Gender equality and the freedom to practice religion: Sharia law in Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom

Amira Aftab

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference proceeding contribution


The Sharia Law debate provides an exemplar of contemporary manifestations of the multiculturalism-feminism debate, and related questions surrounding the role of law and possibility of legal pluralism in providing for religious freedom and gender equality. The potential scope of Sharia Law in Western liberal democracies is illustrated by the Canadian example, when, in 2003 Canadian Islamic groups requested the establishment of Islamic tribunals under the provisions of Ontario's 1991 Arbitration Act. Key arguments raised by women's groups in the debate concerned the use of the law by religious groups to establish and operate tribunals that essentially reinforce patriarchal models of family and control. Although no such tribunals have operated in Australia, the fundamental associated questions about the role of the state in providing for religious freedoms are relevant to the Australian multicultural society. Particularly, in understanding the affect that accommodating religious groups under the law would have in terms of allowing dominant members of such groups to exercise power and hegemony over vulnerable members, such as women. Compared to both Canada and the United Kingdom (UK), the Sharia Law debate in Australia is undeveloped. In this paper I outline the multiculturalism-feminism debate and related question surrounding the possibility of legal pluralism. I will then present the Sharia Law debate in the Australian context, specifically in relation to the area of family law; contrasting it to the experience in Canada and the UK, in order to explore and illustrate the multiculturalism-feminism debate that underlies the conflict between religious freedoms and gender equality.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationConference proceedings
Subtitle of host publicationgender and "the law" : limits, contestations and beyond
EditorsSibel Safi, Eda Aycan Aras
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherLondon Centre for Social Studies
Number of pages10
ISBN (Print)9780957088733
Publication statusPublished - 2015
EventInternational conference on gender and "the law" - Izmir, Turkey
Duration: 4 Jun 20146 Jun 2014


ConferenceInternational conference on gender and "the law"
CityIzmir, Turkey


  • gender
  • Sharia law
  • family law
  • multiculturalism
  • feminism


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