Musawah: there cannot be justice without equality

Linked with Cassandra Balchin – England, and with Women Living Under Muslim Laws WLUML.

Published on openDemocracy, by Cassandra Balchin, 13 feb 2009.

A call for equality and justice “in the Muslim family” is being launched by a group of Muslim scholars and activists who insist that in the 21st century “there cannot be justice without equality” between men and women.

Musawah (which means ‘equality’ in Arabic) insists that change is possible by combining arguments from Islamic teachings, universal human rights principles, fundamental rights and constitutional guarantees, and grounding these arguments in the realities of women and men’s lives in Muslim contexts today.


Some 250 scholars and activists from 48 Muslim countries and minority communities will launch Musawah, a global initiative, starting today in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  The launch will include the public presentation of the Musawah Framework for Action, two years in the drafting, with input from activists and scholars from over 20 countries around the Muslim world, (Musawah.org, going live on 14 February). Aware that the arguments it contains will be controversial, the Framework has been kept under wraps until today …

… In concrete terms, this entails equal rights to choose a spouse or choose not to marry; enter into or dissolve a marriage; equal property rights for men and women; and equal rights and responsibilities of parents regarding their children. Apparently deliberately not specified because it is a given, Musawah’s vision of the happy Muslim family does not include the possibility of polygamy.

Women from other religions have trodden similar paths. The charismatic Frances Kissling, founder of Catholics for a Free Choice, as well as Bhikkhuni Dhammananda who had to travel from her native Thailand to Sri Lanka in order to be able to be ordained as a Buddhist monk, are both speaking at the Musawah launch on their experiences of bringing their feminism together with their religion.

Musawah is by no means the only international initiative working for women’s human rights in Muslim contexts. The scope and depth of these are often overlooked by analysts and development policy makers, particularly in the global North. The international solidarity network Women Living Under Muslim Laws has been linking women across borders and boundaries since the mid-1980s, while more recent research and advocacy initiatives include Women’s Empowerment in Muslim Contexts  and Women’s Islamic Initiative in Spirituality and Equality (WISE). All three will be represented at the Musawah launch, as will international women’s rights allies such as Women’s Learning Partnership and Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID).

In so many contexts, the battle lines between progressives, fundamentalists and traditionalists are drawn around issues relating to women’s bodies and autonomy. In this, Muslim societies are no different from contexts where for example Catholic or Hindu fundamentalisms have arisen. (full text).

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