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Reforms to Palestinian divorce law signal move towards gender equality


Laura Bridgestock
WVoN co-editor

There are signs of progress towards gender equality in recently announced reforms to divorce laws in Palestine, which have until now been representative of an extremely repressive and unjust patriarchal framework.

Reforms to the country’s legislation, based on Islamic law, mean that women no longer have to prove ill treatment in a court in order to divorce their husband.

The reforms also ban men from demanding ‘unreasonable’ sums of money in divorce settlements, and state that divorces must be completed within three months.

While Palestinian men have always been able to end a marriage, women have not had this freedom.

Instead, they must either ask their husband to end the marriage (which he can refuse) or prove ill treatment in court, which is often a lengthy, traumatic – and often unsuccessful – process.

Many husbands who do grant divorces do so only on condition of receiving large sums of money and, in some cases, custody of the children.

New legislation, which should be effective from September, will mean Islamic judges will be able to grant divorces simply based on the woman’s own belief that the marriage is harmful to her.

If fully implemented, this could help many Palestinian women avoid stories such as that of 31-year-old Nisreen.

Having experienced severe physical and psychological abuse at the hands of her husband, Nisreen had to fight for three years before finally being granted a divorce – landing her family with a bill equivalent to the amount the average Palestinian makes in five years and leaving her vulnerable to even more abuse while proceedings dragged on.

During the time her case was being considered, Nisreen says her husband smashed her nose, tore out her hair while using it to drag her across the floor and left her homeless shortly after giving birth.

While the reforms are a sign of progress, there remains much to be done and there are concerns that conservative judges will still be reluctant to grant divorces to women.

Sheik Yousef al-Dais, head of the Islamic courts in the Palestinian Authority and announcer of the reforms said: “We are walking step by step. We want to take a deep breath and see how the street will accept it.”

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