Pakistani women turn to once-taboo divorce to escape abuse

Wed Jan 9, 2013 5:18am EST
 
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By Aisha Chowdhry

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistani women are slowly turning to divorce to escape abusive and loveless marriages, once taboo and still a dangerous option in this strict Muslim nation even as more women become empowered by rising employment and awareness of their rights.

But the number of women with the courage to seek divorce remains small in the face of Pakistan's powerful religious right and growing Islamic conservatism, and in a male-dominated nation where few champion women's rights.

Women are often killed while pursuing divorces, with some shot on the way home from court or in front of their lawyers.

In the capital Islamabad, home to 1.7 million people, 557 couples divorced in 2011, up from 208 in 2002, the Islamabad Arbitration Council said. The Pakistani government does not track a national divorce rate.

"If you are earning, the only thing you need from the guy is love and affection. If the guy is not even providing that, then you leave him," said 26-year-old divorcee Rabia, a reporter who left a loveless arranged marriage to a cheating husband.

Despite their small numbers, Rabia and other women like her are seen as a rising threat from Pakistan's conservative forces.

"The women have been given so-called freedom and liberty, which causes danger to themselves," Taliban spokesman Ihsanullah Ihsan told Reuters.

There were at least 1,636 "honor killings" last year, said Pakistani rights group The Aurat Foundation. The mere perception that a woman has behaved in a way that "dishonors" her family is sufficient to trigger an attack.   Continued...

 
Maryam Suheyl, a marriage and family therapist, meets her client to discuss marital issues at her office in Lahore December 26, 2012. Pakistani women are slowly turning to divorce to escape abusive and loveless marriages, once taboo and still a dangerous option in this strict Muslim nation even as more women become empowered by rising employment and awareness of their rights. But the number of women with the courage to seek divorce remains small in the face of Pakistan's powerful religious right and growing Islamic conservatism, and in a male-dominated nation where few champion women's rights. Photo taken December 26, 2012. REUTERS/Mohsin Raza