Religious freedom and gender equality: the Sharia debates and gendered institutions in Australia and Britain

Amira Aftab*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


In the post-9/11 climate, the focus of multicultural debates in ‘the West’ has turned to Muslim minorities. Within these debates, religious freedom is weighed against gender equality. This is amplified where Muslim communities request greater accommodation. Such requests are often met with fierce opposition (which outlines the ‘danger’ that greater religious accommodation poses to the rights of women), and the state and its institutions are positioned as ‘secular’ and ‘neutral’, as opposed to religious orders. However, this ignores gender legacies, which influence outcomes that emerge within these institutions. A dimension of particular interest is the Sharia councils that have arisen in the British context but not in Australia. To better understand the current trajectory of accommodation in each state and the growth of these informal religious bodies, it is necessary to go beyond normative debates about multiculturalism versus feminism. Drawing on feminist institutional theory, this article explores the way in which state multicultural policies have created space for religious bodies in Britain but not in Australia. It also examines the gendered nature of formal state institutions, to highlight that the apparent ‘neutrality’ of state institutions is a fallacy that disadvantages Muslim women while claiming to be in their best interests.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)281-298
Number of pages18
JournalAustralian Journal of Human Rights
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • family law
  • gender equality
  • gendered institutions
  • multiculturalism
  • Religious freedom
  • Sharia


Dive into the research topics of 'Religious freedom and gender equality: the Sharia debates and gendered institutions in Australia and Britain'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this