By Zamurrad Awan
April 08, 2015
Taking into account the ease with which a nasty husband 'gets rid' of his wife, in January 2015, the Council of Islamic Ideology termed the pronouncement of three divorces at the same time an unlawful act, recommending it become a punishable offence
On March 8, Pakistan and the world celebrated Women’s Day, vowing to improve the socio-economic and political conditions of women through friendly laws along with accommodating their place in the societal environment, job market and political forums. Various organisations and forums in Pakistani cities held meetings, advocating the same agenda for female empowerment. For many observers, this is not more than rhetoric, repeated time and again on special occasions with little practical implication.
Despite an overall growing awareness due to an increased number of educated professional women, there are numerous problems and prejudices attached with a large number of helpless women here, with divorce being one of the most serious and painful socio-cultural dilemmas for Pakistani women. A recent survey by Gallup Pakistan recognises that 48 percent of the respondents believe that the ratio of divorce has increased over the years, citing impatience and absence of religious knowledge as major reasons, followed by women’s ambitions towards their chosen professions, along with the growing lack of male commitment for marriage. Apart from the mentioned reasons, domestic abuse (both physical and psychological), misinformation at the time of marriage proposal, particularly regarding education and employment, and growing intolerance and psychological/behavioural personality problems are also considered major causes behind marriage dissolution.
Without going into the debate of circumstantial reasons, divorce is considered a social stigma for women in patrilineal Pakistani society. Islamic law prescribes a number of formalities in divorce, considering it as an undesirable act while on the other hand, the marriage contract is simpler. However, in our society, it is just a proposition because culture and religion are merged in a way that they have become inseparable. Therefore, culturally, women are expected to be a passive partner in the marriage contract or in case of divorce. Taking into account the ease with which a nasty husband ‘gets rid’ of his wife, in January 2015, the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) termed the pronouncement of three divorces at the same time an unlawful act, recommending it become a punishable offence. While further confirming the illegality of such an act, the chairman of CII, Maulana Sherani, remarked, “Saying the word talaaq (divorce) thrice consecutively is against the Sunnah.”
Contrary to the previous dissenting response of women’s groups to the CII’s support for underage marriage and polygamy, this particular decision was hailed as it could provide some hope for the traumatised women. Marriage and divorce matters are already regulated through the 1961 Muslim Family Laws Ordinance (MFLO), where a detailed marriage contact (nikahnama) with provisions of the woman’s equal right of divorce as per Islamic law are mentioned. Through this Ordinance, the registration of marriage and divorce was made mandatory. Nevertheless, the weak implementation of its various clauses left lacunas, especially when it comes to the woman’s security in marriage, resulting in regular violation of the law either due to ignorance or as a reflection of the patriarchal mindset. The ultimate victim of such violations are women, who on one side are socio-culturally stigmatised by the consecutive triple utterance of the word divorce while on the other hand, face weak implementation that does not allow them to seek redress from the courts, in case of overlooking the correct procedure by the former husband. In our culturally gender biased society, women are curtailed in their choice to leave a bad marriage, as it is considered to be the sole prerogative of a male.
Considering the increased ratio of divorce, different institutions have provided some sort of relief for females. First, as mentioned above, is the suggestion of the CII chairman to punish the offender in case of the violation of correct divorce procedure because the ultimate victim of incomplete divorce is a woman, as without obtaining a divorce certificate under the law, contrary to a man, a woman cannot remarry. In this situation, at times, after verbally divorcing a wife or sending a first notice of divorce, the husband normally does not follow procedure, leaving the divorce incomplete, resulting in social and psychological torture for the affectee. Second are the pro-women judgments of family court judges regarding divorce and the custody of children. Third is the recent announcement of the Punjab government, making it mandatory to fill the women related sections in the Nikahnama. Nevertheless, there is a need to introduce laws containing heavy punishments for types of offenders; first, those who ignore women related clauses in the Nikahnama and the second being those who enter into a contract of marriage by wilfully providing incorrect information to the girl’s family.
Here it is important to mention that apart from legislative and executive measures, this social menace needs immediate public attention. First, a public awareness campaign regarding the significance of women related clauses in the Nikahnama should be initiated by civil society organisations. Secondly, the dower (Haq Mehr) should be of reasonable amount, providing sufficient security to the bride, which is also a religious obligation. These two steps on the one hand will ensure women their place as an equal partner in marriage by challenging gender biased role definition while, on the other hand, will provide them with financial security, especially in a situation where they would opt for a new life. Thirdly, there is a need to raise awareness about the pre-marriage screening test to verify the identity of the potential proposal, through cross referencing from neighbours/relatives, locality overview, marital status, lifestyle verification and workplace reputation. In recent years, some organisations have emerged to facilitate such verification. These aforementioned steps could help ensure women get socio-legal security by challenging centuries old gender bias practices, which are contrary to religious injunctions, practices that consider a woman’s right to inquire about a potential proposal, divorce and haq mehr as bad omens in a wedding.
Zamurrad Awan is a lecturer in the political science department, FC College University, Lahore