The Family Law has already proved its worth in Bahrain as a central pillar for protecting the rights of women in legal family disputes such as divorce, child custody, domestic violence, inheritance and other essential facets of life.
However, through no fault of their own, Shia women and families are currently excluded from enjoying the benefits of such a law. Here we will briefly look at why this is the case and why this matters:
In Bahrain we have two courts concerned with family issues based on Shariah law; the Sunni courts and the Jaafari (Shia) courts; reflecting the traditional legal differences in these religious schools of thought.
In 2008, Bahrain succeeded in passing a Sunni Family Law. However, Shia legislators blocked efforts towards either a unified Family Law, or a Jaafari Family Law. These MPs claimed that the proposed bill contradicted religious teachings. However, their critics said that these Shia Islamist MPs had rejected the move because it lessened the ability of clerics to have influence over the private lives of local communities.
Since then, many efforts have been made to draft a Jaafari Family Law to protect Shia women, in accordance with both civil law and Shariah. However, several traditionalist clerics continue to speak out against such a project.
The issue of the Jaafari Family Law is once again back in the spotlight, with many leading figures such as the Justice Minister highlighting the need to move this agenda forward. Civil society movements and official institutions such as the Supreme Council for Women have been pushing for years for such a law to be passed.
The Bahraini Women’s Union has organized several events where participants have stressed the necessity of passing a Shia Family Law; including seminars, roundtable discussions and social media campaigns. These events aim to raise awareness and bring an end to the mistreatment of women.
Interestingly, the issue has exposed a line of division within the opposition. Pro-opposition newspaper Al-Wasat has been highlighting the issue, along with supportive statements from commentators and left-wing opposition societies like Wa’d and the Progressive Democratic League.
Meanwhile, several prominent Shia clerics have warned that such a law could contradict Islamic law and the Shia Islamist opposition, like Al-Wefaq Islamic Society (recently disbanded) remain opposed.
We need a Jaafari Family Law for the following reasons:
Family Law and human rights
The Family Law stands in line with international conventions and protects women rights according to the Universal declaration of human rights which the state is bound to. The UN Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) emphasizes the necessity of a Family Law in Bahrain.
Many experts in Shia Islamic law have also stressed that such law could be in accordance with religious principles.
Bahrain should protect the rights of both Shia and Sunni women, despite the fact that Shia legislators rejected the law fearing that it would undermine traditional hierarchies in Shia communities.
We need to protect the rights of women whatever their sect or religion. Hence a Jaafari law should be passed in Bahrain.
Success of Sunni Family law
After passing the Sunni family law, legal issues such as divorce, custody and alimony have been regulated in a more civil and effective manner by the Sunni court.
Hence not only protecting the rights of the women, but also men when it comes to legal issues. Judges do not anymore have the right to leave women hanging without a divorce for years. Women are protected by a clear law that provides them equal rights in family issues.
Shia marriages in Sunni courts
Many Shia women chose to sign their marriage contracts in Sunni courts as they are well aware of how the family law applied in Sunni courts protect their rights in a marriage while the corruption in the Jaafari courts continue.
Pending cases in Jaafari Courts
There are hundreds of cases of mistreatment and pending cases of divorce, alimony and custody for Shia women in the Jaafari courts due to the absence of a family law since the judges decide based on their personal reading into the case.
The mistreatment of women in Jaafari courts should end. A Family Law can provide Shia women their right as equal citizens. The absence of a Family Law has damaged the lives of so many Shia women and families for decades.
The media has reported numerous cases of inconsistent or apparently unfair judgments where local clerics have made rulings without access to clear criteria or opportunities for appeal.
Role of Parliament
Parliament has played a key role in discussing the issue and bringing it to light. Now it’s the Parliament’s turn to take matters in hand and recognize the benefits of the Family Law for Shia families.
The issue needs serious discussion and urgent legislative action so there can be real progress towards passing an effective and fair law which responds to the challenges facing women and families today.
This is also a crucial time for Parliament’s Women’s Committee to be properly activated with a membership that is committed to the empowerment of women and which lobbies for legislative action towards a Family Law that protects all women.