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Where divorce is an adjective

“Isn’t she lovely,” I said. “Yes, she is, but you know, her mother is divorced,” came the reply. This was the first indirect introduction I got to a 30-year-old female colleague. What she does, who she is, became redundant when people spoke of her. That her mother was divorced was the key piece of information that defined her for others, at least when she was not part of the conversation. And I thought to myself, that is probably how people will introduce my daughter someday…

When I chose divorce, I knew I would go through severe emotional trauma and I was ready to face it. What I did not pay any heed to was the involvement of society in aggravating that trauma. In my recent experience as a divorced woman, I have realized that the social stigma of divorce makes it very tough to survive with your self-esteem intact. Considering that I feel I am much stronger than an average Pakistani woman, I can only imagine what they might be going through.

A society that worries too much

One might say that “society” is concerned for a divorce woman,  just like they are concerned about women wearing jeans or nail polish that are “haram” due to presence of alcohol in them. The only thing our society is never concerned about is the mental and emotional well-being of a person. Maybe that is why there is so much insanity around us that is completely acceptable.

Who will support you

The financial challenge for a divorced woman with a child is something which people worry about. Where marriage is considered a form of legitimate prostitution and a husband is deemed as the simplest way to earn a living, where men are protectors even if they legally rape you and where most women or housewives are not confident or educated enough to make a good living, the concern seems justifiable. “Why would you leave a comfortable life for the life of misery,” they ask. Misery begets from financial constraints only, they assume.

What did you leave him for

The other concern people have is social. The prompt response of even educated people is “log kya kaheingey” (What will people say ?) or “Akaili aurat kaisey reh sakti hay” (how can a woman survive on her own.) Leaving your marriage because your husband doesn’t give you emotional, physical or intellectual satisfaction are reasons most families cannot bear to tell others. I remember my family asking whether my husband hit me or did not give me money or cheated on me, eagerly wishing that at least one of my reasons for leaving him were tangible. They were terribly disappointed. They had nothing to offer to the vultures who were waiting to feed on my poor, divorced carcass.

On the other side, it is deeply hurtful for the male ego to tell people that the wife left him, again for reasons that others will not fathom. She has to be painted as an evil person to redeem himself and defend his “izzat” (respect). And of course, an evil woman in this society is the one with a bad character. It is the easiest way to scorn a woman and deem her unfit for marriage or even basic respect. When I am repeatedly accused of having a bad character, I ask myself, what is this character they keeping talking about?

A strong, independent woman who gives herself the respect of a human being and desires a fulfilling life for herself has bad character whereas a woman who chooses to be the victim and accepts the weakness of her gender is the one with a good one. If that is the definition of character of a woman, I choose to have a bad one any day.

The child makes you guilty

It is a fact that most women tend to feel guilty, whether they express it overtly or not. Whether they were the main cause of divorce or not, they are inclined to blame themselves. This trend is encouraged and at some level even infused by the general attitude of the society. The best way for people to ignite your guilt and never let it die is your child. The child who was born from your ill-fated wedlock. Your daughter will be damaged, they are convinced and they still try very hard to convince me time and again, despite the fact that now the divorce is done and I have moved on. No one will ever consider that a happy and fulfilled mother will give her child a better upbringing. That’s probably because they assume that a divorced woman can never be happy or satisfied.

Even the sharia law does not permit a divorced woman with a child to move on. By law, the custody of the child in question is given to the father regardless of age if the mother remarries. Unless of course the mother can prove that the welfare of the child is not with the father. But how can a woman of bad character prove that in this part of the world? On the other hand, men who take widows as wives (not necessarily as the first wife) and raise their orphans as their own will be granted a place in heaven. Divorced mothers should stay single. Does that mean fornication is permitted for them?

In short, compromise is the most used and abused word in marital relationships. Using your child as a crutch, you must compromise and stay in a bad relationship. Considering your own financial incapacities, you must compromise and accept a husband who may even rape you within the confines of your bedroom. Keeping the judgment of the society as your prime motivation to live, you must compromise on staying in a home that reeks of loneliness. Compromise thy name is marriage.

Author: Soofia Says

Editor: Manasi Gopalakrishnan


02.10.2013 | 13:41