Legal rights and women's autonomy: Can family law reform in Muslim countries avoid the contradictions of victorian domesticity?

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In early- and mid-nineteenth century England, numerous law reformers targeted the law of coverture. Under this law married women lost custody of children, lost any property they brought, could not make a will or enter into a contract once they married, and they could not seek a divorce if their marriage broke down under the doctrine that husband and wife were a single unit before the law. The discourse of the reform debates, however, presented women as either violent and intemperate, and thus requiring the chains of coverture to keep them from bringing down the pillars of civil society. Or, they were seen as victims in sore need of the law's protection from violent and intemperate men. At no time were they viewed as legal agents, capable of exercising rights responsibly or as rational actors, who could be entrusted with the care and control of raising children single-handedly. But as the law changed to accommodate demands for women's rights, it is clear that women did not destroy civil society, nor have they attained equal power and autonomy with men. Thus, in looking at the reforms, and the forces that inhibited the reforms in Victorian England, we can begin to think more critically about how law reforms occur, how men and women are situated, and how barriers to equality frustrate legal change. With that history, I believe we are better situated to understand the demands for change in family law and women's rights in Muslim countries. Much of the rhetoric is ironically familiar. And I argue that knowledge of the pitfalls that threatened legal change in the Anglo-American west can help us avoid them in law reform arenas across the Muslim world. Of course, it is not simply that by learning our history we can hope not to repeat it. Rather, by understanding the complex interplay of reformist arguments and conservative pressures, we are better able to see beneath the rhetoric to the power structures inhibiting women's autonomy that lurk beneath the surface.

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The study provides an orientation about the major dimensions of the contemporary Muslim woman's life. The article highlights Muslim women's views, opportunities, and challenges to their career choices and education. Standing at a crossroads, the greatest challenge for a Muslim woman is to make choices, consciously. Her concern is what direction to take. Ought she to gain consciousness of her own vision of what defines a Muslim woman? Cognizant of the threats amid a multitude of fantastic educational and professional opportunities that await her, the researcher raises a question as to what kind of a social order needs to be constructed for the prosperity of society. The researcher suggests measures that Muslim women may take to live a comfortable life, recommending ways to acquire a work-life balance so that she is able to work on the home front. This research aims to disseminate consciousness in Muslim women for their emancipation. The researcher employs contemporary theoretical insights about family life, which may illumine the path of Muslim women to prosperity. © Common Ground Research Networks, Samina Najeeb, All Rights Reserved.
In mid-February 2009, several hundred scholars, activists, legal practitioners, and policy-makers from forty-seven countries gathered in Kuala Lumpur for five days to launch Musawah ('equality' in Arabic), a global movement for equality and justice in the Muslim family. This chapter describes the story behind the formation of Musawah and the shaping of the Framework for Action, which herald a new phase in the encounter between Islamic and international human rights law. One salient feature of this phase is that it brings women, rather than the abstract notion of 'gender equality', to centre stage.
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