Islamic law and women's rights: questioning the validity of the reservations invoking Islamic law to the convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women (CEDAW)

Malak Khalil


This thesis will attempt to demonstrate that the reservations invoking Islamic law to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) are invalid. Reservations to human rights treaties in general are problematic, because these ones not only govern the relationship between States, but they also govern the relationship between the State and its citizens. Thus, finding a balance between state sovereignty, the pillar of international law and the rights of the people remains a challenge in the international arena. Another dimension of the argument is analyzing the validity of claiming Islamic law as a basis for reservations to CEDAW. Islamic law will be presented as a flexible and evolving field, open to interpretation. Therefore, arising incompatibility between the law and international standards of women’s rights is entrenched in the interpretation of it, not in its absolute articulation. Finally, to offer a practical overview of the issue, the cases of Egypt, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia will be illustrated to prove how the formulation of Islamic law within domestic systems differs, and how these diverse applications depend on the social and cultural contexts. Thus, the reservations made to CEDAW are justified by the social system, which is infiltrated in the formulation of the law. In order to promote and protect women’s rights while overcoming the challenges of the international legal order, as well as the abuses of rights wrongly justified by religion, Muslim women need to voice their demands. To initiate this process, the role of civil society is essential in raising awareness about the issue, and in pushing for reform.