Jewish and Muslim Marriage Contracts get a Facelift
The ketubah, the Jewish marriage contract, is one of the oldest continuously used documents within Judaism. That said, over the course of the past thirty years or so, many ketubahs have undergone a makeover so that rather than simply act as a business document that lists the items in the bride's trousseau and the amount of zuzim (silver pieces) that the groom has to set aside for her well-being, many contemporary ketubahs reflect the equal partnership that the marrying couple are entering in to. One addition that many liberal Jews have made to their ketubahs is the "Lieberman Clause" - a section of the ketubah that states that both partners can initiate a divorce. This seems logical and obvious, but under traditional law, only men have the power to give a get, the Jewish divorce. As a result, there have been too many cases to count of agunot, women who because their husbands refuse to give a get, end up chained in dead (and sometimes abusive) marriages, without the ability to remarry within Jewish law. The "Lieberman Clause" has been one response to this problem, as has the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance's (JOFA) Advocacy for Agunot program.
Not surprisingly, the problems of marriage and divorce are common among many traditional religions. As such, a similar process of reform is happening in India's Muslim community, where Shaista Ambar, the founder of the All India Muslim Women's Personal Law Board, has developed a new marriage contract that will protect the rights of Muslim women. I won't go into great detail here, because Women's eNews has done a terrific job of reporting on the issue, but basically, the new contract forbids marriage between minors, details conjugal rights and obligations, and lays out laws for divorce that protect women's interests. It is also accompanied by verses from the Quran, as well as guidelines for a happy marriage.
Not surprisingly, the male dominated All India Muslim Personal Law Board has criticized Ambar's efforts as "irrelevant" and a "useless publicity stunt." I don't know if their concern is that a woman has taken a leadership role in gaining and guaranteeing rights for other women, or the fear that these rights will actually be implemented. But either way, it reminds me of some Jewish folks who ahem... think that heckscher tzedek is irrelevant... can't abide non-Orthodox conversions... etc. etc. all because they're threatened by a way of religious life in which they are not the ultimate authority.
Best of luck to Ambar and her Law Board. I hope that she inspires women around the world to fight for their rights within marriage and divorce.