The Ministries of Justice and Social Affairs are putting forward serious and innovative solutions to address the rising number of divorces that are threatening the social fabric of our country. The Council of Ministers is reviewing their proposal to require obligatory marriage counseling courses for young couples before their marriage. Soon the marriage contract will not be issued unless a course certificate is presented. The marital training certificate will be required along with the medical report before a marriage can be officially recognized. This could be a positive development that could change the situation and put an end to the alarming rate of divorce in the Kingdom. However, the ministries must ensure that the counseling courses are conducted by progressive and qualified psychologists or social scientists, otherwise the courses will not achieve the desired goals and we will not see a positive change.
The successful implementation of the proposal could play an important role in providing guidance to young couples. They should be made aware of the duties and responsibilities that come with married life. However, it is equally important to conduct nationwide campaigns to change negative attitudes toward women and promote a healthier family environment. More needs to be done to raise awareness about the sanctity of the institution of marriage and to address the disintegration of the Saudi family.
Statistics of the Ministry of Justice show that in 2011 there were 81 divorces a day, while there were four cases of “khula” a day. (Khula is when a wife demands a divorce from her husband for an agreed amount of money and a return of her dowry.) Official reports also indicate that the total number of all divorces in the Kingdom in 2011 was 34,622 and that 66 percent of divorces took place in the first year of marriage. There was also an increase in the number of khula divorces over the previous two years, with most khula divorces taking place in Riyadh followed by Makkah.
Forty percent of divorces were mainly due to the husband’s refusal to let his wife continue to work and forcing her to quit her job, while 60 percent were due to issues related to the husband’s control of his wife’s salary.
A woman by law cannot work without the consent of her husband; he can stop her from work and choose where she may or may not work. By law, a woman cannot travel without the consent of a male guardian; he can stop her from attending a conference or visiting her family and friends. Many men exploit this rule for their own selfish ego.
Social norms and government restrictions continue to create a lot of unhappy wives and are responsible for the increasing number of divorces and broken homes. In order to enhance the quality of life in the Saudi family, there needs to be a change in the mindsets of people who hold negative attitudes toward women and resist both change and progress.
One in every six women is abused verbally, physically or emotionally every day, and 90 percent of the abusers are usually husbands or fathers. According to research conducted by the National Family Safety Program, most women are not aware of their rights and some men violate religious teachings and follow aberrant customs and traditions.
It is no longer acceptable for the man alone to enjoy a life of luxury while ignoring the needs of his wife and children. Some male-dominated families appear oblivious to the rights of women and deprive them of their privileges. There are even cases when women are not allowed to leave the house in the company of a female relative or friend without the permission of a controlling and domineering husband.
Discrimination against women continues to be a source of a lot of misery for many young women in this country. The segregated lifestyle within one family can lead to a lack of communication and quality interaction among married couples and can deprive them of a lot of family bonding and happiness.
Banning women from driving and not providing proper public transportation is another kind of abuse. It is unfair to neglect women and children and keep them prisoners in their own homes waiting for a husband, who has long working hours, to take them out for a breath of fresh air or a visit to the doctor or a meeting with family and friends.
The law that prohibits a woman from conducting her own business without a husband or male guardian violates human rights. It potentially allows a male member of the family to rob her and dominate her business.
Some Saudi marriages are threatened by the failure of society to adapt to economic needs. Women today need to work so that they can afford a more comfortable lifestyle.
There is growing frustration among women who do not conform to the fundamentalist point of view that supports these restrictions imposed upon them. Moreover, the negative religious message of some preachers who encourage men to marry another wife to be a good Muslim has caused the breakup of many homes and has resulted in creating family rivalry and hatred between siblings. It has also deprived many families of a better standard of life when a father with a limited income has to provide for two families.
Hopefully the Council of Ministers will expedite their approval of the proposal and the Ministries of Justice and Social Affairs will address the social norms and restrictions that are some of the reasons behind the high divorce rate in the Kingdom today.
Samar Fatany is a radio broadcaster and writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.