SHIRIN MUSA draws on bitter experience to inspire her work to help women caught between legal and cultural worlds. Educated and long-resident in the Netherlands, she was unhappily married to a man from her native Pakistan. In 2009 a Dutch judge put a legal end to their union but her husband would not grant an Islamic divorce. Although she lived in secular Europe, this refusal mattered. If she remarried, she would be considered an adulteress under Islamic law and risk punishment if she returned to Pakistan.
So Ms Musa pursued her spouse through the Dutch courts. In 2010 she received a landmark judgment: he would be fined €250 ($295) a day, up to a maximum of €10,000 ($11,795), as long as he refused to cooperate. This had the desired effect. She then persuaded the Dutch parliament to make holding women in such “marital captivity” a criminal offence, in theory punishable by jail. Now she runs Femmes for Freedom, a charity that campaigns for people in similar situations. “I was lucky to be well-educated and have a supportive blood family,” she says. “Others are not.”