In Israel, two parallel, overlapping – and in some cases competing – family court systems exist side by side. As Israel does not recognize civil unions, matters of marriage and divorce remain the province of the religious court system. Kayan works as a member of the Coalition for Equality in Personal Status Issues in Israel to catalyze court reform and protect the rights of women in this domain. Of particular concern is the issue of ‘obedience,’ an antiquated provision that allows for a man to demand his spouse return to him in cases of separation. Though such orders are no longer practically enforced – a fact of which many Arab women are not aware – successful obedience claims can have repercussions, including the loss of alimony. More importantly though, obedience laws constitute a procedural tool for subjecting women to humiliating processes and terminology.
In September, Kayan’s Legal Coordinator Shirin Batshon-Khoury completed a position paper reflecting our objections to the Obedience Law. The paper, “Spousal Obedience in the Religious Courts,” provides a general background on the issue of obedience, including how it is applied, its treatment within the religious courts and information about enforcement and implementation. “The courts generally evade giving direct verdicts in cases of obedience,” said Batshon-Khoury, “but this law remains available to men as a tool for pressuring and humiliating women. We hope to open a discussion of this issue.”
Engaging judges, court directors and heads of the appellate courts, Kayan seeks to engender a direct and proactive discourse about obedience laws. In addition to round table discussions with representatives of the Sharia courts, Kayan also plans to publish the position paper and facilitate lectures to raise awareness.