A victory for women in Bangladesh:
* News Release Issued by the International Secretariat of Amnesty
5 January 2001 ASA 13/001/2001 3/01
Amnesty International today welcomed this week's landmark
Bangladesh High Court ruling that fatwas -- religious edicts
issued by the Muslim clergy -- are illegal. The court also ruled
that such edicts, most of which are issued against women, must be
made punishable by an act of parliament.
"This is a significant and most welcome development which
sends a clear message that discriminatory practices against
women, particularly in rural areas, are unacceptable and must
stop," Amnesty International said. "The division bench of the
High Court which made the ruling, and the Bangladeshi women's
rights activists who presented the court with evidence against
the practice of fatwa, are to be congratulated."
Dozens of fatwas are issued each year by the rural clergy
at village gatherings after receipt of complaints, usually
against women who assert themselves in village family life. They
impose flogging and stoning, and other humiliating punishments
such as shaving of heads, insults and beatings. They are also
often involved in their execution.
In many cases, there appears to be a financial motive
involved. Fatwas can be a source of income for the local clergy,
known as Fatwabaz (in fatwa business), who justify their deeds in
the name of religion.
In October 2000, the UN Special Rapporteur on Religious
Intolerance reported that 26 fatwas issued in the previous year
were an attempt "to stifle any efforts to emancipate women."
In 1993 a fatwa was issued against 21-year-old Noorjahan
Begum and her second husband on grounds that their marriage was
un-Islamic. Noorjahan had married for a second time after she had
taken action, which she thought was in line with accepted
practice, to end her first traumatic marriage. She was buried in
the ground up to her chest, and stoned to death by villagers. Her
husband survived the stoning.
Last July, Rashida, a housewife from Sylhet District, was
reportedly flogged 20 times in public. A local clergyman issued
a fatwa on her for allowing a man who had called to see her
husband to wait in her house until the husband arrived. With her
husband chronically ill, Rashida had assumed the position of the
head of the family.
The landmark judgement was delivered by two renowned
justices of the High Court, Mohammad Gholam Rabbani and Nazmun
Ara Sultana -- the first woman judge in the country. Amnesty
International is concerned they may be targetted by Islamist
groups and is calling on the government to ensure their safety.
"This judgement highlights the failure of the government
to provide protection to women against the practice of fatwa. It
must now follow the example of the judges and take action to
bring to justice any person who issues a fatwa and to ensure that
such unlawful edicts are punishable by law."
Max Dashu <[log in to unmask]>
<www.suppressedhistories.net> International Women's Studies
<www.maxdashu.net> Paintings of bold and spirited women