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Across the Middle East and North Africa, there are discriminatory provisions and practices related to family laws, for example with regard to marriage, divorce, custody and guardianship, property rights, as well as inheritance, that negatively impact the lives of women and girls. Many of these are based on religion, custom, and tradition. They may be codified by the State or uncodified and unwritten. 

  • In Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria, the laws limit divorced mothers’ rights to the custody of their children 
  • In Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt, loopholes in laws and lack of implementation leaves girls at risk of child marriage 
  • In Palestine, women are not guaranteed a fair distribution of wealth after divorce in both civil and religious courts 

Attempts to reform family laws are often portrayed as threats to group identity and rights and used as justifications to resist demands for reform towards further equality.

The right to culture and to freedom of religion are also human rights, but they cannot quash a person’s fundamental human right to equality and non-discrimination. It is a derogation of a State’s duty when a State explicitly allows exceptions for customary family law, which may not always be written down. 

Read more about the 2020 report by the UN Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Dr. Ahmed Shaheed on religious belief & the rights of women and the LGBTQ+ community

Working together for equality in family law across the Middle East and North Africa 

For too long, issues of family, culture, and religion have been taboo, and feminist activists have faced pushbacks when trying to bring reform. We’re working to build a network of organizations across the MENA region, working in solidarity with each other to advocate for the repeal and amendment of discriminatory provisions and practices in family laws to ensure greater equality. 

In Palestine and Egypt, we’re working with partners within the YW4A to ensure key laws and policies are adopted and/or implemented towards promoting women’s voice, agency, leadership, and representative participation in decision-making processes in the public, private and civic spheres.