Many women now prefer to live alone rather than being subject to domestic abuse
The recent figures of rising divorce rates in major urban centres come as a surprise for both the legal and social institutions that have firmly prevented the institution of marriage from falling apart in Pakistan.
Although the process in itself is a fairly simple task in the country for men, with a verbal or written declaration of talaq in the presence of two witnesses, the repercussions of the decision have always been deemed ghastly for women if they choose to file for khulah.
Needless to say, if one is a Muslim woman, the path of doom will unfold for her if she chooses to walk away from the holy matrimonial bond in this country. The roots of Pakistani culture have always been watered by a social fabric that has promoted collectiveness over individuality and togetherness over independence.
The prime minister mentioning rising divorce rates and breakdown of the family system time and again on national television is clear evidence of the importance of the matter.
According to a recently published report, a massive number of women from Sindh moved court seeking separation from their husbands in pandemic-hit 2020. The total number rose to 5,198 cases, out of which 4,050 were from Karachi. More recently, the cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi have reported 10,312 cases that are relating to divorce, khulah, guardianship and maintenance in 2021 while another 13,000 more cases were found awaiting adjudication in family courts in the same district.
Urbanism and changing dynamics of marriage statistics that depict the current situation display an emerging trend in the cultural, economic as well as social circumstances of marriage in major cities. Women now prefer to live alone rather than being subject to domestic abuse and economic subservience while others bravely seek to break the cultural taboo that attaches stigma to divorce.
Eminent social researcher Arif Hasan confirms this shift in alignment. “There has been a decline in female marriages in Pakistan between the ages of 15-24, from 61 per cent in 1961 to around 17 per cent in 2016.”
Increasing rates may be attributed to better educational opportunities for the female spouse, geographical factors, ethnic differences as well impotency on the part of the male. Low tolerance for extramarital affairs and second marriages of men, dowry issues as well as family quarrels have swelled up statistics in the urban centres.
In addition, divorce is, naturally, a more convenient process for the rich.
Fourth wave of feminism
Moreover, since 2018, Pakistan has witnessed a huge shift in its feminist landscape. The Aurat March inaugurated a new phase that empowered women to break a culture steeped in patriarchy. The annual public demonstration is held in various cities across Pakistan, including Lahore, Karachi, Islamabad, Multan, Hyderabad, Sukkur, Quetta, Mardan and Faisalabad.
The Aurat March activists have effectively punctured the traditional concept of the blissful marriage by allowing three happy women to hold up the slogan ‘divorced and happy’. Such episodes of activism are leading women to break away from the standard norms. Interestingly, Pakistan is a signatory to Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women. Article 16 stipulates that the States Parties are to take measures to eliminate discrimination against women in marriage, divorce and family law.
Future of women in society
Women are constantly evolving and focusing on self-empowerment rather than seeking validation from the other gender. Only one party can preserve the sanctity of marriage and that is men themselves. The patriarchal mindsets must be abolished and gender roles based on egalitarianism and equality must persist. Only then can the institution of family be saved from crumbling under the modern era.
Published in Bol News by Wafa Sheroz 26 December 2021