The Women’s Legal Centre (WLC) are intensifying efforts to have legislation enacted that would recognise Muslim marriages within the county’s courts and alleviate the legal challenges Muslim women face when contending with issues of divorce, maintenance, inheritance amongst others. This comes as a Mitchell’s Plain woman has made headlines for her attempts to sue her ex-husband, the Government Employees Pension Fund and the local Muslim Judicial Council (MJC) in a ‘ground-breaking’ case aimed at acquiring half of her former spouses estate and pension inheritance. In addition, the woman is also seeking the courts to make Muslim marriages valid for “duty of support and matrimonial property purposes”.
At the same time the WLC has submitted a parallel application to the Western Cape High Court in a bid to take government to task on its failure to bring about legislation that would fully recognise Muslim marriages with a court of law.
WLC lawyer Hoodah Abrahams-Fayker said the woman’s case highlighted the types of hardships Muslim women have had to contend with when it came to marriage or divorce related issues. Because Muslim marriages have no legal status within the country, she said there were no propriety consequences when a man issued a divorce/talaq to his wife.
“The legislation for recognition for Muslim marriages was mooted about 20 years ago, and the SA Law Reform Commission recognized there are hardships that women face. But unfortunately to this day there is still no recognition being given,” she said.
The constitution does however recognise freedom of religion, effectively allowing women to be able to present cases to the court on an individual basis (piecemeal legislation). However their is no blanket legislation governing all facets of Muslim marriage.
Abrahams-Fayker acknowledged that whilst there was some progress and precedents setting cases in areas like inheritance, this were not nearly enough to address the challenges being faced by Muslim women who entered marriage.
“There have been many cases where they’ve (women) gone to court and challenged the divorce and the rights to have their marriage recognised, and the consequences arising out of that are the same. The matters have always been settled, and there hasn’t been a decision by the courts specifically confirming that women approaching for a divorce
WLC have previously launched an application with the courts in December 2014, requesting that government pass legislation on legalising Muslims marriages within a specific time frame. However there has been little fruition in this regard. VOC (Mubeen Banderker)