Women's Empowerment and Leadership Development for Democratisation

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Sri Lanka: ‘We wanted to teach the judge a lesson and we were successful’

Published Date: 
Thursday, February 19, 2015

In Sri Lanka, religious Quazi courts have jurisdiction over marriage and divorce settlements within the Muslim community. Activist Raleefa challenged a Quazi judge’s decision, exposed his decisions on divorce and violence which were unfair to women, and had him removed from office. This is how she managed it.

Raleefa is a young woman who grew up in the rural village of Maruthamunai, on the east coast of Sri Lanka badly affected by the war and tsunami. It is the home of handloom weavers and small craft makers. Raleefa’s violent marriage ended in a divorce. Her husband had married her for the sake of money. Her two sisters’ marriages also ended up in violence and divorce.  Raleefa knew that the local Quazi court did not have a fair process with only one judge sitting. She recognised that the suffering of many women at the Quazi court sittings was caused by the unfair procedures, malpractices and bribery at the court. Raleefa challenged the Quazi court to get justice for herself and her sisters. She was determined to address the blatant discrimination against her, her siblings and her community.

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Raleefa with the women's consultation group.

Raleefa was identified for training and was attended faciliation and mobilisation training by Muslim Womens Research and Action Forum (MWRAF), part of the WELDD partner, Inter-Ethnic Solidarity Alliance.  Here she learned about the loopholes of the system and how women were being treated.  She decided to organise  women affected by the court system and collected data of women who had been subjected to violence, and unjust divorces. She met them personally and discussed their cases, raising their awareness and suggesting how to deal with their problems. She managed to bring ten women together and formed a group to discuss how they could use the system to challenge the unjust male biased court orders. She prepared a petition with signatures of the ten women and submitted it to the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) with copies to relevant authorities.  The women’s centre facilitators  and the Registrar of the Board of Quazis (appellate court) supported her initiative.

Following the women’s collective petition, the JSC asked the district magistrate to take approriate action and begin an immediate inquiry into the allegations against the Quazi judge.   The Quazi was found guilty on all charges and he was dismissed from his service. 

‘We wanted to teach the Quazi judge a lesson and we were successful,’ said Raleefa.

Editor's note: In their last meeting in December 2014, the IESA decided to change their name to Citizens Voice for Justice and Peace 

Peace and Security
Political and Public Participation