Today, Tuesday 6th February 2018, the United Kingdom (UK) will celebrate the centenary of women being granted the right to vote.
Although the Representation of People Act 1918 did not extend suffrage to all women (this was only achieved in 1928) this day in 1918 is one to be remembered and celebrated. It is surely a day upon which thanks should be given to all those who struggled for women’s suffrage. It is also fitting, albeit long overdue, that the 6th will see the unveiling of a statue of Millicent Fawcett, leader of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies, in Parliament Square outside the Palace of Westminster. Hers will be the only statute there to honour a woman and she will stand among such iconic figures as Winston Churchill, Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi. Nonetheless, there is also much to ponder as we consider the progress (and sometimes the relative lack thereof) made since then in securing gender equality and justice, not just in the UK but also across Europe, my new home the United States, and around the world.
One issue that concerns this writer is the situation of Muslim women in the UK in respect of marriage, it’s dissolution, and property and other rights upon its termination, particularly if that marriage is polygamous (having been celebrated outside the UK in a country in which such a marriage is legal.) Consequently, I have followed the progress of the Independent Review into the Application of Sharia Law in England and Wales led by Professor Mona Siddiqui and commissioned by Theresa May when Home Secretary. This Review was fueled by concerns that sharia law may be being used “…or applied in a way that is incompatible with the domestic law in England and Wales, and in particular whether there were discriminatory practices against women who use sharia councils…”
The Review panel’s report was issued on 1st of this month and makes three major recommendations. The first proposes amendment to the offences created under the Marriage Act 1949 to ensure enforcement of a legal requirement for Muslim couples to civilly register their marriage before or at the same time as their Islamic marriage ceremony. Secondly, the Panel recommends the execution of wide-ranging awareness campaigns aimed at effecting cultural change and the recognition of women’s rights in civil law, including marriage and divorce, within Muslim communities. Finally, it is proposed that the government establish a body to regulate sharia councils.
A full response from the Government is awaited. More on this issue to follow.
Readers interested in this issue and the report of the Panel may also wish to visit Law &Religion UK at http://www.lawandreligionuk.com/2018/02/01/sharia-in-england-and-wales-report-of-the-independent-review/#more-41764
More information about celebratory events can be found at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/mediacentre/mediapacks/history/suffrage; and https://www.theguardian.com/travel/2018/jan/31/centenary-votes-for-women-anniversary-events-parades-exhibitions-suffragette-pankhurst;
 A very big “thank you” to Caroline Criado-Perez for initiating and carrying the campaign for this honour. She also campaigned for Jane Austen being portrayed of the 10 pound note.
 I shall be posting an article drawn from a paper I have written on this subject in the coming month