By Mira Khatib
Many people are quick to judge, stereotype and discriminate against others, without being fully aware of their circumstances. Many divorced women face such an unfair view, which adds to their difficulties. People should have a better understanding, as they do not know what goes on behind closed doors, and the reasons that drive many women to want to end their marriages.
Munira, Maha and Sana are three women who faced many obstacles from society just for choosing divorce as a solution to their unhealthy marriages. Here they share with Arab Woman Mag their experience.
Munira Ahmad, UAE, 27 years old
I close my eyes and it all comes back to me like it was just yesterday, with all the over whelming emotions of sorrow and helplessness. I was very young when my mother informed me about my future husband. My uncle and mother have arranged it. There was an exchange to be made, my brother would marry my uncle’s daughter and in return I would be wed to his son.
At 14 yeas of age the idea of a white wedding dress and the festivities that went with it was very exciting, I had no realization of what such a proposal meant or involved.
My mother took my brother and me to Qatar where my uncle and his family resided and there the engagements took place. At the time my brother did not want to go through with it, but just to honor my mothers word he did.
I returned to the U.A.E. with a ring on my finger and I was thrilled by being treated like a grown up. As the months passed by my enthusiasm towards the marriage started to fade, as I realized what I was getting myself into. I knew I was not ready to tie my life forever with this man especially that I had no feelings for him, and I had to speak out and refuse.
When I mentioned my concerns to my mother she brushed me off saying that all girls feel this way before a marriage, but soon they change their mind. She simply refused to listen to reason. I grew more worried as I sought help from relatives to help convince my mother, but they too did not support my decision. The only person who listened was my father, and tried to convince my mother, and even threatened to leave if the marriage took place.
My mother’s very demanding personality over ruled my fathers and just to put an end to my uncertainty my brother and mother fixed a wedding date. As the wedding day approached I started to feel desperate and I was foolish enough and tried to commit suicide by throwing myself from our house top, but I only managed to break my legs, and my actions just made my mother more furious and more convinced that I should be wed as soon as possible.
I never felt more terrified or alone, as I did the day of my wedding. Even my father left that day trying to avoid the reality of my situation, and with tearful eyes I was forced to accept and sign the wedding papers. For a 17 year old the responsibility of taking care of a home and living with a strange man was just too much for me to handle, yet even then I put the effort to be the best wife I could be, and worked very hard to make my new life work for me.
I was lucky enough to be blessed with a beautiful daughter and hoped with her in my life I could feel closer to my husband, the days proved me wrong. I found out that he drinks, and our misunderstandings turned into fights, and he started mistreating me. As time passed our relationship just got worse, I felt like there would be no end to it. I tried my best to see it through to make things work if only for my daughter’s sake. Years passed and the abuse was getting unbearable, even my mother eventually admitted that maybe he was not the right man for me after all.
Finally I gathered all my strength and followed my hearts own desire, and went to the courts and told them my story and asked for a divorce, and with in hours and after ten long years of unhappiness I was granted the divorce, I was finally free, or so I thought.
My father had passed away years before so I went to live with my mother and brother, and although I knew that I would face many difficulties as a divorced woman from our society, I felt that I have the strength to overcome it all.
The horror was to trying to stand up to my own relatives and their attitude towards me. Suddenly I started to feel like a prisoner in my own home. I was forbidden to leave the house alone, and my brother grew suspicious of me, thinking I might go after men for money and started to physically abuse me. I feel like I am being watched at all times, anything I do or say can be interpreted in the wrong way which leads in many times to drastic reaction, being beaten by my brother, or scolded at from my relatives. I feel that I can not just be myself and go on with life, my divorce affected me in many negative ways, many things that I liked and enjoyed to do, like a simple visit to the mall has become like a major issue, where my mother and brother sit and argue why I shouldn’t go out especially alone in public, I try to speak out, but my desires are shunned aside, and usually ending up in big arguments. I lost touch with all my friends, as they have their own families, my own mother grew rigid towards me and shows no sympathy. Now I just rather not go out at all and save my breath and trouble for wanting to live a normal life.
I try to defend myself and be strong living my life for my daughter. I feel the need to raise awareness from the way many people in our society black label divorced women without any apparent reason. I pray that my daughter or any other woman would never have to face the cruel fate and unfair treatment that I have been going through.
Maha, Jordan, 35
It was a very traditional way of meeting one another, he came with his family asking for my hand in marriage, and we got along well, eventually we got married.
I was 21 years old, educated and had a good job, and with my husband I had a future full of dreams, but too soon did one dream die after the other as our problems started.
I thought it was normal that all couples at first face obstacles, but I felt uneasy as my husband allowed his parents to interfere in almost every aspect of our life, and if I objected to it, he would get hostile and angry.
I felt like we where going in circles and just could not handle it any more. So I left and went to live with my parents. Days passed and I found out I was pregnant, so I did what is right and informed my husband, but instead of being excited and asking me to come back home with him, he just ignored me, and left me the whole nine months without inquiring about me or my needs, as if he was a total stranger. My family supported me emotionally and financially, yet I felt unhappy and wondered what the fate of my unborn child would be.
The contractions started and within hours I was holding my baby girl, and as I looked into her innocent face I knew that I have to make the sacrifice for her sake, and try to save my marriage. My father informed my husband about his newborn and convinced him that we should get back together. My husband agreed but he had two conditions to take me back, he wanted me to leave my job and wear the Islamic veil, and I did both when I left the hospital.
I tried my best to keep my patience, and over come my problems, always thinking about my daughter best interest. But one day it finally happened, we got into a big argument and he let his family interfere and our misunderstanding just grew out of proportion, and I knew then it was the time for me to leave with my pride.
Finally after my daughter and me remained living with my family, and after four years of agony I got my divorce. During that time my husband never inquired about our well-being, in fact he started a new life, remarried and had other children.
If it was not for my family’s understanding and support I would not have been able to handle the pressure, yet there are times where people comment and say inappropriate things about me just because I am divorced, as if it is my fault, that I am the one to blame and that I am a bad person, and that hurt so much.
I realize from that I have become distant from people not wanting to socialize or get close to anyone, because I feel pity or confusion towards me, many feel they need to act in a different way when I am around so not to say anything that might be sensitive or upsetting, I can sense there discomfort which also adds to my emotional burdens, I just want to be treated like any one else, it isn’t a sin that I am divorced. Don’t people realize that if a woman is happy and satisfied in her marriage she would never leave, why would anyone condemn themselves to be alone and live with the additional burden from society, if they did not have a significant reason?
Until today and after ten years since my divorce my struggle continues, fighting to keep my daughter in my custody. All the unfortunate experiences have left me depressed, tense and very distant and distrusting, sometimes I feel I am at the verge of losing my mind.
I wish people would not be so judgmental because bad situations can happen to anyone.
Sana, Palestine, 24
I grew up in a conservative family and just could not wait to meet someone open-minded who would be more tolerant than my family.
I was 20 when I met my husband to be, he came along with his family asking for my hand in marriage. He had all the appropriate qualities for a good husband, he came from a known respected family, well educated, and out spoken, had a good job and looked handsome. We spent some time together, to get to know each other more and we seemed to get along well, within weeks we where married.
I had many dreams and many expectations and was looking forward to my new life. Soon after it started happening, the kind loving man I thought I married started to change, his true personality started to come out, he was hostile and distant, and the worst thing of all he became very stingy.
I was afraid to speak out, thinking my family would put the blame on me. So I hid all my misfortune and tried to make things better and living day at a time. I lost touch with almost all my friends feeling ashamed that I could not afford to socialize with them. My husband with a very good paying job insisted we had to save every fils. If I ever dared to speak out he would verbally abuse me and push me around. My fears grew when his rages became more frequent and harsh in front of our children. I knew this was not a healthy atmosphere for them. I had to get away; I believed that what ever I would have to face would be more bearable than what I was going through.
My parents wanted to help and yet force me to return to him time and time again fearing what people might say if I get a divorce. Telling me no matter how bad my marriage is, it is better than being divorced and facing society and the way they mistreat a divorced woman.
I feel like I am fighting for my life, every day there is a new battle I face, and the pressure from people around who don’t really know the truth about my circumstances criticize and say I must try harder and put more effort, that I should accept him the way he is and just learn to live with it, all that adds to my burdens, as I still try to seek freedom.
I wonder why our culture and society are not willing to understand and accept divorced women. For some reason they have this bad image that divorced women have a bad reputation and are a bad influence, where as the men who drove them to this state are treated with sympathy and welcoming arms.
Today I still take it a day at a time, I try not to think of the future and concentrate on my children, although my heart desire is to free myself from this unhappy marriage, yet I am tied down by restrictions that are forced upon me from many people in our society, and until people wont be afraid to accept and support women like myself, many women will remain at the mercy and abuse of ruthless men.
What people have to say: –
Amal, Egypt, married
Yes, it is true and unfortunate that many in our society in Egypt do in fact look down on and treat divorced women with less respect. It is more difficult for her as she is not a young girl any more and not married either. With the first chance of getting remarried to another man even if he is not suitable, she is forced to accept, and usually men who marry divorced women are either divorced themselves, widowers with kids or married and taking a second or third wife, and this in turn might cause yet another failed marriage.
In Egypt women try very hard to save their marriages, and over come any obstacles, as it is one of the worst feelings to be divorced especially if you have children to raise at the same time, yet sometimes some women just cant handle the abuse much longer and leave.
Also the more educated women do not really care what people might think and are more likely to walk away from a bad marriage and support them selves, not needing a man to protect them. They put all their energy in their work and career, and some become very successful. Yet the fact remains that there is a need for better awareness towards divorced women and have the necessary facilities to help them and support them.
Rania Nakhle, Lebanon, married
In Lebanon a divorced woman is usually the one to be blamed for the failed marriage, people say she should have tried harder and lived with it. The more educated women just have too much pride and understanding to allow them selves to live through unhappy marriages so they seek divorce.
Most people in our society black label divorced woman, and think just because she is living without a man she will go and have unethical relationships with other men, maybe becoming mistresses, which is such a big generalization to make especially that it is not built on any evidence. Still many divorced Lebanese women do indeed remarry and usually do better in their second marriage, maybe due to their experiences, which teach them how to handle bad situations.
Sami Ahamd, Syria, 26
A divorced woman is criticized for everything she does, all her actions are counted for. She is held responsible for her failed marriage. And although most of the educated people deal better towards divorced women, yet the over all view and perspective is a negative one.
I had a friend who went through a difficult divorce, and unfortunately even I changed towards her, but only to protect her. I could not talk to her as freely as I used to, fearing what people might say about her, and giving her a bad reputation.
I hope this perspective would change, as we all have females in our families we wouldn’t like to see them hurt or misjudged just due to unfortunate circumstances, on the contrary there should be support groups, counselling and financial help for these women, to help them go through there difficult times.
Ahamd, Saudi Arabia, 33, married
Our society is a very conservative one and personal matters remain very private. A woman doesn’t get a divorce easily, usually she must do what it takes to save her marriage and live with what ever it brings from good or bad. A Saudi woman is brought up believing that although divorce is a choice but one she must not consider, and that no matter what, she should obey her husband and accept him for who he is and with all his flaws.
If for some reason a woman gets divorced she goes back to live with her family and they would be very protective of her not allowing her to do as she pleases. Divorce remain like a taboo, and sometimes we don’t even like to talk about it, trying to ignore that there is a problem that might exist. Although from the religious point of view, divorce is not preferred but never the less is a right to have especially when problems progress and cannot be worked out. It is the culture and tradition who gave a bad name for divorced woman, our religion is much more sympathetic and tolerant in such cases.
THE EXPERT VIEW
Dr. Nadia Bu Hamad, Psychologist gives her professional opinion regarding divorce and the society.
In society people look at a divorced woman by her actions and behavior, they do not associate her by personality or upbringing. Many believe that it is easier for a divorced woman to have unethical relationships and sin, as there is no physical evidence to find out about such relations. There for many people do have a negative reaction towards divorced women and can in turn treat them unfairly.
Although in our Islamic religion there is no evidence or saying that people should treat divorced woman differently than others. Society’s reaction is built mainly from passed down traditions and culture, having no basis to religious beliefs. This is due to lack of education, knowledge and awareness.
There is no easy solution to make people change their attitudes, it all starts at home with the family educating their children to accept divorce also the role of the media, education, religious awareness, the law, having lectures all can help to educate people and make them more aware and accepting to the true reality and circumstances of divorced woman. Yet people who are not so fortunate to such exposure and positive influence should not just accept being dependent on others for information and putting the blame on others for their lack of knowledge, they should take matters in their own hands and try to self educate and learn more by reading and research to help make a difference.
As for the divorced women, they fall into two categories, the more educated, self confident women who do not let society’s attitude affect them, as they are well aware of their abilities and how to move on and make the best out of their circumstances.
The other category are divorced women with less education and awareness, usually they are easily affected emotionally with the additional burden from society, in many cases leading to depression and other problems. The best advice for such women is to occupy their time with new useful activities. Continuing their education, or getting a job or even joining a club, all help to keep these women busy in social activities that help their self-esteem. Also many do need professional help and they shouldn’t feel ashamed to seek it, unfortunately marriage counselling or family therapy is not so popular or easily available, but women in need for their services should ask psychologists for help and reference.
Being a single parent or dealing with a divorce can be a very devastating experience to many women. Looking for emotional and many times financial support, trying to come to terms with their circumstances.
As long as many people in society do not change their attitude and become more accepting, understanding and having an open mind, many divorced women would go on suffering the added pressure that is inflicted on them which adds to their burdens.