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Polygamy and Early Marriage: A Realistic, Analytical Perspective

In cooperation with the Nisaa wa Afaq (Women and Horizons) Organisation inside the Green Line and in coordination with the Palestinian High Council of Family Courts, the Institute of Law held on 8 February 2014 a workshop on Polygamy and Early Marriage: A Realistic, Analytical Perspective.

In addition to Chairman of the High Council of Family Courts, the workshop brought together family court judges, academics, women’s rights defenders, and feminist activists.

The workshop reviewed conclusions of field and statistical studies developed by the Nisaa wa Afaq (Women and Horizons) Organisation on relevant research themes. Workshops presentations provided a psychological, economic, social, political and jurisprudent theorisation of two key topics: polygamy and early marriage. Besides relevant future perceptions and plans, the workshop participants discussed the most significant activities and developments introduced to family court functions and personal status in the West Bank.

In his opening statement, Dr. Jamil Salem, IoL Director, welcomed speakers and participants in the workshop. Stressing its significance, Dr. Salem said the workshop would contribute favourably to developing personal status issues and upgrading respective laws and procedures.

Having welcomed the audience, His Eminence Sheikh Yousef Id’eis, Chairman of the High Council of Family Courts, explained that the workshop was particularly important “because it focuses on major themes and provisions of personal status laws, including polygamy and early marriage.” Sheikh Id’eis indicated that the workshop would build on earlier joint activities launched by partners. This cooperation was culminated with a number of training courses, seminars and workshops on research topics of common interest.

The workshop comprised two sessions, both moderated by Mr. Mohammed Khadher, academic researcher at the IoL. The first session addressed legal and factual dimensions of polygamy and early marriage, including associated psychological and social reflections. Ms. Halimah Abu Sulb made a presentation on the legal and factual dimensions of polygamy and early marriage. Providing a review of the relevant legal framework in force inside the Green Line, Ms. Abu Sulb overviewed data and statistics on early marriage and polygamy, emphasising reflections on women and families.

Dr. Nayfah as Sarsi presented a summary of The Social Impacts of Polygamy and Early Marriage, a research paper compiled by Ms. Raghdah Masalhah. Dr. Sarsi found a link between polygamy and early marriage on the one hand, and women’s social status and household poverty or wealth on the other. Dr. Sarsi highlighted the high incidence of early marriage and polygamy among poor households with a low socio-economic position.
In his presentation, Mr. Qasem Mahajneh explored psychological effects of polygamy and early marriage. These were derived from a psychological survey, which included a sample of women. In addition to psychological problems affecting women and the family as a whole, the survey emphasised the psychological trauma wives sustain as a result of polygamy.

His Eminence Sheikh Id’eis commented on presentations delivered in the first workshop session. Highlighting importance of community culture, Sheikh Id’eis stressed that public awareness of personal status issues, including polygamy and early marriage, should be raised. In this context, Sheikh Id’eis overviewed achievements made by the High Council of Family Courts, including a circular stipulating that a husband is required to inform his first wife if he wants to marry another woman. He also explained that family court judges intervene in polygamy cases.

Addressing policy and economic consequences of polygamy and early marriage, the second workshop session included a presentation of a socio-legal perspective of matchmaking networks. Ms. Eman Uleimi Beidousi explored harsh economic and living conditions, which play an increasing role in widespread polygamy and early marriage practice. Informed by survey samples and statistics, a household economic situation is directly associated with polygamy and early marriage. Ms. Beidousi also focused on early marriage, including reflections on women’s educational, familial and economic status.

On behalf of Dr. Honaida Ghanem’s paper on the Political Consequences and Situation of the Arab Community inside the Green Line, Dr. Sarsi stressed that social status cases should be processed carefully inside the Green Line. Current Israeli policies obstruct development and promotion of the Arab community.
Ms. Reem al Butmeh asserted that discretionary power exercised by family judges would be capable of controlling various relationships, including polygamy. Ms. Butmeh explained that early marriage was not consistent with the wife’s legal eligibility. Besides effective and efficient judicial practice and discretionary power, legislation should be enacted so as to raise the marriage age. This would not contradict intentions of the Islamic law (Sharia).

Sheikh Jad al Ja’bari, a family court judge, commented on presentations made in the second workshop session. According to Sheikh Ja’bari, “the Islamic law permits polygamy based on provisions of the Quran and Sunnah. To treat justly all wives is a condition precedent to polygamy. In relation to relevant multiple jurisprudent opinions, Sheikh Ja’bari explained that restriction and codification is left to competent bodies. Before any decision is made, family courts are entitled to examine any case, including in relation to polygamy, early marriage, etc.

Each session was ensued by several questions and comments made by the audience. Discussants stressed that the Legislature should intervene to address these sensitive cases, which exert a far-reaching impact. Participants highlighted that similar workshops should be organised and bring together influential actors in the society. Problems affecting the Palestinian society would be debated with a view to devise solutions. These should take account of the current conditions of women and families in light of contemporary developments. The process will not contradict Islamic law teachings or intentions.

In conclusion, Mr. Khadher thanked Sheikh Id’eis for his unrelenting cooperation with the IoL. He also expressed his thanks to Dr. Sarsi, Chairwoman of the Nisaa Wafaq (Women and Horizons) Organisation for her cooperation, coordination and participation in relevant IoL encounters. Mr. Khadher commended participants’ diligence and attention to promoting the debate on issues pertaining to family court functions and personal status laws. These directly affected all Palestinians and their daily lives. In this vein, Mr. Khadher stressed teg need for cooperation and coordination between government bodies, academic institutions, and civil society organisations. This current experience would be further promoted through a concerted effort between relevant Palestinian organisations, particularly those operating inside the Green Line.

This workshop is an activity of the Constitution and Women: Promoting Access to Justice Project, which the IoL implements with support from the Representative office of Denmark to the Palestinian Authority. The project is designed to promote women’s access to justice by streamlining and providing access to information on personal status. It also casts light on laws and procedures applicable before Palestinian family courts.