MIFTAH holds policy meeting on gender gaps in laws, policies and procedures in ecclesiastical courts
July 15, 2020

Ramallah – 9/7/2020 – As part of its discussions on the legal gaps in policies and procedures of Sharia and ecclesiastical courts and its ongoing efforts to revive women’s social and political agenda, MIFTAH organized a dialogue session with several Christian clergy and heads of ecclesiastical courts along with lawyers specialized in church, sharia and regular courts from the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Jordan.

A policy paper on ecclesiastical courts was presented by Judge Scarlett George Bishara of the Evangelical Lutheran Church Court of First Instance in Jordan and the Holy Land. The paper was based on MIFTAH’s report on the gender gaps in the laws, policies and procedures of the ecclesiastical and sharia courts in Palestine in regards to Article 16 of CEDAW. This article constitutes a challenge for women and girls’ access to justice especially in provisions pertaining to the age of marriage, guardianship, divorce, custody and mutual funds.

Bishara pointed to the obstacles that prevent women’s access to justice in ecclesiastical courts. The policy paper highlighted the issue of the age of marriage, alimony and inheritance, which are priorities for women in these courts, and offered alternative proposals that guarantee protection and justice for women in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Bishara then presented a number of policy recommendations including: to encourage Christian denominations to review personal status laws; to work on a unified personal status law for all Christians; to encourage these courts to appoint women judges; to encourage judges to learn about and receive training on CEDAW; to amend personal status laws to set the minimum age of marriage at 18; to lower court fees and decrease the duration of court sessions; to amend alimony procedures; to reform and amend articles pertaining to inheritance so it is unified for all churches on the basis of equality and justice between the sexes.

This was followed by several interventions and comments on the policy paper including the need to establish an awareness-raising movement and to hold more panel discussions in churches in Palestine; and to hold more meetings with both sexes to raise public awareness on women rights.

Judge Bishara said the significance of the session and the subsequent discussions was due to the fact that this was the first time that rights gaps in ecclesiastical courts had ever been scrutinized. She explained that usually discussion revolved around the personal status law for Muslims. “This is a new topic for discussion,” she said. “We have several [Christian] denominations in Palestine and each denomination’s court has its own laws and regulations. This means there are multiple systems and laws that harbor clear discrimination against women and give men rights with which they can control their wives and daughters. This paper sheds light on these rights gaps in laws and regulations and encourages denominations and churches to reconsider their laws according to the Palestinian constitution and CEDAW. In the end, churches are not far removed from Palestinian society; they are a part of its social fabric.”

MIFTAH projects manager Najwa Yaghi said the recommendations from the session would be included in a broader discussion of the report’s results and of two public policy papers on the challenges facing Palestinian women in courts, which were discussed in MIFTAH sessions with experts in both sharia and ecclesiastical courts. This policy meeting is within the OXFAM-funded project “Conflict and Fragility”.