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Ghada Jamsheer: Activist

2 minute read

Five years ago, Ghada Jamsheer was at the courts in Bahrain when she saw a woman sobbing and banging her head on the ground; applying Islamic law, a judge had just denied her custody of her children in a divorce case. Horrified, Jamsheer, herself a divorcée with custody of her daughter, launched a campaign for women’s rights in the gulf. She founded and leads the Women’s Petition Committee, a grassroots organization that is waging a bold campaign against Bahrain’s Shari’a court system. With no staff, financial support or training in law or religion but enough guts to make an Emir tremble, she has meticulously sought out hundreds of women denied justice and compiled their stories.

To publicize their plight, she has arranged noisy protests, spoken out in Arab media, and complained to local and international leaders. Among the wrongs she seeks to fix: systematic bias against women in divorce cases, a husband’s right to custody of children from age 7, and customs allowing “temporary marriages” that amount to prostitution and abuse of young girls. Jamsheer wants to remove Shari’a judges who abuse their power to interpret the Koran as they wish, and eventually have civil courts replace the Shari’a system.

Her committee avoids opening a formal office, she says, so that Islamic fundamentalists “don’t burn it down.” “We have to have equal rights for women in the Arab world,” she told Time. “I know it is a dream, but we will have it someday.”

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