In August, the Supreme Court of India struck down “triple talaq,” a practice that had allowed Muslim men to divorce their wives merely by saying or writing the word “talaq” (divorce) three times. This was a major victory for the roughly 90 million Muslim women and girls living in the country. The Muslim women’s rights activists that AJWS supports in India celebrated the news—particularly Hasina Khan, a longtime AJWS grantee who helped found Bebaak Collective, an advocacy group that played a significant role in the national battle against triple talaq.
The majority of Muslim women divorced by triple talaq never received alimony or child support payments, according to a 2015 survey. In an opinion piece for The Guardian, Khan explained how triple talaq gave men an unfair amount of power and control within marriage: “The woman’s emotional contribution to the marriage is never acknowledged, and neither are her rights to equal share in any property and child custody as the marriage ends.”
For many years, Khan worked with Awaaz-e-Niswaan (“Voice of Women”), an organization founded 30 years ago by Muslim women in Mumbai, who aimed to challenge laws in their communities that restricted women’s rights. Today, with support from AJWS, Awaaz brings Muslim women and girls together to learn how to advocate for themselves in ways both small and large, from convincing parents to allow their daughters into computer classes to pressuring reluctant police officers to investigate domestic violence charges.
Recently, AJWS extended financial support to Khan in particular, so that she could mentor staff at varied feminist organizations in India serving Muslim women. Khan and her colleagues at Bebaak Collective contributed to the victory against triple talaq in several ways. They helped argue that triple talaq was unconstitutional, formally joining the Supreme Court case as a third party in support of banning the practice. As a Muslim feminist organization, Bebaak also shared the perspectives of women affected by the practice with the Supreme Court and raised public awareness via outreach to news media and to other feminist groups.
Muslim women have been fighting against triple talaq in local Indian courts for the last three decades. The Supreme Court case drew controversy in recent months, as the highly conservative Muslim Personal Law Board worked to generate support for upholding the practice; Bebaak helped publicly counter the board’s attempts to misrepresent what Muslim women wanted.
“This case has brought the conversations on women’s rights into mainstream public debate,” Hasina wrote in her piece for The Guardian. “This is a welcome shift compared with the usually deafening silence on inequality within the institutions of marriage and family.”
Elizabeth Daube is a Senior Communications Officer at AJWS.