18 February 2009, Secretariat of the Pacific Community, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
They came in all colours, shapes and sizes, and in all manner of dress, both traditional and modern, veiled and unveiled, religious and non-religious, to begin a global campaign called Musawah.
Organised by the Malaysian Muslim feminist organisation, Sisters in Islam (SIS), Musawah, which means 'equality' in Arabic, brought together Muslim feminists, women's rights and human rights activists and lawyers to debate and discuss justice and equality in the family law of Islam.
Gender and Human Rights Advisor, Imrana Jalal, from the Secretariat of the Pacific Community's Regional Rights Resource Team (RRRT/SPC), was one of the panel of speakers at the 250-strong gathering at Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, which included the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, Yakin Ertürk, who was the keynote speaker.
Jalal, who was invited as an expert in legislative change, led two sessions on changing family laws in environments unfavourable to gender equality. She said the Musawah movement was only at its beginning but would soon be a strong global force.
"Gender equality and human rights is not inconsistent with Islam so the liberation of women is entirely possible within a religious context," Jalal said.
Musawah will span 50 countries with the goal of reforming family laws in a Muslim context. It works on the premise that gender equality and human rights is consistent with Islamic doctrine. The movement calls for equality, non-discrimination, justice and dignity as the basis of all human relations; full and equal citizenship for every individual; and marriage and family relations based on principles of equality and justice.
Musawah is based on the principle that equality in the family is possible through a framework that is consistent with Islamic teachings, universal human rights principles, fundamental rights guarantees, and the lived realities of women and men.
Jalal shared the strategies she had learned in the passing of the Family Law Act in Fiji.
She told the BBC that although Fiji was a small country with a Muslim minority and without a parallel religious legal system, the lessons learnt on passing good legislation could be adapted and transferred to other parts of the globe.
RRRT works with partners in 9 focus countries; Cook Islands, Fiji , Kiribati , Samoa , Solomon Islands , Tonga, Tuvalu, Nauru and Vanuatu, by offering training packages and expert advice to partners which aids in the development of human rights advocacy, lobbying, mobilisation strategies and the drafting of national human rights legislation. RRRT provides human rights training, technical support, and policy and advocacy services tailored specifically for the Pacific region and with a mission to "seek a Pacific region that is respected for the quality of its governance, the sustainable management of its resources, the full observance of democratic values and for its defence and promotion of human rights".
For more information, please contact Sandra Bernklau, SPC RRRT Programme Manager (+679) 3305582 or email: [email protected].