A woman named Ayesha Siddiqua recently filed a petition before the High Court challenging the government for not employing her as a marriage registrar
Ayesha Siddiqua from northern Dinajpur wanted to be a marriage registrar, but what got in the way was not her lack of qualifications, but her gender.
Eight years ago, in 2012, she applied for the position of a marriage registrar, a position that was open for all.
She was called for an interview as well, but later her application was rejected only because she was a woman.
Disappointed by the turn of events, Ayesha, now 31 years old, filed a writ petition with the High Court in 2014 challenging the government’s decision of not employing her because of her gender.
In its full verdict – which was pronounced on February 26, 2020 – the High Court upheld the Ministry of Law’s 2014 decision saying women could not become Nikah (marriage) registrars due to “certain physical conditions” and practical conditions in Bangladesh.
"It has to be borne in mind that due to certain physical conditions a woman cannot enter the mosque during a certain time of the month [menstruation]. She is even excused from performing the mandatory daily prayers during this particular time,” the full verdict says.
"This physical disqualification does not allow her to conduct any religious task [during her period]. We are mindful of the fact that Muslim marriage is a religious ceremony and has to be guided by the terms and dictates of Islam," media reports said, quoting the full verdict.
However, there are examples in Egypt, a Muslim nation, where employing female marriage registrars is allowed – legally and religiously.
Take the example of Amal Suleiman, who made history in Cairo after she became the first female marriage officiant in the Muslim world in 2008. She has been working with her male colleagues since 2009 in performing marriages in the country.
Customs, social constraints, gender or age was not an impediment for Um Kulthum, 67, when she became the first Muslim Nubian female marriage officiant in Aswan, Cairo.
In neighbouring India, female Muslim marriage registrars were appointed in Mumbai, Jaipur and Kolkata.
Registrars do not perform marriages, they only register them
Ayesha Siddiqa said: “I have applied for the job in Bangladesh as the circular does not mention any specific gender preferences. As per legal provision, a marriage registrar can take an imam as an associate to perform the marriage. The job of marriage registrar is not to perform the marriage, but only to register it. I can do it as well, keeping an imam as an associate.”
She said she would appeal to the Supreme Court against the verdict.
Ayesha’s lawyer Humayun Kabir argued that the Bangladesh constitution does not have any specific gender preference on applying for jobs relating to marriage registration.
“The appointment of marriage registrars is similar to any other government appointments. The role of Ayesha, if she were appointed, would have been like any other land registrars. If considered from a constitutional perspective, it is clearly gender discrimination,” he claimed.
When asked if there were religious issues, the lawyer for the case said a marriage register was just a document writer where a person registers the marriage only, whereas the marriage can be performed by an imam or kazi.
However, Bangladesh Muslim Marriage Registrar Association Secretary General Kazi Iqbal Hossain said women could not lead any such ritual because of security issues.
“Religiously, women cannot enter a mosque or attend prayers during menstruation. Also, there are security issues as some marriages can also be performed at night, but they may not be able to visit everywhere where they are needed,” he argued.
When asked about whether women could register a marriage which is performed by an imam as an associate, Iqbal Hossain claimed women could not be present at any prayers during menstruation, and this was why they could not be present at the scene of marriage during menstruation.
Citing Sharia law, he claimed no women could lead any proceedings, for it is not allowed.
Shamajik Protirodh Committee, a platform of rights organizations, issued a statement on Wednesday, saying the verdict against Muslim women being marriage registrars was contradictory to the constitution, which prohibits discrimination in job recruitment based on gender.
The statement called the verdict “unfortunate,” coming at a time when the government was working to further advance women’s empowerment in the country.
The platform urged the court to reconsider its verdict.