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Lifting the Veil on Talaq

Text by: Ankita Jain

Seema Khan, Founder of Nepal Muslim Women Welfare Society, lifts the veil on triple talaq, and fights for Muslim women’s empowerment.

Seema Khan is the Founder of Nepal Muslim Women Welfare Society which was established in 2006. NMWWS is the only national-level organisation working for the rights of marginalised Nepali Muslim women. Seema also initiated the Women Rights Protection Groups to facilitate Muslim women in organising community level collective actions in restoring their rights, tackling human rights violation, and human trafficking issues. She prominently advocates for the rights of Nepali Muslim women at national and international levels.

Since the inception of the organisation, Seema believes there have been substantive changes in the economic and social life of Nepali Muslim women. “Women have become empowered and have developed their advocacy skills. They have become self-dependent as well. They have recognised the importance of education and are now encouraging female education,” she emphasises. She also highlights that the young generation today is driven by change. Women in urban areas want to be employed and earn their own bread. She agrees that though these changes will however take time to reach the grassroots.

She also strongly lobbies for equitable political participation, empowerment and education with government bodies and authorities. Currently, Seema also feels the need for recognising and amending laws to gradually make the country single women-friendly. Widows, deserted, separated, abandoned, thrown out, older and younger unmarried single women remain unrecognised by both society and government. Single women are a significant portion of the female population that finds no mention in government agendas. They are the most ‘forgotten’ women of the country; there is very little information available on their numbers and even less information on how they survive. “We came together as a collective to reiterate not only its demand for constitutional rights but also to fight against the feudal and patriarchal society that denies them a dignified existence,” she claims.

She also provides training to the national authorities and implementers as well as to grass-root level organisations on issues related to peace and democracy, violence against women, and basic human rights.

Emphasising on the timely implementation of existing laws, Seema firmly believes poverty and illiteracy to a certain extent are the real reasons behind the backwardness of Nepali Muslim women. “The community itself is unaware of the fact that Islam has the provision of equality in education. A majority of Muslim female population goes to Madrasa but the quality of education there is compromised to a greater extent. The government should be concerned about improving its quality. It should also provide provision of scholarships for higher education for Muslim girls,” she shares. She adds, “The community which doesn’t have its role in the decision-making level, can never fully develop in a democratic country. This is why, though inclusion and equality are mentioned in the constitution, implementation of existing laws are missing.”

Demanding immediate attention and much-needed deliberation to the living realities of Muslim women, Seema advocates reservation for Muslim women in government jobs as an effective strategy. “Timely implementation of existing laws and employment opportunities can be helpful. Education, employment and mobility of Muslim women are major casualties under such circumstances,” she emphasises.

With an endeavour to create awareness about the much debatable divorce system of the community, she offers an eye-opening account of the way a large number of people views the triple talaq system. Her book ‘Talaq Talaq Talaq’ published this month is the first of its kind novel to talk about it. “It is a fiction which revolves around the stories of a number of Muslim women. And I believe people will be more interested in knowing about burning issues via story format rather than theory,” she states. The organisation is aggressively working for triple talaq. “The way triple talaq is presented by the media and understood by people is hugely misleading. First, people should know what is talaq, how it has been presented in Islam and then judge it,” she claims. She further adds, “We aren’t against triple talaq but rather we are creating awareness about the real meaning and practice of the act. Talaq can proceed only when there is a strong reason for conflict. And it is completely untrue that it is simply a male right, women can avail of it equally. Even people following Islam aren’t aware of this. People claim to know everything without reading a word of the Quran.”

She concludes our meeting by saying that there are a lot of myths about the community and clearing one such myth about Nepali Muslim women, she states, “It is a myth that Muslim women are backward because of religion; this is untrue. Islam serves women with education rights, empowerment rights and property rights.”