Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women and the Prospect of Development of Muslim Personal Law in Singapore
Does conforming to Muslim Personal Law impede the elimination of discrimination against women?
On 18 December 1979 the UN General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). CEDAW’s goal is to eradicate gender-based discrimination in both the private and public domains of a woman’s life, by proposing a set of Articles for nations to incorporate in their systems of law.
As important as this is for a global community where women still do not have equal rights, in some cases, an initiative like CEDAW can stand at odds with religious communities. In Singapore, the Administration of Muslim Law Act (AMLA) was introduced in 1966, concurrent with the modernization of Muslim family law in response to social change in many newly independent Muslim societies. AMLA administers but does not codify Muslim law. Along with laws pertaining to familial issues such as marriages and divorce, AMLA also administers declarations of inheritance and endowments (waqf).
A/P Noor Aisha Binte Abdul Rahman (Department of Malay Studies) in her 2014 paper, Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women and the Prospect of Development of Muslim Personal Law in Singapore (Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs), examines Singapore’s partial reservations to CEDAW Articles 2 and 16, to stay in accordance with AMLA. She notes that the problem with this, however, is that it points to conservatism as the dominant mode of viewing the law. Although CEDAW offers potential to re-evaluate and modify AMLA, the prevalence of a rigid mode of thinking among lawmakers hinders the prospect of addressing existing loopholes that may be harming women. Some reforms could prove a functioning coexistence of minority laws with international secular laws.
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