31 January 2013
ARTICLES: Hong and Provost on Mythologies and Sezgin on Women Challenging Muslim Family Laws
Across nations one of the most common ways that women’s sexuality and personal autonomy is controlled is through family law, particularly marriage, and divorce. In essence, many such laws are in place to govern autonomous and individual expressions of sexuality, most often through the use of moral arguments located within ethno-religious traditions. Yet matters of family law are often analyzed in terms of state- or nation-building and religious practices. Indeed as Carol Pateman (1988) has shown, family law remains one of the least democratic legal and social institutions, despite women’s struggles, with limited success, for family law reform. Resistance to democratizing family law is often most pronounced by elements within ethno-religious communities which hold a minority position vis-à-vis the state, and are thus excluded from the state political power structure. This has meant that women within such communities have to develop nuanced strategies to extend their sexual and personal autonomy without alienating their community. A comparison of the cases of India and Israel -- where the Muslim minorities’ relationships with the state are extremely politicized -- provides insight into the ways in which women are contesting the governance and control of their sexuality through the re-shaping of marriage and divorce laws.