Many African countries enforce laws which prohibit women from holding property or making decisions that affect their own lives without their husbands’ consent. Right now in Mali, a new family law code waiting to be adopted by Parliament is facing opposition from some Islamic groups who claim it goes against Islamic principles, particularly when it comes to proposed changes to the country’s marriage laws.
The new code aims to bring more equality between men and women in relation to marital status, parental rights, ownership of land and inheritance, wages and pensions, employment laws and education. Mali’s current legal system was developed in 1962, based on French laws at that time, as well as Koranic texts. Islamic groups such as the Islamic Salvation Association (AISLAM) have been campaigning hard against the proposed changes to their current law. In early April the group called for the bill to be withdrawn from Parliament.
The most controversial point of the new code is that it would cease to legally recognize religious marriages, instead only acknowledging civil marriages.
Parliamentarian Mountaga Tall elected in Segou a town north of Bamako, told IRIN news that religious or “traditional” marriages deny some women their basic rights.”
Widows who have only had a traditional marriage are legally excluded from any inheritance rights,” the Parliamentarian explained, “and their children must go through expensive, lengthy and often humiliating procedures to inherit the basic family allowances due to them.”
The code also gives more inheritance rights to illegitimate children, and enables them to choose either their mother’s or their father’s name. Additionally, it gives couples joint rights to property (currently not allowed by Mali’s legal system).
In 2007 a group of women Parliamentarians (about a dozen) formed a group with lawyers and human rights activists to defend the code’s changes and to push it through Parliament.
The code brings Mali in line with a number of international protocols it has signed up to, including the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, and the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.