..::Divorce….a cruel blow to Pakistani women

Zahida Ilyas looks  every inch the demure Muslim woman, dressed from head to toe in black, her face  ringed by a head scarf, the epitome of outward modesty.

Then her eyes  flash and her jaw hardens as she recounts how she was beaten dozens of times,  saw her husband take away their five young daughters, divorce her without  telling her and leave her with nothing, least of all her dignity and  confidence.

“He could kill me and no one would care,” Ilyas, 32, said.  “The police, courts, they’re all on the men’s side. No one listens to us.”

With divorce and domestic violence on the rise in Pakistan, all too often  women are dealt a doubly bad hand, family experts say.

Women have little  say when the man wants out, yet little way to leave if he’s abusive and wants to  keep her put.

Although statistics are difficult to come by in Pakistan  and are often unreliable, the Aurat Foundation, which tracks women’s issues,  found 608 police reports of domestic violence in 2009, compared with 281 in  2008. Experts say most cases go unreported. Violence in marriages may be as high  as 90%, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan says, with most women unaware  they’re being abused.

On paper, Pakistani family law is among the more  progressive in the Islamic world, although there’s still no statute on domestic  violence.

But corruption, weak implementation, patriarchal thinking and  legal gaps often leave men holding all the cards.

“The major problem is a  feudal mind-set,” said Zia Awan, head of the Madadgar Helpline, which helps  women in crisis. “Women are treated like chattel.”

When Zahida Ilyas  married her husband, Mohammad, a distant relative, in Lahore in 1999, she saw a  bright future, she said, fingering a cardboard album with snapshots of their big  day, her in pancake makeup, him wreathed in red flowers, cuddling on the wedding  platform.

They hadn’t spoken before the arranged marriage, and she  blushed serving him tea, she recalled, dreaming of a loving household filled  with happy children. “I had great hopes,” she said.

They had three  daughters in rapid succession. When Mohammad lost his sales job in 2004, his  parents stepped in to support him, and he started spending more time with his  folks.

He started beating her, she said, blaming her for not having a  boy. Her mother-in-law also abused her, she said, at one point kicking her so  hard she had a miscarriage.

In 2004, they had a boy, Saim. But things  only got worse, probably because, she said, her husband now had an heir and  didn’t need her.

Shortly after their sixth child was born last summer,  Mohammad moved out and went to live with his parents. In September, when she  went to ask for rent money, she said, he emerged with a pair of scissors and  slashed her wrist.

She started attending a teaching workshop. With no  money for baby-sitters, she would leave their infant daughter with her in-laws.  One day in October, she arrived at the house to find her husband, in-laws and  five daughters gone, his parents’ house shuttered. She still has her son, who  was in a different school when her husband made his getaway, she said.

She was unable to pay her rent, and her landlord threw all her belongings into  the street soon after. She managed to get the landlord to relent, but she  continues to live hand to mouth. She sits in a two-room apartment, mattress  upended, bed broken, clothes strewn on the floor. She can’t afford cooking gas  or food. “I’ve been turned into a beggar,” she said.

She discovered  several months later that her husband had filed for divorce in August without  her knowledge, let alone uttering the word “talaq” to her and waiting out a  reconciliation period, as required for Shiite Muslims to divorce.

She  eventually learned where her husband was living and tried to see her daughters  — Thooba, 10, Fiza, 9, Maliha, 6, Maryam, 3, and Maira, 7 months — but he beat  her again, she said. She shows a hospital report that lists “multiple contusions  on leg and shoulder.”

Her son often asks where his sisters are. He  doesn’t want to go to school, fearful of being snatched, she said. Her husband’s  lawyer has told her that the family will get custody of the boy legally, she  said.

Many of the details of Ilyas’ story could not be verified, although  family counselors said her account was not unusual. Pakistan ranked 124th out of  the 155 nations in the 2009 U.N. Gender Development Index, a measure of women’s  position in their society.

Mohammad Ilyas, reached by telephone, said he  was divorced under civil and Islamic law, with all procedures followed. He said  his wife handed the daughters over to him a year ago, voluntarily. The girls  opted to live with him and are happy, he said. The boy chose to stay with his  mother.

“She threw knives at me, even a bottle, and tried to hit me,” he  said. “I never beat her, was only unemployed for a year and even then gave her  $50 a month.”

He said he is willing to discuss their financial  differences, but he wants witnesses. “I don’t trust her,” he said. “She always  lies.”

Divorced women are such pariahs in society, Zahida Ilyas said,  that she’d get back together if his mother would stop meddling and he’d get a  job.

She knows the safe thing would be to take her son and go live with  her parents in Lahore, but that would mean never seeing her daughters again, she  said.

“I don’t know what to do,” she said. “Do I go light myself on fire?  And if I did that, who would take care of my son?”

She’s heard her  husband has a new wife. Early this year, she got an anonymous call. “Don’t try  anything or we’ll kill you and your son,” the voice said.

“It makes me  very scared,” she said. “I pray to God for confidence.”

Many of the acts  she says her husband committed contravene laws, regulations or religious  traditions in Pakistan, which has a reasonably good legal framework, experts  said.

Fathers aren’t allowed to take daughters from their mother before  puberty or sons before age 7 unless their mother is a drug abuser or mentally  incompetent. Women have certain protections under inheritance laws, and sexual  harassment is illegal, including marital rape.

“The law is not half bad,”  said Ali Dayan Hasan, South Asia researcher with Human Rights Watch. “How it  plays out, however, is a different world altogether.”

In reality,  ignorance, economics, intimidation, manipulation and the old-boys club all work  against women, as does the writing of the marriage contract, often done by the  man’s side. Women who discuss divorce before marriage, particularly in rural  areas, are seen as jinxing the union.

Men also have significant leeway to  influence local rulings, forge documents and intercept notices. “Men can get  away with what they want,” said Khawar Mumtaz, head of Shertaz, a charity group  working to educate women on their rights.

Calls by women’s groups and  others to reform the system and strengthen enforcement tend to be batted down by  religious conservatives. In response to calls for a domestic violence law, for  instance, fundamentalists initially denied any problem existed and now argue  that it doesn’t address the problem of elderly male abuse and would only  increase divorce.

“The religious community always resists reform,” Mumtaz  said. “From their perspective, a woman who gets more rights will become wayward,  whatever that means.”(latimes)

Source: http://www.defence.pk/forums/current-events-social-issues/51826-divorce-deals-cruel-blow-pakistani-women.html#ixzz1wGKGTyR1

 

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