Gaza women fight for fairer, faster divorces

Melhem, Al Monitor, June 14, 2018

A women’s
association in Gaza is fighting to address the glacial legal process to obtain
a divorce and the lack of support for women during those interminable periods. REUTERS/Ibraheem
Abu Mustafa
women take part in a rally ahead of the 28th anniversary of Hamas’ founding,
Khan Yunis, Gaza, Dec. 11, 2015.

West Bank — Rima from Gaza City has been struggling for more than 18
months to obtain her divorce papers from the Sharia Court.

Six years
ago, her husband left for Libya to work there, only to abandon her later
on without divorcing her, leaving her with four boys and one little girl.
The 45-year-old Gazan learned that her husband had married another woman in
Libya when he sent the message through some Palestinians working there.
found herself in a miserable situation: With no money to support her
children, she was dependent on the aid of her relatives. She applied for
assistance from the Ministry of Social Development, which offers divorced women
a $200 monthly allowance. But as she is unable to provide divorce papers or
proof of separation, she has gotten nothing so far.
applied to the court more than a year and a half ago to obtain divorce papers
from my absent husband. My case is still sitting on the shelf there. I also
went to the Women’s
Health Center
of the Culture and Free
Thought Association,
which engaged one of its lawyers to look
into my case. They promised me that I will get the papers soon. I am still
waiting,” Rima told Al-Monitor.
story is similar to that of Tamara, 37, who is also from Gaza City. Tamara’s
story began in 2007 against the backdrop of the Palestinian division and
Hamas taking control of the coastal enclave. Her family was loyal to Fatah, and
her husband to Hamas.
“With the
outbreak of the 2007 clashes in Gaza, my ex-husband used to beat me in front of
people, particularly his family. At that time, my brothers had traveled to
Egypt and I was left alone to endure this cruel life for my son and
daughter,” Tamara said. 
“I left
my husband’s house and lived at my mother’s, who welcomed me after learning
that I was beaten. But my husband refused to give me a divorce until two years
ago when I went to the Women’s Health Center. They got me a lawyer who filed a
lawsuit, and the court gave me a divorce in absentia two years later.”
Women in
the Gaza Strip are often unable to finalize their divorce in the courts because
of all the bureaucracy and legal procedures entailed by a law passed
in 1954
. Judges sometimes delay their decisions to give
couples even more time to rethink the divorce.
is different. If a man chooses to separate from his wife, he can do so
without appearing before a court or providing a legal reason. A woman who
can prove that she is separated — either with written
testimony from her husband that he has departed or testimony from family and
neighbors that he has left her — can ask for aid if she does not have
any income.
A man can
verbally divorce his wife, but the divorce still must
be registered in court where he would have to provide a
legitimate reason for divorcing her. If the woman is the party who wants a
divorce, not only does she not have the right to divorce her husband verbally,
but the grounds on which she can file are much narrower, such as
impotence, absolute poverty and imprisonment. In order to get their husband to
consent to a divorce, many women waive their right to alimony from their
husband, even if they are in need. Instead, they apply for government aid.
In May,
the Women’s
Health Center
launched a campaign to address the slow proceedings
of the courts, and finalization can drag out for 10 years.
campaign is part of an overall program to combat increasing
gender-based violence against girls and displaced women in Gaza, in partnership
with the United
Nations Population Fund
problem of separated women is one of the thorniest and sensitive issues at the
Islamic courts, and some women are left in this grey area for two to
five years. This is a waste of their time and a means to pressure them to give
up their rights,” Manal Makat, the campaign’s coordinator, told Al-Monitor.
stressed that the law applied in Gaza requires women to wait a year, which
is seen as a trial period for reconciliation. Only then can they file a
lawsuit and wait three more years for the long litigation process to
situation is different but no better for women in the West Bank where
hundreds of women have been struggling to get divorced since 2012 when the
Palestinian High Judicial Council’s implemented “khula” — an Islamic
form of divorce initiated by the wife by returning her dowry to the husband.
Several awareness-raising activities
have called on all women to participate in the campaign. In one, several
separated women formed a circle around the name of the campaign that was
written in sand, explaining their reasons to the local media. The
organizers have promoted the campaign over social media
and enlisted the help of legal
to help galvanize decision-makers into action.
face major challenges before courts, whether they want to get divorced with or
without alimony. Many husbands refuse to divorce their wives until they
waive many of their legitimate rights,” Zainab al-Ghonaimy, director of the Center for Women’s Legal Research and Consulting in
Gaza City, told Al-Monitor.
stressed, “The problem lies in the law itself, as it does not allow women
to divorce except for specific reasons such as the husband’s impotence,
his inability to financially support his household, or his disappearance or
imprisonment.” A woman can file for divorce from her husband if he is sentenced
for three or more years in prison, according to Article 96 of the Law on Family
Women who
turn to the courts become entangled in unending legal procedures and
bureaucracy under the discretionary power of judges, who tend to
be extremely patriarchal in handling the cases, according to Ghonaimy. She
believes that many loopholes in the law have to be addressed before women
enjoy the same rights as men in cases of divorce.