Femin Ijtihad: Islamic Perspectives on Women’s Rights
“At one time, inspired, I worked hard at creating this organization. Now I feel it is creating me…” -Natasha Latiff, Director, Femin Ijtihad
Femin Ijtihad began, as most things begin, with a story.
Inspired by a story about an Afghan girl’s defiance of the Taliban, a young law student undertook a journey to Afghanistan. There she conducted field research on the construction of Afghan rape laws that involved the participation of several judges, lawyers, MPs, and professors in Kabul. It was during this research that she realized there was a genuine lack of access to gender-equitable scholarship on Islamic law for Afghan activists to introduce and advocate change of laws and policies. And thus, with this idea, Femin Ijtihad was born, with a promise to increase the accessibility of such scholarship to a wider audience, and especially to activists and organizations that really needed them. It sought to build a nexus between academic scholarship and activism.
Femin Ijtihad (F.I.) stands for critical thinking about gender notions and laws. Our aim is to research and share academic and legal perspectives on Muslim women’s rights with activists, lawyers, and women’s organizations working at the grassroots. Ours is a pro bono initiative run by a team of dedicated and highly competent researchers, students, journalists, lawyers, and activists. We currently have chapters in London, New York, and New Delhi.
Our longest running and extremely successful Case Law Program is an endeavour to develop lawyers’ authority in women’s rights in Islamic law as well as their familiarity in case law and judicial opinions in South Asian courts. The program assists lawyers on how to cite, deconstruct, and confidently present women’s Islamic rights during case preparation and litigation in courts, on a series of issues such as: maintenance, rape, zina, child custody, right of mahr, and divorce. We build and share a collection of landmark Pakistani, Indian, and Bangladeshi case law and judicial opinions on women’s legal issues. Through this collection, we aim to disseminate them as training materials and practical exercises for lawyers and activists on how High and Supreme Court Judges in Hanafi jurisdictions have reasoned Islamic and statutory law to come to gender-equitable outcomes in courts.
F.I.’s other successful projects include participation in the first Kabul Conference on Women’s Economic Rights in collaboration with an Afghan NGO, the Women & Children Legal Research Foundation (WCLRF). In support of WCLRF’s National Strategy Plan to promote women’s economic rights in Afghanistan, we have compiled a strategy paper on best practices in post-conflict contexts. As an extension of this project with WCLRF, we have also contributed towards the production of a training manual for community mobilizers to work with local leaders, religious elders, and government officials on the importance of women’s rights to inheritance in Afghanistan.
Our recent projects such as ‘Strategic Litigation of Women’s Rights in Afghanistan’ and ‘Research on the Political Participation of Women in Post-Gaddafi Libya’ have enriched our understanding of women’s rights in conflict and post-conflict jurisdictions. For the latter, a group of researchers interviewed several Libyan feminist activists as well as communicated with Libyan human rights NGOs in order to understand how transitional perspectives could alleviate the plight of Libyan women in politics. Later, this research culminated into a research paper which has been presented at the London School of Economics and the Women’s Academy of Munich.
F.I. was started with an aspiration to move away from the trajectory that defined and, perhaps, even perceived the situation of Muslim women through the binaries of oppressor/oppressed or authority/subservience. We classify ourselves as an academic initiative supportive of locally defined strategies crafted to deal with prevailing circumstances that women find themselves confronting. Through our analyses, we have contributed to women’s empowerment through progressive readings of Islamic resources. But we refrain from mono-causal explanations of women’s disempowerment. Thus, our Research Program has delved into progressive interpretations of Islamic law but also diverged, in that we acknowledge that systems of power, economic underdevelopment, and war have even more strongly denied women equality in opportunities. We have offered critical perspectives into other subjects that impact upon the women’s movement, including the assumptions and notions behind gender constructs and the importance of working with men as partners.
F.I. prides itself on its integrity to critical thinking–and the ways in which academia can shape philosophies and approaches to women’s rights work and vice versa. We are dedicated to bridging the gap between academia and practice and finding innovative and creative ways of approaching women’s rights work, whether through shaping innovative awareness-raising programs or strategic argumentation in courts.
Follow Peace X Peace on Twitter (@PeaceXPeace)
Join our mailing list for weekly peacebuilding stories.
The views and opinions expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Peace X Peace.