Divorced women in Yemen
Awatef is a divorced woman living in Aden city. Awatef's name refers to feelings and emotions in Arabic. However , her life presented the sad side of these feelings symbolized with pain , misery ,submission and disempowerment .She is now in late forties , uneducated , unknown and even unemployed , but bright –headed.
She was married when she was twenty years and her marriage lasted for less than three years. She was divorced when she was pregnant with her second daughter . Thus, she returned to her father's home with her two daughters . Now, her daughters are over late twenties , while she remains the same daughter in her father's house receiving an insignificant amount of money (20 $)as an alimony every month. Therefore, her daughters did not finish their education and were off to work in a young age.
There are many "Awatefs" in Yemen as if we can find a divorced woman in each avenue and yet rarely do they speak about their stories of struggle. The stories are spanned about alimony and how it does not fit the life needs for the divorced woman and her predicate, her kids.
One of the few times that I could not write and I feel my mind was blocked was when I decided to write about alimony of divorced women in Yemen. May be it is because this issue has been turned from being a phenomenon to be a habitual fact. Or may be because I see it everyday that I could not write about as it is very obvious. Then , I had a second thought and decided to spot the light on this to share it with women from all over the globe.
The struggle in the Yemeni traditions towards women is that they can not reveal about their suffering as it is considered as breaching the confidentiality of the holy bond of marriage even if they are divorced. They choose to shut the door of any discussions that create any debate or another conflict with the divorcee and again choose to be silent. Alimony in Yemen is a debatable varied issue in courts as it does not have any standard measures. The judge , court and surrounding circumstances of the husband control the amount of alimony. On the other hand , women are forced to receive the little payment to ditch their kids' expenses month after month silently.
In Aden city , there are almost two divorced women in each avenue. Moreover, they stay in their parents houses or if they are lucky enough, they stay in rented houses to rise their kids up by their own. When divorced women are educated , they can work and support themselves. However, it is not the case for every educated women as rising kids is not an easy task for single household mothers. Thus, they tend to work really hard to depend on themselves for living through working for long hours. On the other hand, women ,who can resist the alimony norm , fight aggressively in courts to reclaim their kids rights to get an increased amount of alimony , especially when former husbands can afford for it.
The series continue as divorced women become isolated from the community. They tend to matter only for their own issues as the community does not accept or tolerate with divorced women and tend to sentence them with abandon. On the other hand, men , after divorce, can remarry and start new life. However, divorced women are stigmatized and accused of the fault of divorce. Consequently, rarely do men approach divorced women and propose for marriage and if so , the groom's family will hardly accept the bride or threaten to abandon the man if he insists to get married.
There is a proverb in Arabic saying that the worst woman's opponent enemy is another woman" and therefore, women can be the worst in terms of bothering divorced women. They tend to spread gossiping and blaming divorced women. Moreover, they ask their daughters not to mingle with divorced women ,even if they are at the same age as they claim that divorced women can be source of spreading bad habits and loosening family linkages and threaten the security of other families houses.
The stigma of divorced women does not stay till this level , but goes beyond to affect the kids as well. As family structure in Yemen is very rigid, when proposing for marriage ,both families have to inquire about the other one. Thus , if the bride's mother was divorced, the groom's family might have a second thought on this holy bond as they feel hesitant about their reputation and their daughter in law. Thus , divorced women take the burden on their shoulders and become the reason of their kids' misery in the narrow- eyed community.
Upon these dilemmas that divorced women are drown in, few has been done towards this vulnerable category of women. However, what is needed is an escort-like initiative that accompanies divorced women to empower them. Thus , this can be done through feminist, legal , mental health , social and human rights NGOs, but first they should assist themselves.
Divorced women are in need to realize their situation and work towards a solution that is women based solution that fits their needs. Thus, they ought to establish a network for divorced women. This can be achieved through traditional visitation in the community among women to outreach the divorced ones. Then , when they all meet , they can start an informal support group so that each one of them can speak up about her challenges and weaknesses. In this way, they will have a chance to share experiences and relief the burden. Further, they can assist each other reciprocally through discussing their issues and bringing up solutions.
A second step would be that they can come up with a list of connections of people they know that they can be of great support. This list will help them refresh their resources and never stay frozen. Therefore, this list can encompass women out of the network who could potentially be approached for advocating for divorced women rights ,rise up their issues in courts and advise them with consultations.
As divorced women are stigmatized , this network will bring them a strength that they need to empower themselves. For example , each one of them can teach others a skill that is needed in the marker as cooking , sewing , making and selling pickles and even opening small businesses. Thus, these factors will empower them and make them financially independent and empowered.
After internal and financial empowerment of divorce women , they will need to share their stories with the public in order to break up the stigma. Therefore, those women should approach women associations or even media agencies to speak about their challenges and successes as well as to extend the network with new members in need of empowerment. In this way, they will be able to identify and use their connections to advocate for their issues. Further, this will break the stereotypes of submissive divorced women . Moreover , it will turn them from that image to role modals which eventually will make the community proud of hosting such members.
Do you think it is impossible to empower divorced women through informal support groups? Absolutely not as they are taking place in a spontaneous way. They fill in gaps and bridge them to reach the sphere of security in the community after being a hostile member. And here Awatef has done this alone. She did approached her divorced neighbors , encouraged them to speak and share what they feel. In the morning , she goes to a divorced neighbor to chat with her about what she cooks and ingredients she needs. Then , she asks her how she is doing ,assures her that she is not alone and taps on her back by giving her tips on how to make pickles to be sold. On afternoon, she goes to another one and have a cup of tea with her chatting about kids and school and non-ending expenses. Then , she draws an idea of sewing machine to sew clothes and sell them to shops. It is only the start , but more is hoped towards a friendly community embracing all women including divorced ones as well.
This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future, which is providing rigorous web 2.0 and new media training for 30 emerging women leaders. We are speaking out for social change from some of the most unheard regions of the world.