2019 Aug 7
Why have the much needed MMDA reforms been MIA for this long ?
The origin of Sri Lankan MMDA stems from a code of law on marriage and divorce exported from Batavia (present day Indonesia) in 1770 during the Dutch rule. The infamous Act (MMDA) was enacted in 1951 in our island home and since that day it has seen opposition and call for urgent reforms. Despite constant pressure from women’s rights groups and other organisations, the archaic laws were cemented into the fabric of the local law and Muslim society. It must be noted that these laws more often than not represent patriarchal and cultural values of the region and represent a few powerful actors instead of being derived from true teachings of the religion.
Although notable strides were seen in certain spikes, the progress of women’s rights underneath this flag was abysmal. Fast forward to 2009 where a committee was set up to consider and propose reforms to the Muslim personal law and Quazi Courts System. Although this seemed promising at first, people were worn down by its constant delay, and just like that, another attempt to change ludicrous laws was thwarted. With snail spaced deliberations and conflicts between key issues and stakeholders we saw this report take nine long years (released 2018), and still there was no consensus among the 16-member committee, thus instead producing two divisive sets of recommendations for the public.
The following year (2019), in response to the Easter Sunday Attacks and as part of the governments strategies to counter Islamic extremism, we saw Muslim MPs together with ACJU and other relevant ( according to them) parties convene to discuss a list of reformations intended to address concerns surrounding MMDA.
But one thing we can always trust; the all-male ACJU to intervene and foil all efforts of progress. ACJU sent a letter on 18th July 2019 warning Muslim members of parliament that the MPs will be held responsible for a historic treachery and betrayal of the Muslim community if the law is reformed by incorporating the 14 points agreed among themselves.
Well, this sounds like a situation of the pot calling the kettle black.
The MPs in their recent statement outlined important reformations to the traditional MMDA laws which saw the hotly contested marriage age be proposed to be brought up to 18 years of age . Furthermore, we saw suggestions to contain and control the conditions surrounding Polygamy and Dowry. Most importantly the Quazi court will see a bit of swaying from its usual hit and miss framework with the introduction of female representations in the system and tweaking of biased laws.
These suggestions are only scratching the surface of the reforms needed for this law but still would be considered a win to those many souls who have been fighting the good fight for decades.
The ascent to gender equality within the system is eons away if we are not able to come to a consensus and add much more depth to the Shariah laws and courts governing matters of marriage and divorce. Furthermore, to annex women out of the dialogue and decision making would be a grave mistake as they have been at the forefront of pressure for reformations for the past few decades.
The conditions of divorce for men and women are not equal, with the divorce proceedings made exceedingly easy for the husband but complicated for the wife seeking the annulment. But the legal discrimination does not end there. Since 1978, Article 16(1) of our Constitution has prevented those affected by the MMDA- women and men – from being able to seek redress against discriminatory aspects of the law and has rendered Muslims less than equal as citizens.
So why has the much needed MMDA reformations been MIA? A plethora of forces are to be answerable for the slow road to progress on this regard but with the issue taking center stage and piquing the interest of all communities we could see much more pressure and aid provided towards this cause.