SOAS University of London

Centre of Islamic and Middle Eastern Law

National Consultation on Women's Right to Choose If, When and Whom to Marry

Various Speakers

Date: 22 March 2003Time: 9:00 AM

Finishes: 24 March 2003Time: 5:00 PM

Venue: Le Place Park Inn, Lucknow, India

Type of Event: Conference

The National Consultation on Women's Right to Choose If, When and Whom to Marry, held on 22-24 March 2003 at Le Place Park Inn, Lucknow, India, was organised by the Association for Advocacy and Legal Initiatives (AALI, see Directory under India) in collaboration with International Women's Rights Action Watch (IWRAW Asia Pacific, see Directory under Malaysia), INTERIGHTS and the CIMEL/INTERIGHTS 'Honour Crimes' Project.

The consultation aimed to create conceptual clarity regarding the scope and extent of the right in Indian constitutional law and international law; to share experiences on violations of the right, including causes and consequences of abuse; to highlight the issue as a human rights concern for India, identifying and utilising relevant national and international norms and standards; and to provide the opportunity to develop specific local and international strategies for the promotion, protection and fulfilment of the right.

Participants included representatives of women's organisations, lawyers and academics from various Indian states, and Indian government officials as well as members of international organisations, including a member of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women.

The consultation was divided into eight sessions and used a variety of methods including presentations and workshops. Sara Hossain, Co-Director of the CIMEL/INTERIGHTS 'Honour Crimes' Project (and then South Asia Legal Officer at INTERIGHTS) presented a paper at the first of the workshop sessions, exploring 'The Right to Marry: A Conceptual Framework'. The paper outlined the different dimensions of the right to choose freely if, when and whom to marry, and discussed not only child, early and forced marriages but also interference with the choice to marry or not to marry. The discussion referred to international human rights norms and the linkages between 'honour' and attempts to control women's behaviour.

The second session focused on 'Identifying Experiences and Issues on the Right to Choose If, When and Whom to Marry', and included papers by several NGOs working on violations of the right to decide if, when and whom to marry and the context within these occur. Session 3 on the 'Causes of and Obstacles to the Right to Choose If, When and Whom to Marry and Consequences of Violations' included presentations on the changing messages of popular media, particularly films, which are now moving towards depicting family honor and duty as the compelling reasons for choosing if, when and whom to marry. The session participants then divided into three sub-groups – (1) child/early marriage, (2) forced marriage and (3) interference on choice in relation to right to decide if, when and who to marry – to identify causes/contributory factors leading up to and the consequences of violations of the right. The fourth session on 'The Right to Choose If, When and Whom to Marry: A Constitutional and Legal Framework' focused on the scope of the right in India under its Constitutional and legal framework, elaborating in particular on the status of international law and human rights standards in the Indian legal regime. Session 5 on the 'Obligations of the State under CEDAW and Other International Instruments' focused on the obligation of the State in relation to promoting, protecting and fulfilling a woman's right to choose if, when and whom to marry as elaborated in CEDAW, its general recommendations and concluding comments, as well as highlighting the advantages of using the relevant provisions of other human rights treaties and their monitoring bodies. Session 7 on 'National and International Mechanism for the Promotion and Protection of a Woman's Right to Marry' focused on the existing United Nations mechanisms, both charter- and treaty-based, and their utilization to ensure the full exercise of a woman's right to decide if, when and whom to marry. This was followed by a screening and discussion of Gita Sahgal's "Love Snatched: Forced Marriage and Multiculturalism", a film produced as part of the CIMEL/INTERIGHTS 'Crimes of Honour' Project, which portrayed forced marriage as experienced by women in the South Asian communities in the UK and the mechanisms employed by the British government and by NGOs to rescue these women.

A substantive plenary discussion followed the workshop/presentation sessions, focusing on issues such as the causes and consequences of violations to the right to marry; analysing the interventions of states and NGOs; and raising outstanding issues of concern. The consultation concluded with identifying strategies to combat violations of the right to marry, and development of a draft advocacy plan.

(By Sanchita Hosali, Research Assistant, CIMEL-INTERIGHTS Project on Strategies to Address 'Crimes of Honour')