Baroness Cox, a member of Britain’s House of Lords, warned Friday that British recognition of Shariah-guided arbitration panels is leading to discrimination against Muslim women, calling the phenomenon “religiously sanctioned gender discrimination.”
Cox, a longtime critic of radical Islam, warned that as a result of the acceptance of Islamic law panels, some Muslim men in the U.K. have been able to practice polygamy.
"My Muslim friends tell me that in some communities with high polygamy and divorce rates, men may have up to 20 children each,” she said.
Britain’s Daily Telegraph reported that Cox would like to close a legal loophole which she believes allows Shariah courts to discriminate against women.
In her address to the House of Lords, Cox said one Muslim woman told her, “I feel betrayed by Britain. I came here to get away from this and the situation is worse here than in the country I escaped from.”
Under the 1996 Arbitration Act, Muslims in the U.K. are permitted to turn to arbitration panels to resolve disputes according to Shariah law.
"The rights of Muslim women and the rule of law in our land must be upheld,” Baroness Cox said.
Her proposed bill called the Arbitration and Mediation Services (Equality) Bill “will strengthen the position of vulnerable women who need protection from exploitation,” she said.
“It will ensure that all such women, whatever sect or creed, get the help they need to enjoy full lives,” she added.
The Daily Mail reported that Lord Sheikh, a Muslim peer, warned that some Muslims believe the bill would “demonize” their faith.
“Shariah councils do not obstruct or attempt to influence proceedings where issues such as domestic violence are concerned,” Lord Sheikh said.
“There is widespread concern” that the bill “seeks to demonize Muslims ... by giving an incorrect impression of our values,” he said, according to the Daily Mail.
Labour Party Baroness Donaghy supported the bill.
"We cannot afford to go backwards and tolerate a situation where any woman is living in fear and isolation,” Donaghy said according to the Telegraph.
"More needs to be done. This is not confined to Shariah law or Muslim religion. These parallel laws which discriminate against women have existed and may still exist in other religions," she added.
Baroness Cox authored a report this past spring titled, "A Parallel World: Confronting the Abuse of Many Muslim Women in Britain Today," which warned the acceptance of Shariah panels undermines the concept of equality under the same law for all.
That report also raised concerns that female Muslim immigrants might be pressured by their families to use Shariah courts to settle disputes.
"Refusal to settle a dispute in a Shariah forum could lead to threats and intimidation, or being ostracized and labeled a disbeliever," the report warned.