Baroness Caroline Cox has challenged the government to respond urgently to the findings of the independent review of the application of sharia law in England and Wales, published in February 2018, according to Christian Concern.
The review stated that ‘no one disputed that sharia councils engage in practices which are discriminatory to women’. Baroness Cox questioned the government’s response in the House of Lords, saying: ‘One Muslim lady told me, ‘I feel betrayed by Britain. I came here to get away from this, and it’s worse here than in the country from which I came’. Therefore, I ask the minister whether Her Majesty’s Government will make it a priority to respond urgently with appropriate legislation, because many Muslim women are suffering in this country in ways which would make our suffragettes turn in their graves.’
Baroness Donaghay said Muslim women are being pressured to resolve issues in sharia councils: ‘Women may lack knowledge of both the English language and their rights under English law. Does the minister agree that this is an issue of equal rights for women? May I press her on how the government will ensure the rights of Muslim women and ensure that the rule of law is upheld?’
Lord Elton said the problem was bigger and more urgent than the government realised: ‘In assessing the scale of this problem, do Her Majesty’s Government take into account the, I believe, considerable number of people living in closed communities who are under severe pressure, social and otherwise, not to tarnish a family’s honour by going to British law and who may not even speak the English language? They are not likely to show on the radar or to give evidence to inquiries’.
Baroness Cox has a private members’ bill going through the House of Lords that would require all religious marriages to be legally registered. She said this would eradicate ‘the vulnerability of Muslim women in the application of sharia law in this country, whereby a man can divorce his wife merely by saying “I divorce you” three times, and there is widespread polygamy, causing great unhappiness’.
The independent review also proposed that requiring registration of religious marriages would help to prevent polygamy and discriminatory divorces. Many Muslim women are unaware that their Islamic marriages are not legally recognised, which means that they have no legal protection if their husband dies or the marriage breaks down, and almost 80 percent of Muslim women wanted their Muslim marriage to be recognised under British law.