A secular coalition of British minority women, representing organizations having a decades of experience of working with marginalized sections, have rejected the country’s Home Affairs Select Committee seeking a hearing of women who have “personally used” community arbitration of Sharia Councils, saying these women are subject to the vagaries of a “discriminatory system.”
Those who have signed the letter to the British Home Affairs Select Committee include Pragna Patel, Director of Southall Black Sisters; Gita Sahgal, Director of Centre for Secular Space; Maryam Namazie and Gina Khan, Spokespersons for One Law for All; Diana Nammi, Executive Director of Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Organisation; and Nasreen Rehman, Co-Founder and Chair of British Muslims for Secular Democracy.
Wondering why is the Select Committee only interested in hearing from Muslim women who have ‘personally used’ Sharia Councils, the letter says, “There are an equal if not greater number of Muslim women who, for very valid reasons, do not wish to use these Councils out of fear and distrust arising from their own negative experiences of religious control in their communities.”
The letter says, “Many women confronting honour based abuse, for instance, will not use Sharia Councils because they feel angry and let down by their communities and religious authorities.” It adds, “They have been subject to religious abuse of power, including sexual abuse”, hence they are “fearful of being subject to further abuse and humiliation in Sharia Councils”.
Especially citing the inquiry sessions held on November 1, 2016, at which witnesses were invited to present their evidence, the letter says, these were “highly unbalanced and weighted in favour of those who support Sharia Councils in some form or other.”
“The sessions consisted of three panels of witnesses. Out of a total of ten witnesses who appeared, seven spoke in favour of Sharia Councils (four of whom actually ran Sharia Councils), one remained neutral and only two witnesses – Dr Elham Manea and Maryam Namazie - were called to present their counter arguments”, the letter says.
The letter insists, “Whilst we accept that witnesses who speak in favour of the role of Sharia Councils have every right to be heard, we question whether the inquiry can be said to be fair or impartial when the evidence sessions were so clearly slanted in favour of those who have a vested interest in maintaining the role of Sharia Councils over family matters.”
“In our view”, the letter says, “The inquiry needs to hear evidence from expert witnesses who can provide specific examples of how abused women have been re-traumatised and placed at risk following their engagement with Sharia Councils.”
The letter further says, “Most of the abused women that use our services seek a divorce only after they have left abusive relationships, but they are almost always compelled to return to the abuse by Sharia Councils and other religious arbitration bodies, even if this breaches civil and criminal laws and good practice and policies in respect of mediation and reconciliation in gender-based violence cases. In other words, they are forced back underground.”