debates and writing to local Birmingham newspapers following a traumatic divorce and experience of living as a lone woman and parent in Birmingham. Gina focuses on two main subjects; the rise of pro-jihad ideologies within Muslim communities and the position and status of women within those communities. Gina believes these two twin phenomena to be symptomatic of deeper problems. After speaking out against Jihadism in Birmingham, Gina and her children were forced to leave her home after it was attacked.

Gita Sahgal is a writer, journalist, film-maker and rights activist. She is currently Founder and Director of Centre for Secular Space. She was formerly Head of the Gender Unit at Amnesty International; she was suspended in 2010 after she was quoted criticizing Amnesty for its high-profile associations with the Islamist Moazzam Begg, the director of a campaign group called Cageprisoners. For many years she served on the board of Southall Black Sisters and was a founder of Women Against Fundamentalism and Awaaz : South Asia Watch. With Nira Yival Davis, she edited Refusing Holy Orders: Women and Fundamentalism in Britain ( London, 1992). Among her articles are ‘Legislating Utopia? Violence Against Women , Identities and Interventions’ in ‘The Situated Politics of Belonging. During the 1980s, she worked for a Black current affairs programme called ‘Bandung File’ on Channel 4 TV. She made two films about the Rushdie affair, ‘Hullaballoo Over Satanic Verses’ and ‘Struggle or Submission’. She has also made two programmes for Dispatches Channel 4, ‘The Provoked Wife’ on the case of Kiranjit Ahluwalia and ‘The War Crimes File’ an investigation into allegations of war crimes committed by members of the Jamaat I Islami in Bangladesh in 1971.

Kate Smurthwaite is a stand-up comedian and political activist. She has appeared on more than 500 TV and radio shows including This Morning, The Big Questions, Woman’s Hour and The Moral Maze. In 2013 she won a Three Week’s Editor’s Choice Award for her show at the Edinburgh Festival. Kate is a writer for BBC Three show The Revolution Will Be Televised and is the Vice Chair of Abortion Rights UK. She performs stand-up around the UK and overseas. A clip of Smurthwaite appearing on BBC One’s The Big Questions in 2010 went viral when it was shared on YouTube and other video sharing websites under the title “Atheist Bitchslap”, attracting over 3.2 million views. Smurthwaite is the vice-chair and media spokesperson for British NGO Abortion Rights UK and a member of London Feminist Network and the National Secular Society. She is also on the board of the Edinburgh Fringe Society.

Maryam Namazie is the Spokesperson for One Law for All Campaign against Sharia Law in Britain and the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain. She hosts a weekly television programme called Bread and Roses broadcast in Iran via New Channel TV. She is on the International Advisory Board of the Raif Badawi Foundation for Freedom; Humanist Laureate at the International Academy of Humanism, Central Committee member of the Worker-communist Party of Iran; National Secular Society Honorary Associate; Honorary Associate of Rationalist International; Emeritus Member of the Secular Humanist League of Brazil; a Patron of London Black Atheists and Pink Triangle Trust and a member of the International Advisory Board of Feminist Dissent. She was awarded Atheist of the Year by Kazimierz Lyszczynski (2014); Journalist of the Year at the Dods Women in Public Life Awards (2013); selected one of the top 45 women of the year by Elle magazine Quebec (2007); one of 2006’s most intriguing people by DNA, awarded the National Secular Society’s Secularist of the Year Award (2005), amongst others.

Nasreen Rehman is an award winning playwright and screenplay writer. She co-founded British Muslims for Secular Democracy. Nasreen believes that for far too long the British public sphere has been ceded to obscurantist voices representing their own version of Islam. BMSD is an organisation that challenges these voices and seeks to appropriate this space in order to forward a different and more enlightened face of Islam – one that is more democratic and equitable. She represents BMSD at conferences in the U.K. and Europe and engages in media debates on topics such as Islamophobia and the hijab. She also serves on the Board of Akademi, a lead organisation for South Asian dance, in Britain; and is a founder member of the Women’s Action Forum (WAF) a women’s rights movement in Pakistan. In the past, she has worked as an economist in the private sector and in development, in the U.K and in Pakistan. As director of the Mahbubul Haq Human Development Centre, in Islamabad she steered the publication of the Report on the Crises of Governance in South Asia, and helped to develop the terms of reference for the Centre’s report on Gender in the region. As trustee of the Runnymede Trust, she served on two national commissions on anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, respectively.

Pragna Patel is Founder and Director of the Southall Black Sisters and Women Against Fundamentalism. SBS is, a multi-award-winning women’s organisation founded in 1979 to address the needs of black and minority women experiencing gender violence. It successfully campaigned for the release of Kiranjit Ahluwalia, a landmark case in which an Asian woman was convicted of the murder of her violent husband. The case reformed homicide law, creating greater awareness within and outside minority communities. Pragna is also a co-founder of Women Against Fundamentalism.
She has also written extensively on race, gender and religion, including ‘Citizenship: Whose Rights?’, ‘Faith in the State? Asian Women’s Struggles for Human Rights in the UK’, and ‘Shrinking Secular Spaces: Asian Women at the Intersect of Race, Religion and Gender’. She was listed in The Guardian’s Top 100 women: activists and campaigners.

Rayhana Sultan is an Ex-Muslim atheist activist from Bangladesh and Spokesperson for the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain. She launched CEMB’s #ExMuslimBecause campaign that trended on social media with over 100,000 Tweets across 70 countries worldwide. Rayhana has participated in several public discussions and media interviews highlighting the legal and social challenges for atheists, secularists, and vocal critics of religions in Bangladesh, including the country’s constitutional stance that misinterprets the idea of secularism and freedom of expression.

Yasmin Rehman is a freelance consultant and doctoral candidate at the School of Oriental and African Studies. Her area of research is polygamy and the law. She has worked for more than 20 years predominantly on violence against women, race, faith and gender, and human rights. Yasmin has worked for Local Government, the Metropolitan Police Service as Director of Partnerships and Diversity (2004-08) during which time she also held the Deputy national lead for forced marriage and honour based violence. Yasmin has most recently been commissioned as founding CEO of a race equality charity in East London, followed by Transforming Rehabilitation bid and now reviewing police responses to domestic abuse for national charities. Yasmin is currently member of the Board of EVAW (End Violence Against Women Coalition), an Independent Adviser for City of London Police and a member of the Centre for Secular Space.

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