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pakistan divorce, Islamabad Arbitration Council, Ihsanullah Ihsan, taliban, Ghazala Javed, civil divorce cases, Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, divorce
Maryam Suheyl, a marriage and family therapist, meets her client to discuss marital issues at her office in Lahore December 26, 2012. -Photo by Reuters

ISLAMABAD: 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.

Pashtun singer Ghazala Javed became a statistic in June. A famous beauty, she married after fleeing Taliban threats. Then she discovered her new husband already had a wife. When she asked for a divorce, she and her father were shot dead.


While women divorcing their husbands is widespread in the West, growing markedly in the 20th century in many developed nations, it is a relatively new phenomenon in Pakistan.

And while a divorce case in the Muslim family courts must be resolved within six months, civil divorce cases can drag on for years, making it even harder for tens of thousands of women from religious minorities to get a divorce.

In the commercial hub Karachi, lawyer Zeeshan Sharif said he receives several divorce enquiries a week but virtually none a decade ago.

Women seeking a divorce usually come from the upper and middle classes, he said. Lawyers' fees are at least $300, a year's wage for many of Pakistan's 180 million citizens. For poor housewives, hiring a lawyer is impossible.

Most Pakistanis think the higher divorce rate is linked to women's growing financial independence, a 2010 poll by The Gilani Foundation/Gallup Pakistan found.

The number of women with jobs grew from 5.69 million to 12.11 million over the past decade, the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics said.

“Women are also making money now and they think if they have empowerment, they do not need to sacrifice as much,” said Musfira Jamal, a senior member of the religious party Jamaat-e-Islami.

“God does not like divorce ... (but) God has not given any right to any man to beat his wife or torture his family.”

In 2012, clerics and a religious party demanded a review of a bill to outlaw domestic violence, saying it risked undermining “family values”.

Western culture, not abuse, is why women seek divorces, said Taliban spokesman Ihsanullah Ihsan.

Yet domestic violence was one of the most common reasons for divorce, said lawyer Aliya Malik. Around 90 percent of Pakistani women experienced domestic violence at least once, a 2011 Thomson Reuters Foundation poll found.


If deciding to ask for a divorce is painful, getting it granted is agonising. Muslim women in the subcontinent didn't get the legal right to ask for a divorce until the mid-1930s.

Even then, a bride had to opt in by checking a box on their marriage certificate. A law passed in 1961 finally let women seek divorce through civil courts if they could show their spouses were at fault, but cases can take years.

Human rights lawyer Hina Jilani says fear remains one of the strongest barriers. One of Jilani's clients seeking a divorce was shot dead in front of her by the young woman's mother.

The public stigma, risk of violence and trauma of shepherding a case through Pakistan's tangled justice system is so overwhelming most women never try.

Sadia Jabbar, a bubbly, dimpled 29-year-old TV executive, struggled with feelings of guilt and failure after she left her cheating husband.

“It was a really bad feeling, as if I had failed in the biggest decision of my life,” she said.

The stigma of divorce also means women find it hard to remarry, and many feel it's easier to stay in an unhappy marriage than be alone. The difficulties multiply when children are involved.

Court-ordered child support payments to divorced mothers in Pakistan are rare and enforcement even rarer.

Fatima, a 31-year-old mother of two living in the eastern city of Lahore, endured seven years of severe beatings before divorcing her husband.

“He used to slap me, push me, pull my hair. After I had injured my backbone very badly, he slapped me while I was pregnant,” she said. Reuters is withholding her real name for her protection.

She got her divorce but her ex-husband refused to pay child support. Unable to get a decent job, she remarried him so he would pay their children's school fees. Now she sleeps behind a locked door.

“He will not give maintenance if I am not living in the house,” she said.

“I don't want to leave (my children) alone here. They are at a very tender age. If I could have supported them, I would have left long ago.”

Comments (34) Closed

Truthteller Jan 09, 2013 02:07pm
it is time to STOP de-humanizing & criminalizing men. Divorce occurs due to fault of both parties. It has become a fashion to blame men for everything. Women are no less responsible for breakup of a marriage than men. men too are abused by many women who literally considers husbands nothing more than a servant or a beast of burden whose only job is to look after her ! Role of men & women are well defined in a society. Both sides needs to play their role in order for a successful marriage.The early we recognize it, the better it is for the society.
Cyrus Howell Jan 09, 2013 01:13pm
In 2012, sorry.
Sania Jan 09, 2013 02:47pm
It is sad to go through a phase in your married life where it is no longer a relationship based on trust, honesty and respect. When these elements go missing, unhappiness and resentment grows & pulls the couple apart. I would say it is better to be alone rather than in a abusive marriage. It can destroy you emotinally, mentally and leave severe impact on your well-being. I hope people in our society understand that divorce is not a tabbo or something to be ashamed of. No one gets married to get a divorce, but again, reasons compels you take that step. I wish everyone finds peace and respect in their marriages.
Khosa Jan 09, 2013 02:55pm
Something to ponder...Why is it that the places in this world that have so much religion are: (1) mostly developing or least developed countries (2) suffer vast human rights abuses (3) have very little respect for women (4) majority mistreats the minority (4) not only bloodshed between different religions but within the same religion as well and (5) have so much intolerance. The whole intent of religion is to make us civil human beings but remarkably religion has failed, atleast in South Asia.
AK Jan 09, 2013 03:26pm
In our culture, we have let our mother, sisters and wife live just to cook for us and give give birth, also expect them to be as home funiture which has no voice and you can place whereever you want and whenever you want. Who has cared about women rights in Pakistan? If we Pakistani men wants to be a REAL man, we need to give respect to our women and ask their openion perticularly in the matter where she is effected directly or indirectly.
shajia ahmed Jan 09, 2013 04:08pm
Dawn, is there a way you could provide people's contact numbers if any one wants to assist these ladies. Thank you.
Swissy Jan 09, 2013 04:11pm
Aur karao arrange marriage. And while middle class and higher class women are able to make it out of oppressive marriages, still, the majority aren't because it is such a taboo plus higher class women face the same family pressure and gossips. Also being a higher class woman doesn't mean automatically being employed. Pakistan really needs to encourage higher employment rates. 12 million out of 90 million females is nothing. I'm even surprised its 12 million actually for a country like ours.
sohaib Jan 09, 2013 05:42pm
A very biased article. If Reuters wanted to be credible, it should not have quoted TTP spokesman on a social issue. On many of these divorce cases, women are at fault too. Making men the villains of their lives is just not fair. Writers of such biased and lopsided stories dont even consider what mental trauma men go through in an unloved, selfish marriage.
aku Jan 10, 2013 10:36am
Is Pakistan the only country where men abuse women? Ofcourse not. Women everywhere, whether west or east suffer the same trauma. I think there is a basic flaw in a man's DNA which if not nurtured correctly develops this superiority complex which in some extreme cases result in violence against the weaker being. Divorce is only an escape, but which is sometimes necessary. But does it solve the problem for the women? The fabric of society has to be nurtured correctly to encourage love, peace and harmony. Islam has a solution to this but unforunately Taliban has hijacked it. On the other hand, this tendency of divorces will only further ruin the society and produce a second generation which is even more intolerant and violent.
Saher Khan Jan 11, 2013 06:40am
your start up made me write a comment before even reading the complete article ... what do you mean by " strict Muslim nation " .. please DO NOT CONFUSE MUSLIM nation and Our nation. In MUSLIM NATION there is no such thing appreciated like abuse and loveless marriages. Please note once again im not talking about ISLAM at the moment telling you about MUSLIM Nation ... WE ARE NOT MUSLIM NATION please correct yourself
GL Jan 09, 2013 08:42pm
Pakistan is a dangerous country for women.
abbastoronto Jan 09, 2013 10:25pm
Women never divorce. Not Muslim, not Hindu, not Christian, not Black, not White. She will go to any length to save the relationship. When a woman finally leaves a man, in reality he had left her a long time ago, but was too coward to take responsibility and the first step. In Mohammedan Islam, the natural religion for the Trading Era we are in today globally, only woman have the right to marry (make the contract and offer it to man, ijab), and only man is given the right to divorce. A woman may seek annulment (Khula), and that entails financial sacrifice. So, a weak and faithless man will effectively abandon his wife, first emotionally, then socially, then financially, yet not divorce her because this means giving her ever so meager rights. He would push and manipulate until she is desperate and seeks a way out in annulment, abandoning all claims. But men, Allah is watching. You may get around it now, you will pay for it soon, and in this life as well in the next. So when your heart becomes dull towards the one you once you could not sleep without, think of what Allah says: [4:19]
sana Jan 09, 2013 10:33pm
Pakistan is NOT a strict Islmic Nation, rather ita a strict conservative culturally bounded Nation. there is no need to blame Islam
abbastoronto Jan 09, 2013 10:37pm
Osama Ahmed Jan 09, 2013 11:20pm
Yeah this is very serious problem in Pakistan because we are living in conservative Country, many people are thinking that women should not leave her husband's home whether he beats her. that is very bad thing which should be finished in our mind. Government should have taken serious action in these matters about women and should give proper rights which is not given in this culture.
Jay Jan 09, 2013 11:28pm
This is the last generation of women in both Muslim countries and India that will tolerate abuse. I am very happy. And younger generations have no shame so will not care about societal repercussions.
Thoughtful Jan 09, 2013 11:36pm
Abusing women and children is a sickness and undoubtedly Pakistan is a very sick society. But this kind of mental sickness is prevalent in entire Islamic world.
Muhammad Waqas Jan 10, 2013 12:52pm
this is a very biased one sided approach of writing an article and presenting a growing problem in way that makes males the abusers and Divorce a casual matter. many men are beaten up by their wife as revealed in several documentaries in Pakistan, still they cannot give divorce because those women have high profiled relations on illegitimate bases. the writer has clearly shown his shortsightedness in this matter. domestic violence is never a gender rather more of a human issue with both the genders.
Sue Sturgess Jan 10, 2013 03:42am
As education and employment for women improve, fewer women will tolerate abusive marriages. Divorce will lose its stigma, and the stigma attached to men who beat their wives and children will increase. It will take time, but it will happen
Wajeeh Jan 10, 2013 04:11am
A very sensitive issue very articulately discussed. Divorce is not a good thing but living alone is better than living with an abusive spouse. Patriarchal system, sluggish judicial system and so-called defenders of religion have made this difficult for women to get this basic right otherwise in our Deen its not not like this.
rana Jan 10, 2013 04:45am
@GL am sure women even in your country are subjected to abuse
Seriously! Jan 10, 2013 05:53am
Violence and Abuse should be condemned and routed out in family life by ALL. However Divorce should not be pushed as the Resolution from the Left, or be made into Big Business as in many Western Countries with Attorneys nd Councillors commercial networks What needs to be done is to raise awareness, make it a shamefull thing at home and in public, punish through legislation and prosecution, and build support networks for couples and families to be able to talk about their issues and seek resolution.
suleman Jan 10, 2013 06:44am
We are actually killing our women
Syed Jan 10, 2013 08:10am
Just in case you happen to be from India, please first check statistics of violence against women in the Capital Delhi.
Asjad Jan 10, 2013 10:01am
No one has cared for women in Pakistan only West and USA and Australia have cared for women in their societies. Nicest thing is there is every woman is a divorcee; free and enjoying her life very nicely; partying, traveling with friends, watching movies, working and earning lot of money. So Pakistani women must also apply for divorce and we must start from our sisters and probably wives to be practical than just being English in good English drafts or comments. Be the first my brothers plzz...:)
The_Progressive_Conservative Jan 10, 2013 05:17pm
Check the statistics. The divorce rates of arranged marriages are much lower.
aku Jan 10, 2013 10:22am
To me, in our socieity it is the man who decides the fate of a marriage, whether good or bad, not a woman. Women are too vunerable to decide anything. Exceptions to this are only when a man is weak. But this article is not about exceptions. I beg to differ with you, I think the article is quite real
aku Jan 10, 2013 10:29am
And so is the rest of the world my friend. Quite unfortunate ofcourse.
Neutral Jan 10, 2013 11:06am
very true. I beleive on equality, but when it comes to equality women automatically want to be dominant and thats where the problem start. still i am not saying that abusing is right but why the media and people are always against males. Females are equally responsible. and when female abuse males its worse then male abusing female. summary is i m still in favor of equality which both sides should be careful of.
sohaib Jan 10, 2013 01:54pm
What if a woman seeks annulment out of prejudice, contempt for the relationship and pure selfish means? Pakistani law does not have safeguards to avoid such loopholes. I m sorry I dont totally agree with your characterization of men from an Islamic perspective. This new found freedom is because men have not been responsible towards their women. I agree with that. But if he has been responsible towards her in purely sharia way and she still seeks annulment? Then I think the man should let her go.
sohaib Jan 10, 2013 01:58pm
Trust and honesty are the most important aspects of a happy married life. Love is secondary and comes naturally. Those who seek love first are doomed because love is a fleeting sentiment but trust and honesty builds relationship on which love could be founded. Lying an cheating will only break the marriage. Thats what men and women need to understand.
Dr. Rahman Jan 10, 2013 02:00pm
Really! Who made you to champion such a statement! And, why are you hiding under the 'GL'. At least have the courage of writing your name.
Suppression Jan 10, 2013 02:33pm
There were at least 1,636
ahsan Jan 10, 2013 04:09pm
Is there a statistical figure as to how many women get abused who are living in a combined family? My guess is that they are a lot fewer and far between. Culturally and socially, being an agrarian people, we were still not ready for this consumer oriented industrial living.