Stigma of Divorce for Pakistani Women

Is divorce for Pakistani women easy to attain or does it lead to women being shamed and humiliated? We explore two perspectives held by Pakistani women.

"I am not tolerating mental or physical assault”

Pakistan is a tough country when it comes to divorce for Pakistani women. It’s a country where misogyny stands out and the norm hides lots of facts for such women.

The inferiority of the female gender, suffice to say, is inherited from generation to generation. As time goes by, it only manages to strengthen itself in this patriarchal society with not many being able to challenge it fully.

Yet, alongside this male-dominated society comes the marital life of women.

From their earliest memories, the word shaadi (marriage) means a lot of things. For women, especially, this word holds not just dreams but sheer significance.

To be wedded into a good, respectable home; live with a handsome looking man and have children and live a reputable life.

That is one of the prioritised dreams of many young women in Pakistan. For generations, the dreams and ideal values have stayed in the social backgrounds for many women.

This is not just a class occurrence. It is not restricted only to women of low or middle socioeconomic backgrounds. For this dream has been visualised by many women.

However, now things are being questioned. No longer do Pakistani women (if not all) rely on submissive norms and ideals.

The idea to be alive and live a happy life is without a doubt everyone’s dream. This dream is and was never gender-specific.

Then why is that the marital system of Pakistan encourages men to be more domineering and women to be more submissive?

Why do Pakistani women face such scrutiny and how do they live as a divorcee? DESIblitz asks two women in Pakistan who share their experience of being a divorcee.

Stereotypical Norms

Stigma of Divorce for Pakistani Women - stereo typical

In the marital system of Pakistan, a certain possibility haunts only the female side. An issue that is often abused by men and used by women in times of desperation.

The question of divorce for Pakistani women poses a serious threat not only to the system of a marriage but also to that of the woman’s social position in society.

Pakistani parents do not get tired about dreaming of their daughters’ weddings. From the earliest possible moment, they save as much as possible to arrange a beautiful wedding.

Whereas, such arrangements do not guarantee a happy marriage. It is safe to assume that in every marriage there is a test for Pakistani women.

Will she be able to achieve the hopes and dreams of her parents? Is she submissive enough to her husband? Can she secure a firm position within the household of her in-laws?

Such questions and many more are the basis of many Pakistani marriages. They all revolve around one question: will she be a good wife?

These questions are not always answered as expected by the in-laws, husband or the parents of the woman. Many marriages, therefore, dissolve due to various reasons and conflicts.

The events that lead to divorce are indeed both personal and social.

However, once the divorce is finalised and the woman leaves the marital bond, she finds herself in an arena far more scrutinising than she had imagined, compared to even when she was single.

Is there a Divorce Gender Difference in Pakistan?

Gender difference plays a major role in Pakistani society. Males are superior, while females are their inferior. It is certain that it has a prominent influence on divorce. This significantly impacts on women.

When asked this question, Sobia, doctor and mother of one, explained:

“You become a target. All of them gravitate towards you. They’ll never motivate you towards life. They never make you feel happy.”

She states it is always men who receive social advantages in a marital relationship.

“Everyone fails to be an important member of society once they start blaming others for their failures. The worst part is parents becoming apologists and defending their actions.”

She further mentions:

“I received all kinds of abuse; that I was sleeping with different people so I had to get a divorce. I am not tolerating mental or physical assault.”

Sobia explains she applied for divorce because of her husband’s inappropriate behaviour. Namely, his video games and drug addiction.

Then she mentions the difficulties faced while in her third trimester. She had to work at home and the hospital while her husband never assisted in any matter.

Sobia quotes him:

“We’ll look after him once he is born.”

When asked if he was serious about her health, he continued playing video games.

While Sobia found it difficult to share the more brutal side of her story, she believes that the passive-aggressive attitude of divorce for Pakistani women was always there.

She says:

“It’s like I do something horrible to him every day.”

Sobia’s example mirrors the difficult experiences of women in Pakistan who find divorce is gender-biased.

Laws in Pakistan are gradually changing. However, the speed of change is not helping the stigma of divorce for Pakistani women at the rate needed.

The Reason for Divorce

Stigma of Divorce for Pakistani Women - reasons

The causes of divorce stem from problems within a marriage. From extramarital affairs, abuse, family dynamic, short temperament and so on.

These toxic elements in a relationship are suffered by a woman.

Sobia explains the reasons for her divorce:

“It was always the medicines that he claimed to have kept him in focus and under control.”

She understood his point as he was an auditor in a private firm.

Despite all his income not reaching the household. Sobia had to do everything by herself while her husband either did not care or assaulted her whenever she retaliated.

After sharing her experiences, Sobia believes that whenever a woman files for divorce, it raises questions. Her social status, background, sexuality, professional life and even parents come under scrutiny.

She believes when men file for divorce, lawyers are not bothered by details. But when it comes to divorce for Pakistani women, they do not offer professional help or even sympathy.

Yet they offer reconciliation. Lawyers, parents, relatives of Sobia insisted that she somehow tolerate the abuse, she was going to have a baby and needed a family.

Although, Sobia went against all odds claiming:

“I’d rather have my child raised with his mother than his father who is either playing video games, scoring heroin or punishing me when he is bored.”

She says she defied the social norms, despite the social opposition she faced. Presently, she lives by herself and is happily living with her three-year-old son.

“It won’t be easy on me especially when he starts asking. But I think I am capable enough to raise him on my own. We’ll see.”

Sobia’s resilience is an indication that women can withstand the stigma of divorce. This is a struggle faced by many women who fought back.

Life After a Divorce

The challenges faced by women after divorce are difficult. Without the support of a husband, Pakistani women are made to feel like outcasts.

This can hinder the lives of many women.

The second woman in question is Razia, a 45-year-old housewife, living with her family. When asked about her situation, she had a lot to say.

She believes that life does not change. That the taunting continues from society, family, and relatives all because she could not provide a child.

She says that she may not be well educated but she knows a thing or two about reality.

To not be able to conceive was a matter of shame for herself.

When describing her feelings, she says:

“I don’t agree with the feminist doctrine. I think our social position depends on whether we can give birth and be submissive throughout our life to our husbands.”

She believes that the western portrayal of a couple is different than that of Pakistanis. That offering freedom to women may sound like a good idea but in practice it is useless.

She goes on to explain:

“So what if I think that divorce is a matter of shame for women? I feel disappointed in myself. I would have been a wonderful mother, but here I am.”

Razia is a prime example of the way many Pakistani women are afraid to go against the norm. They are a product of their society and accept the label of inferiority.

Despite some rejecting this notion, they are overruled by the women who play into the hands of male superiority.

Is the Cause of Divorce Permissible?

Stigma of Divorce for Pakistani Women - divorce deed

Notions surrounding right or wrong in divorce are complicated. Hardships are expected to be endured for family respect. However, it seems women are made to tolerate this more than men.

Yet when asked about the cause of divorce, Razia feels in her case it was justified. If she had been in her ex-husband’s position, she would have done the same.

11 years on since her divorce, she has not considered marrying again despite her parents’ efforts.

She knows she is not worthless but refuses to admit it. However, she wanted to pursue her academics after divorce but her viewpoint since then has changed.

Razia explains:

“I live in a society with people who believe that men are better than women. I did not agree with it but now I do. Why? Because it has been proven countless times!”

When asked about adoption, she rejected it as a credible idea. She believes having a strange child is crazy.

“This mumbo jumbo idea that women are equal to men is just ridiculous, at least, in Pakistan. I mean they (westerners) make good movies but they don’t know how to raise a family.”

She believes it takes time to get used to the idea of being the inferior gender. She is okay with it because that is the way things are.

Nothing can be done but to obey, she continues:

“If that is how we are to live in society, we have to obey. What else are we to do?”

Razia’s acceptance of her ex-husband’s decision highlights how women are instilled to undertake the responsibility of failure.

This way of thinking is common in Pakistani society and major societal changes are required to deter the stigma of divorce.

Misogyny

The prejudice faced in divorce by Pakistani women is a fight for acceptance and equality in society.

There has been a steady increase in divorce cases in Pakistan.

The study of Divorce Status and it’s Major Reason in Pakistan states:

“In 2016, 18,901 cases were reported. It shows the divorce rate is on the rise in Pakistan.”

In a male-dominated society, misogyny comes the norm. It follows with toxic and dysfunctional marriages and ruins the lives of women and that of their offspring.

In Pakistan, divorce is not considered a favourable or healthy option. With divorce comes a lot of tensions, responsibilities, all which demand society’s endorsement.

However, seeing that society does not favour the outcomes of divorce, it either tends to pity, sympathy or mock and taunt the divorcee.

The word divorcee concerns only the woman.

Raising a family is a difficult undertaking. Not everyone is a perfect husband or wife. Nobody can even come close to being the perfect parent.

Yet in a society where the norms are misogynistic, it will only oppress the women in all variations.

Repercussions for a Divorcee

Stigma of Divorce for Pakistani Women - blame

In most cases of divorce, women are blamed for not living up to the standards of their husbands. The husband is redeemed of all charges because he must make a living.

The fact that the husband has feelings come into consideration when his wife retaliates.

Whenever a woman files an application for divorce she is doing it for the sake of her life. Nobody wants to leave a fulfilling relationship.

Even still Pakistani society encourages women to be submissive. The institute of marriage is sacred and important than the well-being of women, it would seem.

That it is far better to maintain a highly dysfunctional marriage than to break away and live happily. This attitude is encouraged by society, parents, relatives, and even friends.

This attitude indirectly motivates the institute of polygamy. At times the marital relationship in Pakistan is very close to politics and chess – to sleep with one eye open.

The social security and concerns of children are often debated. While doing so, the toxic relationship is carried on even though women are treated inhumanely.

Conversely, the supporters of the marital relationship and those who strictly oppose divorce fail to see the long-lasting effects of a toxic and dysfunctional family, under which a child is raised.

The Need for Change

Divorce for Pakistani women cannot be treated separately. Yet in a society dominated by the dictations of patriarchy, will always look down upon women who choose to separate themselves from marriage.

It not only defies patriarchy but rejects the inhumane magnitude of misogyny.

A divorced woman does not lose her right to be a human or a respected member of society.

She can continue to be a professional employee; raise her children; be whatever she wants. A divorce does not change the social status of a woman.

In Pakistan, where misogynistic values are common and appreciated, it is going to take a long time before it is understood that women who file for divorce are using their right.

However, this does not mean that it is unachievable.

Z. F. Hassan is an independent writer. He enjoys reading and writing on history, philosophy, art, and technology. His motto is “Live your life or someone else will live it”.