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Men as Providers: The Unmaking of a Legal Fiction in Muslim Family Laws

Posted in Culture & Religion on March 13th, 2013 by

This session – one of the top ten breakout sessions as voted for by Forum participants – presented findings from a Musawah research project on rethinking and challenging the concept of qiwamah (male authority) in Muslim family laws, which legitimises and institutionalises a patriarchal model of family. It also explored strategies to transform power relations in marriages in ways that can empower women.

Speakers: Ziba Mir-Hosseini, Lynn Welchman, Nani Zulminarni, Meghana Bahar

Session organizers shared with us the materials and resources below highlighting some of the issues raised in the breakout session “Men as Providers: The Unmaking of a Legal Fiction in Muslim Family Laws” at the 2012 AWID Forum.

Musawah has undertaken a groundbreaking, long-term and multi-faceted knowledge building initiative

The initiatve will focus on the concepts of qiwamah and wilayah, which are commonly understood as sanctioning men’s authority over women. As interpreted and constructed in Muslim legal traditions, and as applied in modern laws and practices, these concepts play a central role in institutionalising, justifying and sustaining a patriarchal model of families in Muslim contexts. In Muslim legal traditions, marriage automatically places a wife under her husband’s qiwamah and presumes an exchange: the wife’s obedience and submission (tamkin) in return for maintenance (nafaqah) from the husband.

This theoretical relationship, which still underlies many family law provisions in our contexts as Muslims today, results in inequality in matters such as financial security, right to divorce, custody and guardianship, choice and consent in marriage, sexual and reproductive health and rights, inheritance and nationality laws.

This inequality is out of tune with contemporary notions of Islamic and human rights principles. It also clashes with the reality that men are often unable or unwilling to protect and provide for their families.

It’s time to recognise that women often serve as the providers for and protectors of their families.

In order to campaign and advocate for laws and practices that promote equality and justice in the Muslim family, we need new knowledge and perspectives on qiwamah and wilayah. This project seeks to show how laws based on outdated interpretations of qiwamah and wilayah no longer reflect the justice of Islam, and that other interpretations are both possible and more in tune with human rights principles and contemporary lived realities.

Need more information? Read an overview of the initiative in English

Picture courtesy: Flickr/Ahron de Leeuw


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