Imagine waking up to something which is meant to hold your love together. Something which is stereotyped as one of the most permanent things in a temporary world, completely gone. This isn’t a rare occurrence in Saudi Arabia. “Secret divorces” are when men choose to end their marriages without informing their wives when, why, or how. This leaves many women without financial security, child care, and alimony.
Starting from January 2019, courts will have to text women, informing them of the termination of their marriage. Women will also be able to view the status of their divorces online, via the relevant ministry’s website. This surreal development was designed to keep women aware of what is happening in their marriage, but it’s honestly extremely strange. “*Ping ping* Your husband just broke up with you!”
For decades, Saudi Arabia has struggled with a sexist, patriarchal society. Although there are very slight improvements (women being able to drive, go to the cinema, and attend football matches), the foundation of almost every aspect of life in Saudi remains male-dominated, and divorces are no exception.
Although on the surface, the idea that a woman remains aware of her marital status may seem sensible, the underlying issue is problematic. That a man may opt to divorce his wife on a whim, without the courtesy of mediation, and her only warning will be a text message, seems ludicrous. This methodology still doesn’t give enough financial and emotional security to Saudi women, and that’s a problem. Nowhere in our merciful religion does it state that a man has the right to leave his significant other, a creation of Allah (SWT), high and dry this way. It’s no better than receiving a bouquet of helium balloons with, “You’re getting divorced!” written in italics.
For an extremely conservative country, Saudi Arabia has a shocking divorce rate. Almost half of marriages are terminated, according to Saudi Open Data, and a lot of them are for arbitrary reasons. Islam reasons that in the event of a pending divorce, it is the couples’ duty to attempt mediation. And yet, Saudi men are permitted to divorce their wives in a manner that basically ensures that the divorce remains under wraps until the unwitting victim is out on the streets. The logic just doesn’t add up.
Additionally, Saudi women can only divorce their husbands with his consent, or if the court believes the husband has genuinely hurt his wife. In a cruel twist of fate, the courts ensure that this is almost impossible to prove because it is particularly hard to prove cases of emotional, verbal, and sexual abuse, causing women to feel isolated and alone. They can’t trust the law, something that was put in place to keep them safe, and yet their husbands rest easy knowing that they can dump their women as they please.
Color me cynical, but something about this power differential seems less about Islam, and more the oppression of the female. And yet, no matter what I think, the reality of Saudi women remains the same: they are at the mercy of their men, and a dreaded text message.