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New Social Compact

Untying the Knot: Divorce and Women’s Rights in Islam

Alyssa Benoist

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Many religions have their own guidelines regarding marriage and what it entails. This information, found in religious texts and documents, tends to cover a wide range of marriage-related topics.

Such topics might include dowries, treatment of spouses, the roles of husbands and wives, polygamy, and even divorce. Islam, the second largest religion in the world, covers the concept of marriage and its dissolution in detail. Under Islamic law, otherwise known as sharia law, divorce is permitted, but there are separate rules regarding divorce for men and women. For a man, the manner of obtaining a divorce from his wife can be as simple as a phrase and a waiting period. For a woman, divorce from her husband is a far more complicated ordeal that tends to involve reimbursement to her husband, or sacrificing child custody and financial support. The infringement on women’s rights regarding divorce has been an issue in recent years, particularly as a result of modernization in Muslim countries and the backlash from conservative members of the public who are trying to maintain tradition. In several of the more conservative Muslim countries, there have been cases of women facing discrimination in the divorce process in the form of outrageous requirements or outright denial of divorce. This paper will discuss the subject of women’s rights regarding divorce within the context of Islamic tradition and modern society, as well as explain the current threat to women’s rights that arises from discriminatory divorce practices. This is an important issue in the Caspian region, as fully four of the five littoral nations are Islamic, with a diverse range in terms of secularism.

Divorce existed long before Islam, but according to Jaafar-Mohammad and Lehmann (2011), “The advent of Islam made the divorce process much more favorable to women” (np). This is because Islamic law allowed women to retain their property and earnings, as well as entitled a woman to support and maintenance from her former husband if she required it. Islam recognizes marriage as a contract and because marriage is a contract it can be dissolved through certain procedures. Islamic law recognizes three types of divorce: ta laaq, khula, and tafriq. Mohammed, edited by Greenberg (2008), explains the differences between the three. The first, ta laaq, is a form of divorce that can only be initiated by the husband. To invoke a divorce, the husband can use a verbal pronouncement to state his intention of divorce. However, the husband must undergo a waiting period based off of his wife’s menstrual cycles – typically three cycles – before the divorce can be considered finalized. The second form of divorce, khula (also spelled khul’), is also known as no-fault divorce. A khula divorce can be initiated by the wife, or by mutual consent of the husband and wife. No-fault divorce means that the person asking for a divorce does not need to prove martial misconduct in order to receive the divorce. Merely being unhappy with the marriage is sufficient grounds for ending the marriage. Through the process of khula, the wife “secures the divorce by paying an agreed sum of money, or by repayment of the dowry or part thereof.” The third form of divorce recognized by Islamic law is tafriq. Tafriq relies on the court to order the divorce “either in the absence of the husband, or upon his refusal to consider the wife’s petition.” Only ta laaq and tafriq entitle the woman to any sort of compensation or maintenance from her former husband.

Khula is referenced in both the Quran and Hadith. One of the famous cases in Islam regarding khula was the story of the wife of Thabit bin Qais. The wife of Thabit bin Oais told the Prophet that she did not like her husband and the Prophet asked her if she would return the garden that he gave her as a dowry. When she replied yes, the Prophet had Thabit take back the garden and divorce his wife (Sahih Bukhari Volume 7, Book 063, Hadith 197). This example of khula revealed that women did not need to show any obvious fault or reason for wanting a divorce. The woman only had to compensate her husband for what he had given her. However, as with most religious teachings, modern interpretations of what khula entails and how it is carried out tend to vary by region and state.

In more traditional societies, khula is viewed as having a negative impact and there are several members of these societies that would prefer to see khula laws repealed. Ghalwash (2011) explains the stance of opposition to khula in Egyptian society, writing, “Islamists particularly single out the khul’ law….They argue that this law does not reflect the values and customs of Egypt’s very traditional society….they agree on the fact that the khul’ law is bad for society and must be repealed” (np). Khula tends to be a woman’s last resort for divorce and societies attempting to repeal khula will undoubtedly create dangerous infringements on women’s rights.

Another reason cited as to why academics believe that women face inequality in the divorce process stems from the financial situation of women. Many women in Muslim countries cannot rely on the court for a tafriq divorce, which would grant them financial compensation from their husband. The reason women cannot rely on tafriq divorce can result from any number of factors, such as they do not meet the criteria for obtaining a divorce, they do not wish to wait the lengthy period it takes to obtain the court-based divorce, or they are unfairly denied a divorce based on a conservative or discriminatory ruling from the judge. Women who cannot obtain a tafriq divorce through the court have the option of filing for a no-fault khula divorce in order to end an unhappy marriage.

Khula divorce requires the relinquishment or compensation of funds from the woman and this can oftentimes serve as a deterrent for women wishing to obtain a divorce. In a study of divorced women in Pakistan, Critelli (2012) found “loss of valuable assets was a frequent consequence for the women, leaving them more vulnerable and with few resources to support themselves…. Several respondents lost inheritances of land and other property from their marriages. Others were embroiled in protracted legal challenges because of their husband’s efforts to deny them child support and maintenance.” Women in Muslim countries are oftentimes financially dependent on their husband and therefore do not have the necessary funds to pay back their dowries as required by the khula process. Furthermore, women who are unable to financially support themselves after a divorce because they have relinquished financial support from their husband through khula must instead rely on their family members for financial support. Many women are reluctant or unable to rely on family members because they do not want to be a burden or they do not have their family’s support after going against the social norm in the first place.

Islamic law is often criticized as being too backwards where women’s rights are concerned. In the case of divorce, Islamic law is actually much more liberal in some regards than the Western audience gives it credit for. Divorce is both allowed and acceptable under Islamic law and either the husband or wife can individually initiate the separation. What is far less liberal is the modern-day interpretation regarding divorce found in a number of conservative Muslim societies. But even then there are non-Muslim countries that are just as bad – if not worse – in matters regarding unfair divorce policies. While no divorce system in the world could be considered a perfect system, it is important to alter policies that are unfair against a certain population group. Ignoring the problem not only undermines the institution of marriage, but can also infringe on aspects of human rights. Ultimately, this may be one of the fundamental social issues that four of the five Caspian states need to make improvement on as they all integrate deeper into modern global society.

Alyssa Benoist is the America’s Region Intelligence Analyst for a Silicon Valley Fortune 500 tech company. She graduated with her Master's degree in International Security and Intelligence Studies from Bellevue University in Omaha, Nebraska, USA.

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New Social Compact

COVID-19 crisis: Older persons are the pillars of our society – we cannot leave them behind

Kaveh Zahedi

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Authors: Kaveh Zahedi and Eduardo Klien*

COVID-19 is turning our world upside down, especially for those at the end of the age spectrum. The virus and its rapid spread are challenging science, economy and society—as well as how we care for older persons.  

We know that the risk of dying from COVID-19 increases significantly with age. Evidence from Asia and the Pacific shows that case fatality rates rise markedly by decade for persons between the ages of 50 to 80.  Due to public health measures, many older persons will die alone, without family and friends. COVID-19 has stripped them of their fundamental human rights – including the right to live and die with dignity. 

In Asia and the Pacific, there are 630 million older persons aged 60 years or over. However, it is not only age that poses a higher risk. Older persons tend to be more affected by chronic and non-communicable diseases, making them more vulnerable to succumbing to COVID-19. Those with disabilities are at a particularly high risk since they are often poor, in vulnerable employment without adequate social protection and dependent on others. 

Personal distancing has also had a heavy impact on older persons. Those living alone, particularly older women, may become lonelier and more vulnerable to abuse. Persons with disabilities will be unable to receive assistance. Gatherings of older persons’ associations – an effective tool for their empowerment – are no longer possible. Those confined in care homes remain without the safeguards afforded by regular contact with the outside world. These factors can undermine an older person’s mental and physical health and exacerbate social exclusion. 

Weak social protection and limited access to affordable health care in the region make it less likely for older persons to seek care when showing symptoms of COVID-19.  Informal workers without social protection –which includes most working older persons- cannot afford to self-isolate as it threatens their sources of income. ESCAP and HelpAge International have promoted social protection through universal schemes, including social pensions, as well as access to Universal Health Care. 

Early detection and testing of COVID-19 has led to effective and timely policy interventions. We must ensure immediately that all older persons with symptoms get tested and treated. For those who cannot afford testing, we must provide adequate health care and social protection.   

Although many cases require us to avoid personal contact with older persons, we must reach out to our parents, grandparents, older neighbors and friends to ensure that their basic needs are met. We must engage with them socially, show our respect and assure them how much they matter to all of us, especially in times of crisis. In our interactions with older persons we must be more risk-averse, but not discriminatory.

The post-COVID-19 world will not be the same as before. We know that times ahead will be difficult, unemployment will be high and poverty widespread. While governments in many countries, including in Asia and the Pacific, have announced cash transfers and support to small and medium enterprises (SME) to mitigate the impacts of the crisis, it is imperative that they reach everyone.
 
We must also reduce the digital divide. Access to information and communications technology (ICT) can play a crucial mitigating role during crises, and it must be made available to older persons. ICT can help them manage aspects of their chronic diseases independently, which saves costs and reduces exposure to diseases from visiting hospitals and clinics. Using ICT to diagnose diseases can also help with early detection of disease and in turn early treatment and warning of developing disease hotspots. ESCAP is implementing a project exploring the feasibility of using ICT to support older persons in coping with chronic diseases. HelpAge is also integrating ICT in home and community care projects in the region. 

Timely, reliable and age-disaggregated data are crucial to supporting targeted interventions among older persons. As they face unique challenges, tailored data can help devise more effective responses and longer-term solutions. 

Older persons are crucial pillars of our societies, and their voice must be heard. They are the pioneers who have made the region prosper. It is our responsibility to reduce their vulnerabilities and ensure that older persons live without discrimination.

COVID-19 is challenging our commitment and capacity to leave no one behind. ESCAP and HelpAge work together and stand ready to support member States in responding to challenges, while aiming at policies for ageing societies based on the fundamentals of human rights: equality and dignity for all.

*Eduardo Klien. Regional Director for Asia – HelpAge International

UN ESCAP

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New Social Compact

Covid-19 heightens the risk of child labor, but there is a path to child-labor free cocoa

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Did you know that some of your favorite foods may be produced with child labor? Take chocolate, for instance: 60 percent of its main ingredient, cocoa, is grown in the Ivory Coast and Ghana, where child labor remains widespread.

Due to the impacts of Covid-19, child labor in and beyond these countries could increase. When children are out of school, they are more likely to be engaged in harmful work. Also, virus-induced restrictions could lead to disruptions in the cocoa supply chain, which would cause economic distress among rural cocoa farmers. A recent report by the International Cocoa Initiative compared more than 50 studies looking at how changes in income impact child labor. It found that when household incomes or earning opportunities unexpectedly drop, child labor tends to increase. An example from the Ivory Coast shows that a 10 percent fall in income, due to a drop in cocoa price, led to an increase in child labor by more than five percent. Furthermore, cocoa farmers – like everyone else – face risk of infection, which would affect their ability to work. Children of sick parents or children with only one living parent could therefore be relied upon for all the farm work for their family’s survival.

Remarkable strides have been made in the last 20 years to decrease the number of children involved in child labor worldwide—and the UN Sustainable Development Goal 8.7, which aspires to eradicate all forms of child labor by 2025, has created a new momentum for this pressing challenge.

And yet, the International Labour Organization estimates that a staggering 152 million children worldwide are still involved in child labor today. Most of them, roughly 71 percent, are working in agriculture—work that can be dangerous and exhausting with long hours in the hot sun. The problem is particularly acute in Africa, where nearly half of the child laborers (72.1 million) are found, the majority in agriculture.

This can and must change. But while banning child labor is commonly perceived as the magic bullet, it’s not enough. Years of experience working in cocoa, coffee, tea and other agricultural sectors has demonstrated that a punitive approach to child labor does not empower farmers and their communities to solve the real issue. Instead, farmers may attempt to hide child labor from auditors tasked with checking that they comply with labor standards. This makes child labor harder to detect, and therefore even harder to tackle. At the same time, it is impossible for auditors to monitor all farms every day throughout the year, which is why audits can fail to identify child labor.

So how should child labor be addressed? First, it is critical that all actions are tailored to specific contexts, which may range from small, remote family farms living below poverty lines to big plantations using migrant laborers who may bring their children to help with the harvest and earn a bit extra.

Child labor is a complex issue with different social, economic and political causes. These causes can include lack of access to education, weak enforcement of labor laws, lack of women’s empowerment, poverty and insufficient social protection for the poor. On top of that, a severe pandemic has been added to the list.

It is estimated that a typical cocoa farmer in Ivory Coast, for instance, earns a meagre USD 1,908 a year from cocoa and USD 2,900 from all income combined. This is well below a living income—defined at USD 5,448—needed to afford a decent standard of living. Low incomes can result in farmers keeping their children out of school to work on the farm, as hiring additional labor during harvests can be too expensive.  

It is important to note that not all tasks done by children on farms are considered child labor. To the contrary, work can be positive for a child. Depending on their age, children can perform paid regular or light work or work on their family farm, if this is not dangerous and doesn’t interfere with school. This can be an important part of learning the family business and help ensure future generations of cocoa farmers.

Instead of companies and certification organizations immediately severing the relationship with a farmer when a case of child labor has been found and thus increasing the likelihood that the child will continue to be in child labor and drop out of school, awareness-raising and support can increase the likelihood that the child returns to school and supports his/her family with age-appropriate work in the afternoons and weekends. Imposing sanctions without addressing the root cause can be destructive for farming families and communities. It does nothing to lift farmers out of poverty or to solve child labor.

That is why the Rainforest Alliance, an organization that works to improve farmer livelihoods while protecting the environment, is one of several shifting to a new approach to tackle the global challenge of child labor. The “assess and address” approach focuses on tackling the root causes of child labor; furthermore, it is aligned with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises.

The assess and address approach incentivizes farmers to tackle the root cause of child labor rather than try to hide it. Farms will be required to set up an internal committee that is responsible for preventing child labor, as well as forced labor, discrimination, and workplace violence and harassment. The farms will work proactively on preventing child labor, by researching the local causes of child labor and tackling those causes; by raising awareness about what work children are allowed and not allowed to do; and by monitoring, identifying, and remediating cases. Farms will be able to share information on the progress they are making to prevent and respond to child labor with their supply chain partners and seek further support from them in addressing the issue.

Child labor still won’t be tolerated on certified farms, but an identified case found will not lead to immediate decertification. Instead, farms are required to remove the child from child labor and support the family to prevent the child returning to child labor. This support can vary from helping a family to obtain their children’s birth certificates in order to register for school, to requesting better access to schools and improving the quality of schooling or supporting a farmer to improve the household income.

Obviously, one single organization cannot solve a challenge of this complexity and scale alone. Resolving it requires long-term collaboration between different actors.  

Governments need to ensure that child labor laws are in line with international labor conventions and that such laws are enforced through regular inspections. Governments also need to provide access to free and quality education for children and access to decent healthcare for everyone. Supporting vulnerable families through social protections and income support is also essential.

Many major chocolate companies have been at the frontline of tackling child labor, through child labor monitoring and remediation systems. Others have made good progress in mapping their suppliers down to the farm level, which is a critical first step in identifying the risk of child labor and ultimately eliminating it. It’s also essential that companies collaborate with NGOs and governments on programs that tackle some of the root causes of child labor. Last but certainly not least, paying better prices to help cocoa farmers achieve a living income should be part of the solution as well.

Certification organizations and other NGOs that work on creating more sustainable cocoa supply chains must continue to play their part by stimulating policy change and supporting families and communities to prevent and resolve child labor.

Finally, consumers must do their bit by demanding that brands pay farmers a better price for cocoa and support cocoa communities in farming more sustainably.

Child labor—not only in the cocoa industry, but also in coffee, hazelnuts, and other global supply chains— demands our urgent attention. All of us need to do our part to improve the livelihoods of farmers and farming communities around the world in a way that supports children and lets them access the opportunities they deserve.

Addressing the immediate impacts and further spread of Covid-19 in West Africa is crucial but let this be a reminder that we need to look beyond that and help create more resilient systems for long-lasting change.

Author’s note: first published in WEF

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New Social Compact

Humanity in the age of Covid-19 Pandemic

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“We’ve got to be judged by how we do in times of crisis” –  Johnnie Cochran

Coronavirus pandemic has turned the world upside down. It is causing widespread concern, fear and has had a deep impact on the way we perceive our world -in short it has trapped every spectrum of our lives. But history as documented or experienced tells us that ,crisis situation like this brings out the best and the worst in people .This article emphasis on different facets of humanity in these times of hardships and what should be the vision after conquering it .

Humanity in the gloom of corona

The virus has brought our lives to standstill. Empty roads, masked civilians ,sanitizers have become part of our lives .Time may be smiling to itself ,everything is uncertain ,nothing can be  planned – our lives is just revolving around the question of survival .All these happenings are a mirror to homosapiens .There is need to examine ourselves and ask where we were moving .All the day just busy in our works ,giving too less emphasis on our personal relationships -the foremost reason of increase in cases of domestic violence amidst lockdown ,dividing the society on the basis of cultural hierarchies ,political ideologies ,economic immunities ,considering ourselves as the master of universe and treating nature as our private property ,all this has filled our world with hatred ,lies,isolation,crime and greed .In this wake of capitalism and consumerism humankind, compassion has lost its place somewhere .This virus has made us realize that petty divides doesn’t matter at all. The choices which we will make in these times will not only contribute to our economy and political system but also to the state of humanity.

Scenario of humanity and the way ahead

These days has not only appreciated the need of progress in science and technology but there is also a need of progress in humankind and we have to accept that the  law of nature is paramount. The public perception towards police personnel and doctors has improved drastically ,they are working tirelessly just to save our world despite knowing the consequences .Some Ngos and organizations are trying their best to feed stray animals ,helping economically downtrodden people in maintaining their livelihood .We shod be grateful to the every individual who is  working in these tough times be it a vegetable vendor or a ration shopkeeper or the medical staff members , they are providing services so  that we can stay safe .But when we look at the flip side it shakes the abstraction of humanity ,compassion and fraternity .Some people are not getting themselves treated so that they can spread the disease among the doctors whereas some staffers are taking the advantage of the scenario, molesting women patients and in this wake of “cool capitalism” the situation of migrant labourers are getting worse day by day which clearly displays the economic divide in our country ,the instances of xenophobia ,racism, discrimation ,communal hatred has seen an escalation .Are all these, the signs of a mature society what kind of socialization is this ? but as it is said that hate the evil not the evil doer and to get rid of these evils there is a need to comprehend society from different lenses and then reaching out to the mutual solutions.

With the flashes of hope, positivity and with the efforts of our covid-19 warriors  one day we will definitely conquer covid-19but post Covid -19  we need to assure that this world is of human beings ,fractions should have no place in this world ,humanity must spread to every country ,every city ,every street .The infrastructure ,strong economy ,systematic political system cannot give safety and justice to all .Everything has a reason attached to it, may be it’s a nature attempt to create harmony and balance in this world .Now post Covid -19 ,it will all depend on our rational thinking ,understanding ,the way we transform and interact with the world .To annihilate our inner viruses is the prerequisite for a better world .there must be a belief that one day our hands will get locked ,hearts will be united and before believing on anything we must restore our full faith on humanity. Thus, humans can be locked down but humanity can never ever be.

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