Women activists in Lanka call for appointing female judges to Quazi courts

COLOMBO (The Island/ANN) - Muslim Personal Law Reforms Action Group calls for appointing female judges to Quazi courts following the example set by Sudan and Malaysia and introducing reforms to the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act.

Muslim Personal Law Reforms Action Group (MPLRAG) activist Hyshyama Hamin, recently, said that as Sudan and Malaysia had appointed Muslim women as chief justices, Sri Lanka had absolutely no excuse for not allowing Muslim women to be judges in the nation’s community based Quazi court system.

Hyshama Hamin, a participant at the media briefing by MPLRAG and Hashtag Generation to highlight the need for appointing women judges to the country’s Quazi Courts and reforms to the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act (MMDA), at the International Center for Ethnic Studies, on Tuesday, called upon all presidential candidates and leaders of political parties  to include MMDA reforms as a women’s rights concern, a fundamental rights issue and an issue of national priority.

 "Muslim women are not demanding the sky and the earth but basic rights to have a family law that treats us equally and a Quazi court system that brings us justice and dignity so that these matters will no longer be a barrier for Muslim women to be equal citizens of Sri Lanka."

Hamin alleged that the MMDA and the male dominated Quazi court system had created a culture of impunity under which violations were breeding and thriving. "The implementation of this discriminating law extends to every aspect of our lives. We are second class citizens because of this discrimination," she said.

She also said that the state had turned a blind eye to the activities of the Quazi courts because it thought it was a community issue which was best left untouched.

Hamin said religion and culture could no longer be used by conservative groups as an excuse to strip women of their fundamental human rights. She said whoever won the next  presidential election had to give priority to the MMDA and  heed women’s voices on the most urgent amendments including but not limited to women as Quazi judges and other positions like marriage registrars, board of Quazi members all of which exclude women currently, raise the minimum age of marriage to 18 without any exceptions, allow women to enter into marriage with the same autonomy as Muslim men, grant women equal divorce procedures, improve the standards of the family court system as well as other concerns.

Asked whether the majority of Muslim women wanted the MMDA done away with, Attorney at Law Ermiza Tegal said that the Constitution of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka was supreme for all people in Sri Lanka and those principles of equality and justice should be available to all Sri Lankans. She also said that the MMDA was proof of the recognition of diversity of communities in Sri Lanka and it was nice to see diversity being permitted, encouraged and promoted in the country. If  diversity was to be promoted then it had to be in line with the Constitution, she noted.

Article 12(2) of the Constitution states that ‘no citizen shall be discriminated against on grounds of race, religion, language, caste, sex, political opinion, place of birth or any one such grounds’. Hence restricting the position of Quazi judges to only males violated the fundamental rights of women, Tegal observed.

She also said Indonesia, from which the MMDA was derived, had gone on to reform their Muslim family laws multiple times over the past few decades. Last month in that country, the minimum age for marriage was raised to 19 for males and females

Activist, Anberiya Hanifa said that MPLRAG, founded in 1986, had been lobbying for reforms to the MMDA ever since. She added that the reasoning that Muslim women were not capable of being society leaders was baseless as Muslim women had ruled nations and even at present  hold high positions in Sri Lankan society.

Activist Hasanah Cegu Issadeen related several incidents where Muslim women were subjected to much embarrassment, humiliation and rendered speechless, unable to describe in detail their side of the story to the all-male Quazi courts.

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