Muslim women’s rights rulings: Are we still in denial?

By Devan Moonsamy – CEO The ICHAF Training Institute

About a week ago, the Western Cape High Court made a ruling which provides legal protection to Muslim women and their children in cases of divorce. The Weekend Argus reported, ‘The Western Cape High Court judgment ordering Muslim marriages to be legally recognised speaks directly to “a very patriarchal Muslim society”, which has always benefited men and left women with nothing after divorce.’ The Muslim Judicial Council welcomed the decision, which it seems should have been made long ago.

It is not the only recent legal development which has sought to protect women’s rights in Muslim marriages. Why should there even be a need for this? South Africa is supposed to be among the nations with the best legislation worldwide. Isn’t this already in place? Surely when we got our full Constitution in 1996 it cleared all this away?

No, it didn’t. It hasn’t solved all our problems. The High Court and the Constitutional Court still have a lot of work to do in protecting people by ensuring the correct interpretation and implementation of our laws.

This is a strong case in point when it comes to women’s rights denialists who continue to stare blank-faced at the plight of women (and other victims of discrimination too). By this I mean that some people assume women have equal rights in law – they definitely do not in all cases – and this has fixed everything. But even where everyone has equal rights in law, in practice true justice is sorely lacking.

Why do genuine victims of discrimination still get no recognition? Some women are still cast aside when their husband dies. Our laws and rulings like these are not an excuse to sit back on our laurels and turn away from the plight of others. Black people still suffer in this country because of their colour. Women still suffer because of their gender. Children, youths and the elderly still suffer because of their age.

We have to stop denying these facts. I feel so frustrated sometimes when I hear people say things like, ‘But women/black people/youths have been given everything they want.’ The real attitude behind such statements is that they have ‘lost out’ because of this. ‘We’ve given you what you want – equal rights, jobs, education, etc. – what more must we do for you?’ They think it’s because people who are facing serious challenges are just ungrateful.

Do we really think that people in subordinate positions are complaining because they have nothing better to do? If this is true, why do we still need court rulings to protect women after the death of their husband? Despite such developments, women’s struggle against patriarchal dominance continues.

We have to start seeing the truth behind excuses that people have ‘equal rights’, that the women’s liberation movement has already achieved its ends, that racism and sexism outlawed has brought a closure to the matter.

We need to keep our eyes and hearts open to the plight of anyone and be willing to see and empathise with their pain. If we don’t, injustice of all kinds will continue to eat away at our lives because ‘None of us are free until all of us are free.’