Islamic Relief has urged OIC member states to prioritise family rights and the rights of every family member in their policies and programmes across the world.

Islamic Relief’s senior policy advisor for gender, Iman Sandra Pertek, spoke to around 60 people from member states at the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation’s (OIC) Human Rights Commission.

Outlining the importance of the family in Islam, and the threat often posed to families in humanitarian, conflict and poverty situations, she urged people to ensure they were mindful of gender analysis in their interventions.

The debate, titled Protection of Family Values, was held as part of the 7th Regular session of the OIC Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission on 21 April.

She argued that the family can only be functional if the rights of the family and all family members are protected and balanced. This included supporting sustainable livelihoods equitably, offering shelter, tackling social protection and including spiritual and emotional nurture.

“Donors need to recognise that there are various family and household structures, and services should be designed to fulfil the diverse needs that arise from these,” said Iman Sandra Pertek.

Working with both men and women

“Research has shown that violence against women increases at the outset of emergencies and in conflict situations. We should, therefore, integrate gender-based violence programming into all humanitarian and conflict responses, including prevention, recognising the root causes of violence, empowering women and girls, working with men and boys, challenging discriminatory social norms and working with local leaders including faith leaders”.

In Gaza, for example, Islamic Relief runs an empowerment programme for widowed women, providing financial support to allow them to continue their education, while in Bangladesh, we organise self-help groups to run small businesses and help women to find out about and claim their rights. We also run programmes which provide psychosocial counselling and therapeutic support to women, girls, boys, and men grappling with the long-term effects of conflict, such as in Bosnia.

She called for programmatic work to be supported by a better legal framework, including a stronger legal system that had, for example, the capability of combating the culture of impunity surrounding domestic violence.

“Family rights should be re-evaluated and awareness of a family’s reciprocal rights and responsibilities should be promoted. We need to increasingly work with faith leaders on promoting this framework and ensuring that it is well understood amongst communities and is supporting healthy and balanced families. We should do it in light of Islamic value of justice to challenge some misconceptions and harmful practices undermining the concept of a family” she said. “Unfortunately, development actors often overlook this dimension and keep on women-focussed interventions only.”

Individual and collective needs

She argued that awareness of the different experiences of men and women in the same context was crucial in meeting the needs of whole populations made vulnerable by circumstance. Poor provision of sanitary items for women, for example, affected both their health and mobility, while single women-headed households were less likely to receive any aid, because of cultural norms that often prevented them from going to register by themselves.

“Other themes from the debate were equal opportunities for all members of the family to develop physical, mental, spiritual and intellectual capacities, and the importance of protecting the family unit in different situations such as post conflict or when they are migrant or refugee families.”

Islamic Relief aims to achieve gender justice through its policy, advocacy and programmatic work and is part of various coalitions across the world discussing gender within the development context. Islamic Relief already empowers women to access education and work, and offers them microfinance support.