Hon. Minister Thalatha Athukorale
Minister of Justice
16, May 2018
Dear Honourable Minister,
Official Public Release of Report on Proposed Reforms to the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act (MMDA) of Sri Lanka
As members of the Muslim community, and representing those deeply invested in the welfare of the community, as well as the upliftment of the dire situation faced by Muslim women and girls, we are concerned by the continued delay in the public release of the official version of the report of the ‘Committee appointed to consider amendments to the MMDA’, which was submitted by Chairperson Justice Saleem Marsoof to your Ministry on 22 January 2018.
Last week, a copy of this report appears to have been circulated in the media. Our concern is that any further delay to officially releasing the report, particularly in light of the report made available in the media, will lead to unnecessary speculation regarding the veracity of the contents of the version in the media. This will inturn divert the debate on this extremely important legislative reform work creating further divides within the stakeholder Muslim communities. A public official release will put all speculation to rest and focus on the task at hand.
Honourable Minister, you made a commitment to the citizenry, including Sri Lankan Muslim women, that recommendations once submitted will be made public in all three languages and made available on the Ministry website. It is now over a 100 days since the report was submitted and we do not have any indication of a public release. Considering the unreasonable delay of 9 years that the Committee has taken to submitting any views regarding reform, any further delay is unacceptable. Every day of delay in the MMDA reforms process condemns a Muslim woman or girl to another day of living without dignity, justice or equality.
We understand that there are differing views on a few key issues amongst the members of the Committee. This as a reflection of the diverse views within the Muslim community. To get consensus on fundamental matters of gender equality and justice has been a difficult process for the Muslim community, especially given conservative elements with a narrow interpretation of Islamic jurisprudence who want the MMDA to remain patriarchal and discriminatory.
Thus, releasing the report even though it reflects different views is important, as it will permit the public to engage with these differences, which is a much needed process for reform.
We urge you Minister to take into consideration the view of Muslim women and girls and not to be influenced by anyone attempting to silence a more open discussion on this matter. Forcing a ‘unified report’ in this context, we fear, will privilege a conservative male position which is biased against Muslim women and excludes the lived realities of Muslim women, particularly those who have been advocating at the grassroots and whose calls had resulted in the need to establish a committee for this purpose in the first place. We further urge you Honourable Minister, to ensure that the process that follows the public release of the report, also includes securing a space for consultation and input of Muslim women’s urgent demands.
HONOURABLE MINISTER, MUSLIM WOMEN REQUEST YOU:
- In the interest of Muslim women and girls and the broader Muslim community, to publicize the full report submitted by Chairperson Justice Saleem Marsoof, together with all annexes and attachments therein without any further delay. This act will demonstrate the true spirit of transparency, public engagement and principles of good governance that your government has promised us. Notwithstanding any leaked versions whose veracity cannot be confirmed, we believe the official version released by your Ministry must be the basis on which public discussion and next steps with regard to reforms must be taken forward. We request that official versions be made available in Sinhala and Tamil as well.
- To ensure substantive involvement of Muslim women in subsequent processes and throughout the journey towards a more egalitarian MMDA. Pursuant to which we regard the role of Ministry of Women’s Affairs and National Women’s Committee and the Parliamentary Sectoral Oversight Committee on Women and Gender, as being central to further deliberations on this matter.
- Under your purview this reform process has reached a critical stage. We urge you to ensure that the process moves forward and culminates in necessary reforms that members of the community, particularly women and girls, have been waiting for for so long. Please ensure that the next steps or the process by which amendments to the MMDA will become law, is publicly announced with appropriate timelines to enable Muslim communities to hold those involved in the process accountable and ensure that change is not postponed indefinitely again.
We humbly request for an opportunity to discuss these matters more fully with you at your earliest convenience.
Looking forward to a favorable response.
Thanking you kindly.
Muslim Personal Law Reforms Action Group (MPLRAG)