Malaysia’s first two women Islamic court judges will have the same power as male judges, the Malaysian government has confirmed. “The female judges can hear all criminal or civil cases that fall under the Islamic court’s jurisdiction,” Sharia Judiciary Department official Mohamad Na’im told Agence France Presse, adding they would also rule on divorce cases.
Many women’s rights groups were concerned that the new female judges would become symbols of equality with little actual power. Following the appointment, a panel of 20 senior judges deliberated whether the Islamic courts’ guidelines would prohibit women from hearing certain cases, including divorce cases, according to The New York Times. “There’s always been this fallacy that women would not be able to articulate on religious issues,” Meera Samanther, president of the Women’s Aid Organization, told the New York Times.
In Malaysia’s two-tiered court system, secular courts deal with most criminal cases, while Shariah courts deal with family and moral disputes in the nation’s Islamic community. Malaysia women’s rights groups have reported mistreatment of women in the country’s Islamic courts. The Malaysian government has announced further steps that it is considering in order to reform the country’s legal system, including setting up a fund for women whose former husbands fail to pay alimony. Malaysian government officials have also recently announced that they are considering amending civil and Shariah law to ban underage marriages, according to Radio Australia.