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Battling the stigma of divorce
The divorce rate in Saudi is rising, and women are keen to fight for their rights.
January 5, 2009 10:29 by Dana Moukhallati
The Saudi Divorce Initiative Forum, the first privately organized public discussion of problems faced by women during and after divorce, was held at Dammam in November. Around 150 Saudi women met together to discuss needed reforms that ensure a woman’s legal protections.
Women were given the public space to speak about the issue under the rule of King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz. “He’s supporting women,” said Hind al-Zahid, manager of the Business Women Center.
She called it “wrong” that wives are not required to be present while their husbands divorce them. Adding that some women are not even aware that they have been divorced until much later.
“We’re doing something historic here,” said Thuraya Arrayed, a women’s rights activist who spoke at the forum. Adding “for the first time, we are meeting together to look for a solution for a problem.”
The divorce rate in Saudi Arabia has reached more than 30 percent of the total number of marriages in the year, the Ministry of Social Affairs announced in January 2008. Many argue one of the major factors contributing to the rise of divorce rates is a result of the 1970s oil boom.
The injection of oil money into the Saudi economy in the 1960s helped boost women’s education. However, traditions, tribal customs and attitudes remained the same, including the belief that women should be submissive and undemanding. Some men, experts say, do not know how to “deal” with educated women.
“The Saudi woman joined the work force and has become more educated,” said Fahad al-Yahya, a psychiatrist who counsels married couples. “This has changed their image from the one that prevailed in the past.”
Even though new laws in support of women and children rights have not been set and the old laws are not fully implemented, the forum is a significant step for Saudi women.
Some of the recommendations cited at the forum are:
• A need for marriage counseling services;
• Women’s national identification cards to be recognized in courts as a sufficient form of identification;
• Original copies of marriage contracts should be given to both partners, not just the man;
• DNA results to be relied on if a husband denies paternity of a child;
• Official documents state ‘single’, not ‘divorced’ for women — as is the case with men. (In order to remove the stigma);
• Women should be able to hire female lawyers to represent them;
• A national awareness campaign to remove the stigma of being a divorced woman.