Although divorce is not considered a huge taboo in Pakistan anymore, there are still safety and security issues for a woman living here by herself. Previously, women would face threats and violence, particularly in the more conservative regions of the country. Data suggests that in 2014, cases of ‘khula’ rose to 17000 and are still on the rise. But what exactly is the cause of the ‘taboo act’ in a society that thrives on early marriages and procreation?
A research was carried out and a few people came forward with their divorce stories, suggesting that dowry issues, intrusive In-Laws, the need for freedom and physical/mental abuse topped the list in Pakistan.
SIDRAH: AGED 31, DIVORCED, NO CHILD
[Victim of Emotional, Mental and Physical Abuse]
“For me, my past experiences and traumas have an effect on me choosing the right person. I observe people too closely now, and most of my observing is based on fear. Fear of the unknown, of a man cheating on a woman. I have been a victim of emotional, mental and physical abuse before, and I protect my mental health now. If a person cannot make my life better, I cannot give him any space in it.
Mostly, I haven’t been able to form relationships at work because I want to be professional, even if the other person ends up liking me. I also believe that Pakistanis are not developed emotionally and intellectually. I’ve seen a lot of cheating spouses who think it’s ok to cheat a few months before marriage, because later on ‘they won’t be able to’.
Also, the way men have been taught ‘mard bano’ has taken away their emotional rights, and most of them suppress all their emotions and desires to a point where they become rebels, or harmful and toxic human beings overall. Also, mothers have a huge role to play in all of this: they make sure all their wants and demands are met when these men throw tantrums, and that is exactly how they want life to be when they grow up. Women are not babysitters for these complicated toxically-raised men, and I plan to be with someone who understands my emotional needs more now.”
RASHID: AGED 39, DIVORCED, 1 CHILD
[Doesn’t believe in the ‘Death of Individuality’ after being married]
“I love my freedom, and I don’t want anyone else taking over my life. I want the girl to be independent and have her own space; I don’t want her to move in with me if she’s not comfortable in knowing me first. Also, I would prefer my own bedroom and bath, even if she does move in eventually after Nikah.
I don’t believe that the institution of marriage should make you CHANGE your identity in any way; you should never lose your individuality.
You should be together, but you should not be ‘someone’s husband’ or ‘someone’s wife’. In Pakistan, marriage usually means ‘death of your own identity’, and I strongly oppose it. I believe that men and women shouldn’t have to become ANOTHER person just to be accepted or get married if they’re ‘over age’ according to our society. I don’t believe we can put an age to marriage; if it happens, it happens.”
SAIMA: AGED 33, DIVORCED, 1 CHILD
[Thinks people don’t accept divorced women with kids; and that In-Laws do most of this discrimination]
“I’ve had 3 broken engagements, one marriage that resulted in a divorce, and one child; because of which a lot of people turn down the prospect of getting married to me. Society still has trouble accepting women who are over the age of 30, why would they accept someone with a past tragedy and a grown up child?
Sometimes, I’m able to find a perfect man but then the family creates problems. I have observed that if you are able to provide for yourself and your child, you will not face any discrimination in society and a man will gladly accept you. The problem arises when you cannot sustain yourself.
I have now given up the dream of finding the ‘right man’, and I believe in being self-sufficient so I can raise my daughter to a standard where she doesn’t have to be dependent on anyone, be it a man or her own mother. Society and the country don’t offer much support to divorced or single women so we have to take care of our own selves.”
NEHA: AGED 30, DIVORCED, NO CHILD
[Experienced mental trauma by husband; wasn’t able to procreate in the husband’s ‘required time frame’]
“I got married at the age of 24, and it was the worst experience of my life. Now, I don’t feel the urge to have the same issues and want to take my time with finding a person who understands my emotional needs; and I want to live a little.
I feel that children are a huge responsibility, although there was a time when I wanted 11 kids and a cute, cozy life with a huge family. There was an age I wanted to do all of these things, but now I am fine with being the way I am.
Personally, the society isn’t very sensitive when it comes to procreation. A lot of people INVADE your personal space and keep asking you questions related to you having kids; a lot of friends and family were always inquisitive and it was really hard to tell them that we had been trying. I feel this is something that has been made acceptable all over Pakistan, but it shouldn’t be.
Taking care of my own dog is a huge responsibility for me, and it made me realize that I want to become someone in life before I think about having kids. There are so many friends of mine who have completely forgotten themselves in the process, and they don’t have time for themselves. I don’t want that for myself; and I don’t think I feel the physical intimacy urges either. I am just disappointed overall, even though it’s been two years since my recovering process started.
I have healed myself, but I want to experience life and make memories with my family and friends. Marriage is not something I am looking for at the moment, and that’s alright. Everyone has their own priorities.”
SALEHA: AGED 33, BROKEN ENGAGEMENT, NO CHILD
[Fiancé wanted inheritance of my house; told me to quit my job]
“I got engaged with an old man three years ago, who wasn’t that well-settled and was too dependent on me financially. He wanted me to stop going to work, and I wasn’t going to let someone take away my life that I had worked so passionately for. Since my father is blind, he cannot look after himself and I take care of him. I am a lawyer, and I feel that for me, single life has been so much better because no one controls me and I can live my life on my own terms.
I don’t think it matters what age you get married at, as long as you know that you will eventually settle down once the time is right. Also, I think it is such a big deal for the conventional families in Pakistan, as they cannot accept older brides for their sons. People abroad get married in their 50’s and 60’s, but we have problems even with women who have broken engagements or Nikah’s. Finding the RIGHT person is more important than getting married when you’re young; you’re not some ripe fruit with an expiration date.
I don’t really care about societal pressure, because that ‘old man’ I was with would have soon started asking me for my house and my car, since he was already eating up all of my money. I also feel that in this age I don’t really have a need for having kids, because I just want a good life partner and I want to spend all my time with him.
Unfortunately, every single man in Pakistan wants kids (unless he himself is divorced), and that makes it harder for me to find someone like-minded.”
RAHIMA: AGED 52, DIVORCED, 2 KIDS
[Men don’t accept older, divorced women with kids as ‘partners’]
“I got married with someone I had fallen in love with, and in our times, you stick with the person whom you’re with. I had a broken engagement with the same man, but ultimately we got married. At that time, I wasn’t aware of what his thoughts about everything were, but I was told that he hadn’t wanted to get married this early. We had 2 kids together, but it still wasn’t enough for him as he would lower my self-esteem every passing day; making derogatory comments on my looks and comparing me to other women.
Infidelity was the biggest problem in our relationship, and I wasn’t able to compromise on that. Slowly, we fell apart. Of course, there aren’t a lot of prospects for women who are divorced and over the age of 40, with kids in tow. Though I believe it is only an issue in this part of the world, there have been instances where people have expressed their liking of my personality & character, thinking how I can be this pious even after becoming a single mother and having the freedom to pursue anyone of my choice.
I am happy working for my kids and I do believe I have put my life on hold for a while, till I feel that I am out of all this emotional turmoil. Maybe I don’t need to be married anymore, or maybe I will move abroad eventually; where I can make lots of like-minded friends and finally live happy. I just wish that I had taken the decision earlier; I would have still had a chance to change my life with someone else as a partner. Although I don’t have any regrets, I believe that if you’re not meant to be, you should never stay in a toxic relationship as it takes away who you are and everything you stand for.”
*Names of individuals have been changed to protect their identities.