U.N. Assembly leader seeks women's rights
Published: May 17, 2007 at 6:12 PM
UNITED NATIONS May 17 (UPI) -- Strict interpretation of Islamic texts has led to discrimination against women in the Middle East, says the president of the U.N. General Assembly.
"Women are subject to family laws that are Sharia based which strictly follow the interpretations of the Islamic scholars that lived 1,000 years ago at the beginning of Islam," said Sheikha Haya Al Khalifa. "These interpretations are applied now without making any allowances to the very different social contexts of today.
"In fact, these interpretations are sanctified as holy which prevent them from criticism and change."
Khalifa was one of the first women in Bahrain to practice law. She has advocated for women's rights in a region where women still struggle for a legal foothold. She spoke Wednesday at a panel discussion at Rutgers University. The remarks were made available at U.N. World Headquarters in New York.
She called for "new interpretations of Islamic text in light of contemporary circumstances and needs."
Under Sharia family law, women can't get married without a male guardian and can't get a divorce without a court proceeding. Men can divorce their wives by a verbal declaration.
Khalifa said the social structure in the Middle East, where the family -- not the individual -- is the basic unit of society, has "created a mentality that fears the autonomy of women."
"These attitudes which were based on traditions are now associated with religion, making it harder to criticize or change them," she said.