Maryam Namazie: Thank you for having me here. I represent One Law for All, a coalition of organisations that includes Southall Black Sisters, the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation, the Centre for Secular Space and British Muslims for Secular Democracy, as well as other groups. We include Muslim and non-Muslim women who are working together on this issue. We believe that Sharia courts play a very negative role in the lives of women. We think that, in content and structure, they are discriminatory against women, and to try to find good or bad when the law itself discriminates against women is problematic. We think that women should have access to one secular law for all.
If you look at the creation of the Sharia courts, they came in the mid-1980s. They are a result of the rise of the political Islamic movement internationally, the repercussions of which we have seen here in Britain and in Europe. If you talk to older women who were living in Britain prior to this period, none of them were required or pressured to go to Sharia court. There was no need for this sort of divorce. In the past they would get civil divorces, which are acceptable in Pakistan, Iran and elsewhere. In a sense, we see this as part of the rise of the Islamist movement. It is one of their projects to manage and control women. They created a problem, and then they came forward and pretended that Sharia courts were the solution to the problem that they had created. It is highly problematic.
We need to look fundamentally at why women from minority backgrounds should have different rights and rules applied to them. Why are we not stressing one law for all? In any sort of religious law—not just Sharia courts but Beth Dins and any sort of parallel legal system where religious arbitration is at play—you will find that women are discriminated against because of the nature of these sorts of rules.
Maryam Namazie: I also think that we can’t wait for reform and changes. That is an issue we need to think about. We need to protect women and we need to protect them right away. From my perspective and the coalition I work with, we think that parallel legal systems should be abolished.
Q17 Mr Winnick: Abolished completely?
Maryam Namazie: Abolished, because I think it will protect women more. I know some will say that that means that they will carry on underground. Well, domestic violence continues, but we still have laws against it. When the Government say very clearly that parallel legal systems are unacceptable, it helps to protect the most vulnerable. Some women go freely, they get their rights, but we are talking about the most vulnerable in our society