THE HOME FRONT

In her campaigns to promote religious freedom, Caroline always emphasises the fact that the vast majority of the world's 1.2 billion Muslims are peaceable and hospitable people.

She had the opportunity to help to found an organisation in Indonesia, the Islamic Christian Organisation for Reconciliation and Reconstruction (ICORR) with former, now late, President Abdurrham Wahid as Hon. President. This was established following the intense conflicts in parts of Indonesia instigated by Lasker Jihad in the early 1990s. But the majority of the Muslim population, who had lived peaceably with local Christian and Hindu communities, did not want conflict. This initiative was in response to their request to restore peace and intercommunal harmony.

Caroline is also committed to trying to help victims of oppression and persecution whatever their faith or beliefs. This results in undertaking aid and advocacy visits to many people on frontlines of faith and freedom, including Christians, Buddhists (in Shan State, Burma) and Muslims (Blue Nile State, Sudan). As reports show, she always returns humbled and inspired by their courage and dignity.

On the home front, she appreciates the vital contribution different religious and ethnic communities make to this country in so many ways. As a former nurse, Caroline particularly values their invaluable contribution to the health service, including the medical, nursing and pharmaceutical professions.

As Caroline is known for her commitment to human rights, including women's rights, many people have asked her to be involved with issues regarding violations of fundamental human rights in this country.

She has consequently become aware of some problems affecting certain communities.  Although women from any faith tradition – or none – may suffer abuse and other problems associated with dysfunctional families, the plight of those in Islamic communities can be exacerbated by the application of established Sharia law principles which inherently discriminate against women and girls.

Such discrimination can take many forms, including:

Inequality in access to divorce (for men often so easy it is effectively free and unconditional)
Polygamy (practiced by men who have multiple ‘wives’ and numerous children)
Discriminatory child custody policies and inheritance laws
The implicit sanctioning of domestic violence.

The resulting suffering is often worsened by the nature of the closed communities in which these vulnerable women may live, where there can be great pressure not to seek ‘outside’ professional help which might be deemed to bring ‘shame’ on the family.

Baroness Cox has therefore introduced a Private Member’s Bill into the House of Lords, which seeks to address two interrelated issues: the suffering of women oppressed by religiously-sanctioned gender discrimination; and a rapidly developing alternative quasi-legal system which undermines the fundamental principle of ‘One Law For All’.

The Bill’s most recent House of Lords debate took place on 27 January 2017. It received widespread, cross-party endorsement, with support from 19 Peers including:

Lord Carlile QC (the Government’s previous reviewer of terror legislation
Lord Mackay of Clashfern (former Lord Chancellor
Lord Carey of Clifton (former Archbishop of Canterbury
Lord Singh of Wimbledon (who gave the support of the Sikh community
Baroness Donaghy CBE FRSA (former head of the Advisory Conciliation and Arbitration Service)

Lord Green of Deddington (former Ambassador to Syria and Saudi Arabia)

For more information see: www.equalandfree.com.