WCLAC and Human Rights Watch oral statement to the CEDAW Committee on the State of Palestine’s Report, 70th session
Thank you, Madam Chair. For this statement, I speak on behalf of the Women’s Centre for Legal Aid and Counselling and Human Rights Watch. Palestine acceded to CEDAW without any reservations, but the current personal status laws that apply to both Muslims and Christians in the West Bank and Gaza include de-facto and de-jure discrimination against women in marriage, divorce, child custody and guardianship, child marriage, women’s financial rights after divorce, and inheritance.
For instance, under Islamic personal status laws, polygamy for men is permitted, while women cannot marry without a male guardian’s permission. Women are also required to obey their husbands in return for maintenance and accommodation. Men have a unilateral right to divorce, while women must either abandon their financial rights or apply to the courts for divorce on specific stipulated grounds. Women have no right to property accumulated during marriage and their financial rights after divorce are minimal, limited to maintenance during several months of the waiting period. For Christian women, divorce under various Christian family laws is often impossible, expensive, and takes several years.
Furthermore, fathers under current Islamic Personal Status laws solely retain all guardianship rights even when the child is officially living with the mother. A woman is not allowed to manage her child’s inheritance if her husband dies. Instead, a male relative from the deceased husband’s family will take over the management of the child’s inheritance which can impact child maintenance. Despite a recent government decision that allowed women to open bank accounts for their children, transfer them to different schools or apply for their passports, women are still not allowed to travel abroad with their children without the father’s permission.
Child marriage is still a significant problem. In the West Bank, the minimum age of marriage is set at 14.5 years old for girls and at 15.5 for boys. In Gaza, it is set at 17 for females and 18 for males. Sharia court judges have the discretion to allow younger children to marry if they believe it is in their best interest. It has to be a priority for the State of Palestine to set the minimum legal age for marriage at 18 for both girls and boys.
We encourage the Committee to recommend that the State of Palestine amend personal status laws to ensure compliance with article (16) of CEDAW and calls on CEDAW Committee to conduct an exceptional review after two years in order to monitor whether the amendments to the current personal status Laws are in compliance with CEDAW.