Bahrain: Legal support for embattled wives

Gulf Daily News

BAHRAINI women are losing battles in court due to a lack of awareness of their rights, according to a leading social worker. Their ignorance about Sharia law often allows cases to be ruled in favour of their husbands, said Bahrain Women Union (BWU) family counsellor Hanan Abdulla. "Due to them not knowing the laws and legislation regarding family matters, they become hopeless in front judges at Sharia Courts," she said. "This leads them to lose their cases, even though they could have easily won if they were more aware of their rights." Ms Abdulla is trying to turn the situation around working at the BWU's legal department to give women advice and counselling on domestic cases.

"We provide counselling services for free at the union to help women know their rights better," she said.

Ms Abdulla revealed since the office was established in 2008, it has received at least four calls daily from women seeking guidance.

"Some of them can't even read or write, making themselves easy targets to lose their battles," she said.

The office also appoints lawyers for women to defend them in Sharia Courts.

"Most of those who seek our help are financially struggling," said Ms Abdulla.

"We provide services such as appointing a lawyer to help them with their cases."

One of the cases spearheaded by the union is that of Bahraini Amal Juma Abdulla, who has been fighting to get a divorce from her husband for four years.

The mother-of-four is also embroiled in a court dispute with her husband over ownership of their house, which is registered in her name.

A Sharia Court has already ruled in her favour once, but her husband has appealed.

The house was bought for the family by a VIP after the GDN revealed they were forced to sleep rough two years ago.

Their old home had become dangerously dilapidated, forcing Amal, her husband and their four children to sleep in a tent on wasteland off the Budaiya Highway.

But the 33-year-old housewife was devastated when judges at the Jafaari Sharia Court approved her divorce in return of a settlement that would have seen her pay her husband BD1,000 and give up part of her house.

She refused the ruling, saying it was unfair to her and her children.

"Judges know this house is my property after my husband put it under my name," she said.

"How can we live in one house when we are divorced?"

Amal has since sent a letter to the Supreme Council for Women, calling for an independent judicial committee to study her case.

"The judges who ruled my divorce case are the same ones who ruled for my house ownership case," she said.

"I fear my husband has affected their judgement and that's why I think I deserve an independent jury."

Judges at the country's Sharia Court system deliver judgements based on their individual interpretation of Islam.

Women's rights campaigners have long called for a Family Law to be adopted, meaning domestic disputes would be decided based on pre-approved criteria.

They argue this would bring an end to alleged discrimination against women in the Sharia Court, claiming judgements often favour men, cases drag on and can leave women homeless or without any form of child support - even when they are granted custody.

Bahraini husbands were allegedly extorting money out of wives who filed for divorce, but many did not have enough cash to feed their families.

Several women claimed to have been driven to poverty by the justice system.

A Family Law was finally approved for Bahrain's Sunni community by MPs and the Shura Council in May last year.

By BASMA MOHAMMED ,  Posted on » Saturday, July 24, 2010