A decision by a Bangladeshi court on Sunday to bar women officials from registering Islamic marriages has caused uproar in the South Asian country.
The High Court said that a Muslim wedlock is a sacred ceremony, and women are not allowed to register it because of their monthly menstruation cycle. The judges ruled that women can't enter a mosque while having their periods, therefore they are not fit for the profession of registering marriages.
The Muslim wedding, or nikah, is usually performed by a male cleric, however, the marriage must be legally registered afterwards. Prior to the Sunday court ruling, any government official – male or female – was entitled to register the marriage. While some Muslims prefer to sign legal marriage documents in a mosque, many do it at a government office or at the bride's home.
In traditional Islam, women are also not allowed to perform mandatory daily prayers or fast while menstruating.
Not only a man's job
In 2014, three women were chosen as marriage registration officials in Dinajpur district, however their appointment was rejected by the Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs on grounds similar to those presented in the Sunday verdict. Ayesha Siddiqa, one of the women, appealed the ministry's decision in a court, but it was eventually turned down by judges.
"It is unacceptable that women are not allowed to perform this task due to physical reasons," Siddiqa told DW. "In Bangladesh, a woman can be prime minister and can even fly planes. Then why can't she register a nikah?" she added.
"Where is it written that one has to be a man to be able to register a marriage? I have an educational degree that qualifies me for this job."
Siddiqa says she is not challenging the role of the male cleric who officiates a marriage but stressing the fact that anybody can register a marriage, and that the nikah is not always performed in a mosque.
"We don't accept the court's decision," Siddiaqa's lawyer Fawzia Karim told DW. "The law clearly specifies the eligibility and scope of work of those who register a nikah. Both men and women can register it. This also applies to divorce. Religion has nothing to do with it."
The Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal, a left-wing party, dubbed the decision "unconstitutional" and said the state cannot make gender discriminatory laws.
A statement by 21 civil society activists has urged the High Court to revise its judgement. "The verdict has shocked and offended us," it said, adding that the Bangladeshi constitution guarantees equal rights for men and women.
Additional reporting by Harun Ur Rashid Swapan, DW correspondent in Dhaka.