By Mass L. Usuf –
There is a campaign aimed at stage-managing the sensitivities of the people by a few Muslim women and men. They present themselves as the saviours and protectors of the rights of the Muslim women especially, in the application of the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act (MMDA). Various reasons have been attributed by the people for the emergence of this campaign. Some of which are bitter personal experiences, prejudices, monetary benefits, opportunism, cheap publicity and, either feigned or real ignorance. This column is not concerned with such speculations and will be focussing on developing a balanced view of the problems suffered by all women, in general.
The danger of exaggerating information and misleading opinions is that they induce the other to agree with something that is half-truth or anything but the truth. As for the MMDA, the blatantly evident neglect and, the lack of will, on the part of successive governments to implement reforms has never been admitted by anyone. Justice Saleem Marsoof in his report states that a resolution was unanimously adopted by Parliament on 9th March 2012 as follows: “the status of the Quazi Court System must be upgraded in such a manner where sittings be held in premises congenial to the dignity of the system and as the Quazi judges are appointed by the Judicial Service Commission they should be placed on a respectable and an acceptable salary structure payable to other judicial officers.”
Muslim Women Exposed
One side in this ‘blame game’ alleges the Muslim community as a ‘patriarchy’, ‘conservative’, ‘male dominant’ and ‘misogynist’. The sociological reality is that Sri Lanka is a male dominant society, Muslim or otherwise. Research indicates that up to 97% of Sri Lankan men believed women should obey their husbands. (Ceylon Medical Journal 2015; 60: 133-138). What it tells about such allegers, some of whom are pitifully trained lawyers, I leave it to the reader.
It is disappointing to see how they labour untiringly to depict a hopeless and helpless picture of the Muslim woman in Sri Lanka. The sheer exaggeration of this adventure has to be exposed in order to bring to the people the truth. The position of women, all women, in this country needs a lot of improvement. This is a macro-sociological problem to be remedied at a national level. To focus attention on or, to hone it down to the Muslim women only, cannot be considered as honest civil advocacy for the upliftment of women.
Women Are Our Mothers
Women constitute half of the society. They are our mothers. They deserve every bit of respect, dignity and higher status. This blessed country practices four major religions. Each of these inculcate values, morals and ethics with regard to respecting the mother. Our country’s socio-cultural fabric is overwhelmed with such sentiments. Like in any society, despite these values, the problems that women face runs into a long list. These ‘activists’ need to take cognisance of the fact that there are thousands of our Sinhala and Tamil mothers who are also mistreated one way or the other. It is misleading to exhibit a pessimistic picture of only Muslim women by citing insignificant sporadic examples of hurt.
Are They Not Women?
It is a fact that all women are subjected to sexual and gender-based violence both by public authorities and private persons. For the year 2020, as per National Child Protection Authority, there had been 256 rapes, 373 Grave sexual abuse, 518 incidents of Sexual Harassment. All these are Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim women. Imagine the number of unreported cases. These activists would do well to look at violence, poverty and lack of protection for women in general, than pointing their fingers only at the Muslim women, pretending every-one else is fine.
In around 350 garment factories approximately 300,000 women are employed. As per the National Plan of Action, Sexual and Gender-based Violence (SGBV) in Sri Lanka 2016- 2020, “A lack of a protective environment … make them easy targets for verbal, physical and sexual harassment, and victims of rape and even murder.” In the Plantation Sector, a study conducted in 7 estates among 350 women found nearly 83% had experienced GBV. (Kamalini Wijethilake, 2003). Travelling is the greatest risk of sexual harassment at 83% of the victims. Sexual harassment at the workplace was experienced by 57% of women, and GBV at the place of residence was reported by 36%. (Perera, M 1997, ‘Study on safety of Free Trade Zone workers‘, Marga institute).
There are thousands of women in the informal sector who are subject to unequal wages and also lack of legal protection. In the larger canvass, have these “women activists’ taken account of the mushrooming massage parlours throughout the country. They double as centres for prostitution as alleged by some people. Are not these women our mothers? The very nature of their employment subject them to all forms of exploitation, sexual violence, gender violence and drug crimes. What will remain of her self-respect and her esteem as an individual.
The Attorney General’s department on 18.08.2020 announced that it concluded 12,968 cases of child abuse from January 2019 to July 2020. (Newsfirst). A local newspaper reported that there were 2,055 child abuse cases in 2020 alone. (Ceylon Today, 16.06.2021). Now, how many of these can be attributed to the families of married Muslim women?
For example, they profile a few Muslim women separated from their husbands and are not being paid an adequate sum of money for maintenance. Then make it a tool for their campaign. The preoccupation of exposing Muslim women as victims makes them blind to the suffering of the women within the Sinhala and Tamil community facing similar problems. It is wrong not to pay adequate maintenance to the wife whether Sinhala, Tamil or Muslim. This has to be addressed. Similarly, the society cannot let an abusive or neglectful husband go scot-free. It is equally wrong to beat the war drums to portray irregular occurrences as rampant within the Muslim community, as if other communities are doing well and happy. It is trite law that civil advocacy excels with qualities of sincerity, truthfulness and altruism.
This country is facing serious problems with the use of drugs, alcohol and tobacco. The consequences of these habits are sadly faced by our mothers. Many of these users may automatically get attracted to all types of vices including those related to extra marital affairs. Two in every five women (39.8%) have experienced physical, sexual, emotional, and/or economic violence and/or controlling behaviours by a partner in their lifetime. (Women’s Wellbeing Survey – 2019). These are broader level social issues which should be focussed upon. Highlighting the shortcomings within the Muslim community is most welcome and an admirable exercise. They certainly need to be sorted out.
International Rights Organisations
Women from all communities face problems relating to marriage, divorce, maintenance, domestic violence, adultery, drunkenness, drug addiction, child abuse etc. What is unethical is the self-mandated few women who have decided among themselves, to speak on behalf of the Muslim women. In the rush, exaggerating their submissions to various governmental bodies and international rights organisations. Please do not overblow the situation. Please do not make a disproportionate noise. Please do not place the entire Muslim community in the dock. This is bad advocacy. It will not be accepted by the community hands down.
Justice is founded on fairness and reasonableness. This in turn relies on facts presented in its true form without cosmetics, semantics and embellishments. The reader and the listener beware!
*The writer can be contacted via Email: firstname.lastname@example.org