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OPINION: CEDAW; The Devil Is In The Details

OPINION: CEDAW; The Devil Is In The Details

By: Yahya Hassan


KHARTOUM (Sudanow) - At face value, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) is a good paper. No sane human being would dispute the right to freedom and equality among all humans, male and female. 

But it is the varying and elastic interpretations of the terms of the Convention that cause concerns. Equally, the manipulation of the declaration by stronger nations to serve their political and geo-political interests is what scares weaker nations. 


Rule Of The Strong 

Of late we have seen a super power ( that refused to ratify the Convention on the grounds that it contravenes their own social norms) waving this paper in the face of such a vulnerable country as Sudan, saying if it does not ratify the Convention it should not dream of normal relations with it.

Another grouping of rich countries is also saying that it is willing to bail out the country’s troubled economy, if it ratifies the CEDAW.

 We have said at the beginning of this article that the CEDAW declaration is a noble paper if left for each country to interpret it on its own. But it is the pressures exerted by stronger nations on weaker ones that cause the latter to hesitate to accede to or ratify it. In plain terms the weaker countries smell fish in this affair. They feel that this declaration is targeting their religious beliefs and social norms. And they may be right in this. 


The Case Of Tunisia 

Possibly influenced by external interpretations of the Convention, women activists in the Republic of Tunisia campaigned against the existing inheritance law which is based on Islamic teachings. The activists demanded an equal share of men and women in inheritance of a deceased mother or father. To end the dispute the Government of Tunisia came out with two inheritance laws: An Islamic law that gives a sister half the share of her brother in inheritance and another law giving equal share for both brother and sister. It said it is now up to these parties to choose which court to resort to in case of dispute, an Islamic or a secular court. 

What Do Islamic Inheritance Law And Other Traditions Say?

Islamic law gives the sister half of her brother’s share in property inherited from a deceased parent. It gives the wife of a deceased husband one eighth of the property he left behind and so on. A woman also receives varying shares in properties inherited from a deceased direct relative: a brother, sister grandfather, grandmother..etc. 

But according to the social traditions in the Sudan and in many other Muslim countries (derived from the teachings of Islam that assert that everyone has a duty towards the others), it is the brother who is responsible for his sister until she gets married and leaves the family home. And if divorced or widowed, the sister comes back into the custody of her brother/s who take care of her and her children, if any. Further, the property she might have inherited from a deceased parent remains her own and she is not obliged in any way to share it with her brother/s who, as mentioned above, are religiously and socially responsible for her and her children’s wellbeing. These are the norms widely observed in the Muslim world and in the Sudan. They are also one way or another observed by many traditional communities around the Globe, whatever the faith might be. 

According to Muslim tradition, a wife is not obliged to earn her and her children’s living. This is the responsibility of the husband. And if the husband tries to coerce her to seek a job, she can stop him by a court of law. In case of a divorce, the husband is legally bound to spend on his children.  

By those privileges, the woman is legally “more equal than the man”, just by way of quoting novelist George Orwell who coined a similar formula in his novel ‘Animal Farm!’    


Court Testimony 

According to Islamic teachings, women and men court testimonies are not always even. One exception is that in case of debt two women are required to testify instead of one. The Muslim Holy Book, the Koran, justifies this in that “Lest one of the two women forgets and she is reminded by the other.”

Women are, by nature, forgetful. Forgetfulness in women is an asset, not a liability! Women always handle the difficult affairs of looking after babies and doing all the tedious household work. And if they are not intrinsically equipped for this, they may explode! It is the forgetfulness that keep them steady and active. 

Women testimony is unacceptable in case of adultery. That is because of the sensitivity of the matter. Women are shy and cannot come so close to where the act is taking place. 

In some cases court testimony is the whole duty of women. An example of this is in the case of proving/or disproving virginity, a solely feminine private affair. Men are excluded from such a matter.   


Loose Girls 

Interpreters of the CEDAW Convention also tell us that a girl over 18 has the right to quit the family home and live wherever she chooses (choosing a home). What a catastrophic choice that could be! The poor family looks after and cares for their daughter and when she is about to mature and become a responsible family member, she packs up and leaves the family home. So what is the need for the trouble from the early beginning? She could have been put into a home for abandoned children and rid the family the trouble of looking after her. And who can guarantee that she would not go loose, have bad company and make wrong choices? 


Choosing A Husband 

In the marital law followed in this country (based on Islamic teachings also), the mature girl has to consent upon her future husband, no dispute about that. The sign for this consent is for the girl to remain silent. Says The Prophet Mohammad: A girl should not be married unless she commands and approves it. And her approval is to keep silent. 

But the family (the guardian) also has a say in husband choice. He may object to his girl marrying a man for a specific reason. This objection could be based on moral grounds. May be the proposer has bad manners; a thief for example or an addict to alcohol or narcotics. He might be a member of a bad family. In either case, the guardian has to explain his reservations to the girl. And if the proposer happens to be a good and financially able man, the girl has the right to marry him by the rule of law, regardless of family objections. 

By the way the family law observed in the Sudan is as old as the history of the country. It was enforced by successive government authorities. In the absence of such authorities the law was implemented by religious leaders and tribal chiefs. Then Britain conquered the country. Because, unlike the case with other British colonies where the colonial rulers were from the military, the colonial rulers of Sudan were picked from the crème of graduates of prestigious Oxford and Cambridge universities. Those rulers were very understanding of the Sudanese traditions. They left the existing family law untouched. They, even, allocated government salaries to the judges and sought to educate and train them inside and outside the country. 

This is a summary of the sticky issues that seem to prevent the Government of the Sudan from ratifying the Convention. It is not the Government that is reserved about these points in the Convention. It is the general public which is uneasy about them. Many Sudanese this writer has talked to would say that if the Government would accept these interpretations of the Convention, it should be ready to face a public revolt. They also argue that such a learned and conscientious authority as the Vatican and the Catholic Church is uneasy about it.

There is no dispute about the other terms of the Convention. Sudanese argue that when it comes to equality between men and women with respect to employment opportunities, equal pay, the right to vote and the right to assume senior government posts Sudan had always lead other nations: Sudan had the first elected feminine Member of Parliament (MP) in Africa and the Mediterranean regions. That was former MP and women rights activist, the late Fatima Ahmed Ibrahim, who was elected parliament member in 1965. Fatima (and others) had also campaigned for and won equal pay for males and females doing the same work. A look into the country’s government and company offices and other workplace one can now easily notice that women outnumber females in these occupations. Girls also outnumber males in the different institutions of learning. Thirty percent of the members of the present parliament are females. A similar number assumes ministerial portfolios. A good number of females now assume senior government positions, including those of department directors and ambassadors.   


Just Sign And Do As You Like!

Some UN member nations have just acceded to or ratified the Convention in order to avoid problems. Just sign the Convention and forget about it, seems to be the general wisdom in those states. Some countries have acceded to or signed the convention with some reservations which the UN accepted to be footnoted.

The common advice here in Sudan is to do likewise and rid the country any trouble or bullying from influential countries. But some syndical writers consider this “mere hypocrisy” and warn against it.

So far some 185 of the UN member countries have ratified the Convention. Some other countries have acceded to but not ratified it. Some six states have so far abstained from ratifying or acceding to it. The six UN member states that have not ratified or acceded to the convention are Iran, Platau, Somalia, Sudan, Tonga and the United States of America, according to Wikipedia.

The UN non-member state that had not acceded to the convention is the Holy See / Vatican City





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