Four years. That was how long she lasted until the strain of sharing her husband with another woman became too much to bear for Mariam Abdul. The Malaysian woman had been married for 16 years when her husband told her he was marrying a second wife. Under sharia law in Malaysia, men may legally marry up to four wives. But while it may be legal, she said she could no longer pretend she was part of a happy marriage. At the age of 42, the mother of four filed for divorce, and moved out of the marital home with her children in 1984. She said her husband refused to provide any financial support for their children until eight years later - and her family and friends 'scolded' her for getting a divorce. 'I wanted to keep the marriage. I tried but I couldn't do it,' she said. 'I asked for the divorce because I couldn't stand it any longer. If he loved me he wouldn't do this to me.' The predicaments experienced by Muslim women like her are the impetus for a global movement launched last month to fight against discriminatory laws in Muslim countries. At an international conference in Kuala Lumpur, more than 250 scholars, lawyers, activists and community workers from around the world discussed how various laws made in the name of Islam discriminate against women, from experiences in countries where women struggle to gain custody of their children to laws which forbid them to drive. While conservative Islam may be enjoying a revival in some parts of the Muslim world, the network of women from 47 countries maintain that new laws that reflect the reality of their daily lives are desperately needed. Their hope is that the answer lies in 'Musawah', the global movement they have founded to lobby governments and fight for change. The women behind Musawah - which means equality in Arabic - contend that, in many Muslim countries, governments have adopted interpretations of Islam which fail to treat men and women equally. 'Such family laws legally codify that the husband is the head of the family, often requiring the wife to obey her husband ... and, at times, giving the husband power over his wife's right to work and travel,' said Kamala Chandrakirana, a founding member of Musawah and chairwoman of Indonesia's National Commission on Violence Against Women. 'In terms of inheritance, sisters get half of the shares of their brothers, and women generally get a smaller share of family property than do men,' she said. Ms Kamala said that, in Egypt, men had a 'unilateral and unconditional' right to divorce and did not need to enter a courtroom to end their marriages. However, women were forced to resort to 'backlogged and inefficient courts to divorce'. This often meant that many women pushed their husbands to divorce them. 'In return, women usually agree to sacrifice their financial rights,' she said. While it may be legal in many Muslim countries for a man to marry up to four wives, Ms Kamala said surveys had shown that many Muslims no longer considered polygamy acceptable. A public opinion survey conducted in Morocco, Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan for the 2005 Arab development report found that at least half of the men and nearly all of the women surveyed disagreed with polygamy. Although millions of women have entered the workforce in recent decades, including those in the Muslim world, Ms Kamala said a woman's role as a breadwinner was often not recognised. 'Despite the critical roles women are playing in the survival of the family, too many women in the Muslim family live with abuse and discrimination,' she said. The UN Population Fund has estimated that, every year, up to 5,000 women become the victims of 'honour' killings in countries like Egypt, Iran, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Pakistan, Syria, Turkey and Yemen. As Saudi Arabia's first female lawyer, Maha Yamani, knows only too well how laws made in the name of Islam can be used to restrict women's freedoms. After gaining her law degree from Cambridge University and working for a London law firm, Dr Yamani decided it was time to return home. She worked for a law firm for several years before deciding it was time to open her own practice. She was shocked when the authorities told her they did not give women licences to practise law. Undeterred, she completed her PhD in the hope that extra qualifications would convince the authorities to change their minds. But her hard work has counted for little. The authorities have so far refused to budge, telling her that a woman's place is in the home. 'I kept thinking it's just a matter of time but they said, 'Not yet, inshallah', which means with the will of God but it's used as a diplomatic way of shooing you away,' she said. Dr Yamani, who got her driving licence at the age of 19 in Cambridge, believes the law prohibiting women from driving has had the most detrimental impact on women's lives. She believes there has been little progress for Saudi women in recent years. 'I think there has been a regression.' While some governments have responded to the calls for equal rights, such as Morocco and Turkey, which recently adopted family laws that regard marriage as a partnership between equals, in other countries the battle is just beginning. In war-torn Afghanistan, some girls' schools have reopened but the lack of security means that many parents keep their daughters at home, according to Rangina Hamidi, a gender adviser for the Canadian International Development Agency in Kandahar. 'If you look at the majority of the country, the villages and rural communities, not much has changed for women. The recent rise in violence has made it even more difficult. There's a push from the international community and the government to give women opportunities, to get them out of the house, but we see very clear signs that the Taleban is coming back, so are we asking women to jeopardise their safety?' she said. Zainah Anwar, Musawah's project director and a board member of the Malaysian lobby group Sisters in Islam which initiated the movement, said Muslim women were often accused of being 'westernised elites' when they demanded changes to discriminatory laws. 'They are told, 'This is against Islam, against sharia, your faith will be weakened'. This really silences them and creates doubts that, 'Maybe what I'm doing is wrong, that I'm going against God's teachings',' she said. To counter the argument that they are 'anti-Islam', Musawah has worked with leading Islamic scholars to examine the Koran and the various interpretations which have been used to justify discrimination against women. 'It's so important for us to make women realise that there's justice in Islam, that God is just. They're not being a bad Muslim for demanding an end to domestic violence, for demanding that 'I don't want to have sex tonight', that 'I don't agree that you take a second wife'.' She said many of the laws were drafted when women had very different roles than the ones they now fulfil. 'You cannot hide behind the sanctity of God and religion to say this is God's law ... it's a man-made product. It can be changed if it brings injustice, changed to suit the changed times and circumstances that we live in today.' While women's groups have attacked Malaysia's religious authorities in recent months for issuing fatwa prohibiting Muslims from practising yoga and dressing like tomboys, Sisters in Islam appears to have found an ally in a leading law figure. Ismail Yahya, chief judge of the sharia court in the northeastern state of Terengganu, welcomed the discussion of sharia law, and said the conference was an opportunity to increase justice for women. He said the law should be improved if it was unjust, and the Muslim community needed to show that it was working to achieve justice for all. 'The law may be changed from time to time according to the situation in our society,' he said. Years may have past since Ms Mariam's divorce proceedings but she is still a regular visitor to the sharia courts, providing emotional support to other women. The 66-year-old grandmother has vowed to continue fighting for the rights of single mothers, and says she has no regrets 'I made the right decision. It was difficult for me to break the marriage but now I'm happy.'