Large numbers of Muslim women are in polygamous relationships that deny them basic legal rights, according to an alarming new report.
The study of 50 women, by a Muslim women’s rights group, showed that many are being trapped in religiously sanctioned ‘marriages’ and are often unaware that these unions are not recognised by British law.
Baroness Cox, who has introduced a Bill in the House of Lords to address these issues, said the research shows that cases of women suffering in this way are “clearly very widespread”.
“The implications for the women are very serious and it violates the fundamental principles of our country that bigamy is illegal and yet polygamy is condoned and allowed to flourish.”
The research found that nine in ten of the women described themselves as married, but only one in ten of those ‘marriages’ were recognised under English law.
One woman, Ezzah, aged 32, said: “I found out afterwards that he had three more wives and he is still married to them. He lives with me but refuses to pay for anything. I live in his house that he bought but I claim benefits on it to pay his mortgage.”
And Ban, aged 18, said: “I’m not too sure where I stand and what my legal rights are. I am scared if I ask questions what will happen. So I guess it’s best to stay quiet.”
All the women’s names in the report were changed to protect their identities.
Baroness Cox highlighted the “very closed” nature of some communities, and therefore the difficulty in working out “the exact extent to which this is happening”.
In her forward to the report, Baroness Cox said she hoped the courage of the women who shared their stories would not be in vain.
And she commented, “I hope that this report will demonstrate the fallacy of the Government’s position”.
She continued, “I also hope that it will promote a far more wide-ranging investigation to ascertain the scale of suffering endured”.
She added that “anyone who is concerned about women’s rights and our freedoms in this country should be deeply concerned by the predicament of these women”.
Baroness Cox has presented the report to the House of Lords.
Her Private Members’ Bill, the Arbitration and Mediation Services (Equality) Bill, was re-introduced in the House of Lords earlier this year.
It expands the Public Sector Equality Duty, introduced in the Equality Act 2010, so that public bodies will be required to inform women that they have fewer legal rights if their ‘marriage’ is unrecognised by English law.