Bahrain: Take action in support of women demanding introduction of Bahrain’s new Family Code

WLUML has received an urgent request from the Committee of Women’s Petition (CWP), Bahrain. WLUML strongly urges you to take action in support of the group of women from Bahrain linked with the Committee of Women’s Petition and ensure their safe return to Bahrain following their campaigning visit to Europe in support of Bahrain’s proposed Family Code.
The group of 10 women have personally experienced injustices under Bahrain’s currently uncodified family laws, and hoped to raise international awareness and support for women’s struggle to gain social freedom and legal equality in Bahrain.

A draft Family Code is currently awaiting presentation before Parliament but further progress remains blocked due to pressure from politico-religious groups. It is hoped that codification and reform of the Shari’a Courts in Bahrain will emphasise the rule of law in family matters, and will also inspire similar positive developments in other Gulf region countries.

There are concerns that the 10 women may face a backlash on their return from Europe and it is vital to ensure they are able to return to the country safely and continue their campaign without interference from any authorities or political or religious groups.

They are due to arrive back in Bahrain on 5 May 2006.

It is therefore vital that you respond immediately to this urgent call for action.
The Committee of Women’s Petition (CWP) is a network of Bahraini women activists campaigning for the codification of Bahrain’s family laws and the reform of Shari’a Family Courts. A delegation of 10 women visited London where they met with women’s groups and parliamentarians, and Geneva where they met UN Human Rights officials between 27 April and 5 May 2006.

They shared a ‘Plea to organizations and Establishments of Civil Societies of the World’ in which they emphasise the CWP’s mission to “defend, with all its power and patience, women and children’s rights” and oppose those who seek to prevent women and children from accessing their “Shari’a and constitutional rights.”

The Plea critcises those who “clamour for democracy in form, but not in practice, especially when that democracy serves women’s rights; those who try to stifle the parliament’s right to discuss and issue a Family Law, and to try to limit this right to those who adopt their ideology.”

Codification of a Family Law and reform of the Shari’a Courts has become necessary due to the flagrant contradictions between the spirit of the King’s reformative project and the work of the Shari’a Courts which function without a law regulating relations between husband and wife. The absence of a codified family law has allowed a situation where verdicts in different cases may contradict each other and even a verdict to contradict itself within the same case.

Opposition to presenting the draft law for discussion in parliament has come mainly from Shiite scholars who generally oppose any form of codification if the process was not led or accepted by the ‘Scholars Council’ headed by Sheikh Isa Kasem. They have requested that the draft be approved by Shiite authorities in Qom (Iran) or Najaf (Iraq), that it follows strict Shiite interpretations of Muslim laws and that the new code be immune from future amendments.

Some Sunni scholars have also opposed the draft code having different opinions regarding the mechanism for drafting a family law and the procedure for amending it in future.

While those opposing the introduction of a family code have claimed the code is the result of foreign interference in Bahrain, they do not deny the support they are receiving from abroad in order to block the new law.

The CWP “beseeches all honourable proponents of justice and equality, human rights organizations and women’s committees to stand by us, in order that we may confront this obscurity and underdevelopment, and to defend women in their demand for a Family Law in the Kingdom of Bahrain that might effectuate and gratify her humanity and womanhood.”

The CWP also presented a Complaint to the United Nations “because we believe in the role they play in spreading peace and enforcing human rights, especially the rights of the weaker sections of society – which women usually fall under.” The CWP urged implementation of the UN Human Rights Committee May 2005 recommendation that Bahrain codify and pass a Personal Law.

The CWP noted that the 1973 Bahraini Constitution Article No. 18 declares all citizens to be equal before law and equal in civil and legal rights and obligations, including being equal before the court in all its forms (such as Shari’a Courts). Article 5(E) of the Constitution also “obliges the State to reconcile the role of the woman in the family circle and her role in public life through legislation that preserves her and her children, and protects her from financial duress in the case of divorce and even during marriage.

Some of the family law problems listed by the delegation and in their documents include:
  • Arbitrary denial of women’s right to custody of their children in the event of divorce;
  • Patriarchal attitudes of the Shari’a Courts and their refusal to accept women’s evidence while accepting unfounded allegations by men;
  • Widespread practice of muta (temporary) marriage among Shia men, including with non-Muslim women, as well as misyar (travelling) marriage among Sunni men in order to deny women their financial rights;
  • The extreme difficulty for women in securing their financial rights such as maintenance while courts permit husbands to marry additional wives;
  • Extreme difficulty in obtaining divorce, despite clear grounds of cruelty, violence, non-maintenance, etc.
Judges are nominated to the various levels of the Shari’a Courts on a sectarian basis and depending upon candidacy of the Supreme Court Council. There are no regulations regarding the qualifications and aptitude of the judges hearing family cases.

The delegation hoped that “By narrating our own personal struggles to gain social freedom and legal equality in Bahrain, we will show how various political and religious groups are continuously opposing efforts made by Parliament to debate the reform and codification of Bahrain family law. These religiously based preventative actions go against the aim of enhancing democracy and freedom and are causing a reversal of the positive political and constitutional reforms currently taking place in Bahrain. “

”In order to prevent these regressive changes, we need both national and international support and solidarity to encourage constructive dialogue and the enhancement of democracy, freedom and equality in Bahrain.”