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Legal Change and Gender Inequality: Changes in Muslim Family Law in India

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Group-specific family laws are said to provide women fewer rights and impede policy change. India's family law systems specific to religious groups underwent important gender-equalizing changes over the last generation. The changes in the laws of the religious minorities were unexpected, as conservative elites had considerable indirect influence over these laws. Policy elites changed minority law only if they found credible justification for change in group laws, group norms, and group initiatives, not only in constitutional rights and transnational human rights law. Muslim alimony and divorce laws were changed on this basis, giving women more rights without abandoning cultural accommodation. Legal mobilization and the outlook of policy makers—specifically their approach to regulating family life, their understanding of group norms, and their normative vision of family life—shaped the major changes in Indian Muslim law. More gender-equalizing legal changes are possible based on the same sources.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: McGill University

Publication date: 2008-09-01

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