Inequality in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) is being perpetuated by family laws that curtail the legal rights of women and girls in areas such as marriage, divorce, custody, and wives’ financial rights. To end this gender-based discrimination, leading women’s rights organizations from countries MENA have gathered in Doha for the public launch of the Hurra Coalition, which aims to reform family laws at the national and regional levels in compliance with international human rights standards.
Discriminatory family laws
While diverse in culture and history, MENA countries share common ground in penal codes governing family issues. This encompasses a complex tapestry of civil, religious, and customary laws and practices that regulate many aspects of domestic life and relationships. Often rooted in traditional and conservative religious interpretations, many family laws in the region reinforce harmful gender roles and perpetuate inequalities by discriminating on the basis of sex.
When the law renders women and girls subordinate, it reduces their decision-making power and curtails their professional, financial, and political opportunities, leaving them more vulnerable to human rights violations, including domestic abuse and sexual and gender-based violence. The harmful consequences are far-reaching, hampering countries’ development by thwarting the ability of women to reach their full potential and contribute fully to society’s progress.
The Hurra Coalition empowers members to develop and implement campaigns to reform family law in areas such as child marriage, male guardianship, distribution of marital wealth and alimony, and child custody.
The seeds of the Coalition were sewn in 2019, when international NGO Equality Now organized a convening in Lebanon bringing together a diverse group of women’s rights organizations interested in joining forces to lobby for change in their respective countries in the MENA.
Since then, the Coalition has grown into a dynamic group fostering a robust, diverse, inclusive, and collaborative women’s rights movement. Equality Now has been voted in as Secretariat of the Coalition and has been supporting and reinforcing members’ capacities in various aspects, including in campaign strategy, legal and media advocacy, engagement with policy and decision-makers, and development of active participation amongst young activists from marginalized communities.
The Coalition works in collaboration with the Global Campaign for Equality in Family Law, which unites feminist organizations from around the world advocating for governments to ensure equality in law, policy, and practice for all women, girls, and other marginalized groups. This applies to every matter relating to the family in all its diverse forms, regardless of religion and culture.
Making reform of family laws a top priority
Dr. Dima Dabbous, MENA Representative for Equality Now, explains, “Women in the MENA face severe discrimination in many aspects of their personal lives, including being limited in their ability to consent to marriage and divorce, retain custody of their children after divorce, and access their fair share of wealth in matrimony and inheritance.”
“Progress in family law reform has not only been very slow but has been reversed in some countries. We sincerely hope that the Hurra Coalition will give all members a safe space for the exchange of knowledge and expertise, and the necessary support and feeling of solidarity to address and overcome challenges of reforming family laws in the MENA.”
Laila Amili, Director of Mains Libres based in Morocco, says, “The main goal of launching the Hurra Coalition is the strong desire of associations from various Arab countries to improve the status of women, preserve their rights, and ensure their dignity is not harmed. This will only be possible through family laws that protect and emphasize women’s human rights and treat all family members fairly.”
Ghenwa Shinder, Executive Director of LECORVAW in Lebanon, outlines, “We are an association of organizations with a shared struggle and extensive experience in advocacy, training, and awareness raising about gender-based violence and the rights of women and girls.
“The Hurra Coalition encourages and supports partner organizations to carry out campaigns to reform family laws, and unifies efforts around networking and implementing joint activities and programs among members. This includes building the capacities of partner institutions, consolidating solidarity and cooperation, exchanging experiences, addressing challenges, and creating safe, broad, and free spaces for synergy with other regional networks that share the same standards and goals around guaranteeing justice for women and girls.”
Samia Melki, Executive Director of Kadirat in Tunisia, concludes, “As a founding member of the Hurra Coalition, I am very optimistic about its future because of the experience of women involved and the qualities they possess, such as selflessness, respect for others, and acceptance of difference. We are working on issues of great importance to change the lives of women in the region for the better.”