Revising Islamic Family Laws: A transnational social movement approach

About the project

Transnational and militant movements have significant appeal to Arab populations, offering arenas for contentious politics, identity frameworks and social solutions. Presenting a span from communitarian to universalistic in cause, character, and solutions offered, a diverse range of transnational and militant social movements have become an integral part of the social and political dynamics of the region. Increasingly they form an indispensable part of the reform processes within Arab states – regional and local NGO’s, civil society organizations, hometown associations and religious groups being transnationally connected, transgressing state borders in their perspectives and activism. How may this transnational dimension of political activism impinge on processes of reform and state formation? This project on transnational advocacy networks for gender equality in Islamic family laws is offered as a lens through which to investigate what the relationship is between these transnational actors and the current configurations of state.

Aim

This project offers to analyze research and activism of family law revision within an Islamic framework as a transnational social movement in the Arab region, and to relate research findings directly to the reform processes of three selected national family laws, while engaging representatives of the legal community to pinpoint their relevance, and seek their endorsements by relevant judicial and political figures. 

Despite more than a century of critique of women’s legal status in the Arab region, changing family patterns, and a booming young female adult population aspiring to professional lives, family laws in Arab countries still endorse inequality between the spouses and discrimination against women. This is not only unjust, but also an obstacle to development, preventing women’s self-determination and contribution to their societies. Inequality in the family laws of the Arab region is increasingly confronted by Muslim women in transnational activism and conversations. Recent initiatives to review family laws and interpretations of their core concepts within circles of scholars and activists have fostered a transnational social movement with a tremendous momentum for revising these laws by addressing their gender inequalities from an Islamic perspective. Participants are individual researchers, research centers and organizations involving researchers from Arab countries–as well as from other parts of the world.

Objectives

  1. Inform policy processes in Arab states through research findings on transnational social movements, particularly regarding insights family law revisions that further gender equality.
  2. Engage Arab states in law reforms that combine communitarian co-existence and gender equality with democratic governance.
  3. Encourage Arab states to be more inclusionary, accommodating gender equality.

Approach

In order to address the slow, uneven progress of legislative reform this project track offers to propose policy solutions that would strengthen women’s rights across the Arab countries. A strategic working group will focus on three regional case studies—Lebanon, Egypt, and Morocco—to analyze the potential for reform within a challenging broader Arab context of social and political upheaval. The goal is to ensure that future policies build on Arab region scholarship rethinking family laws within an Islamic framework in an aim to strengthen women’s rights - without disregarding the crucial level of legal practices.

To that end, this project will focus on the potential for reform in three regional case studies: Egypt, Morocco, and Lebanon. In Egypt, a series of law reforms since 2000 allowed for minor improvements in women’s access to divorce (khul-divorce), and raised the custody age of children up to 15 years. Family courts were established in 2004, but a more thorough and comprehensive review of family law is still lacking. Since the early 2000s, Morocco’s government has pursued a path of reform, and in 2004, a reform of the ‘Moudawana’ (family code) increased women’s right to divorce and child custody and restricted polygamy; thus inequality in divorce and custody still prevails, and the Moroccan government has encountered a range of obstacles in the implementation of reforms. Lebanon presents a unique case due to the diversity of its 15 separate personal status laws for the country’s various officially recognized religious communities (18 in total). The ongoing refugee crisis—the recent arrival of at least 1.4 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon—is an urgent reminder that conflict, war, and forced migration continue to press the need for legal protection for women. Overall, incremental progress can be noted but further reform may be advanced more speedily by drawing on recent research findings of expert communities.

 

 

People

Dr. Connie Carøe Christiansen is a visiting associate professor in Gender Studies. She was an associate professor at Roskilde University in Denmark and a senior advisor at KVINFO, the Danish Centre for Research and Information on Gender, Equality and Diversity, where she managed academic programs in the Arab region, including a program which established an M.A. program on International Development and Gender at Sanaa University in Yemen. She has published research on gender, migration and Islam in Denmark, Turkey, Morocco and Yemen. She has her M.A. in Cultural Sociology and Ph.D. in Anthropology from Copenhagen University, Denmark.

 

Myriam Sfeir joined the Institute for Women’s Studies in the Arab World (IWSAW) in 1996. She is currently the assistant director of IWSAW. Previously she served as senior managing editor of Al-Raida, the double-blind peer-reviewed journal published by IWSAW. She has worked on several groundbreaking issues of Al-Raida that dealt with various subjects considered taboo in the Arab world (sexuality, honor killings, incarcerated women, homosexuality, etc.). She has also worked extensively on issues related to gender rights and has organized several conferences, film festivals, and lectures at LAU. Myriam is knowledgeable on issues related to human rights, gender-based violence, and sexuality. Myriam earned her Bachelor degree in Philosophy from the American University of Beirut and her Master’s degree in Interdisciplinary Women’s Studies from the University of Warwick, United Kingdom.

 

Dr. Samira Aghacy has more than two decades of service as an LAU associate professor, chairperson and dean.

Prior to LAU, she taught English literature at the University of Jordan and the Lebanese University, and served as chair of the Department of English at the Lebanese University for three years. At LAU, she taught courses in English and comparative literature and served as chairperson of the Department of Humanities for several years.

Her current research focuses on contemporary Lebanese and Arabic literature. She has published numerous articles in international refereed journals such as the International Journal of Middle East Studies, Edebiyyat, and Journal of Arabic Literature. She has also reviewed numerous articles submitted to international and Arab scholarly journals.

She is in the process of publishing a book on Arab masculinity in fiction by Syracuse University Press.

 

Dr. Aghacy is a member of several professional organizations including the Middle East Studies Association (MESA), the Modern Labguage Association (MLA), British Society for Middle Eastern Studies (BRISMES), and the Association of Professors of English and Translation at Arab Universities Arab (APETUS).