Breaking the chains: How Algerian women are initiating divorce in defiance of tradition

5 min read

When Zahia (28) decided to marry, she was fully aware that her husband-to-be, who was a builder, earned a modest salary. However, after a few months of marriage, she became increasingly aggravated that not only was her husband neglectful of their home, but he also relied on her for everything.

Months later, after she had become the mother of twins, her father was still shouldering all of the expenses for her and her family. Unhappy with continuing to live this way, Zahia started to think about divorce.

Talaq vs khul'

Zahia, who lives in the Biskra province in southeast Algeria, has a similar story to many whose experiences are recounted daily in Algeria's courts by women seeking to divorce their husbands. The reason these cases go to court is because it is not possible for married women to demand a talaq (talaq is the main form of Islamic divorce that only men can initiate without going to court), except in specific circumstances. An Islamic court will decide if these have been met.

"Unofficial statistics indicate that over 10,000 khul' separation cases were registered in 2021"

If they do go down this route, women have to explain their reasons to an Islamic court judge after which a series of reconciliation sessions must be arranged before the marriage can be ended. In general, Algerian society rejects the idea that women can initiate the ending of their marriage, especially when this means them talking about the reasons which led them to do so in front of a court judge.

However, Algerian women are finding it much easier to pursue a khul' divorce (where women initiate the divorce by asking their husbands to divorce them), which does not require any justification, instead stipulating that financial compensation be offered to the man by the woman.

Naima Arama, a sociology teacher at Algiers University, and researcher in family issues says: "Khul' has become a common phenomenon, we're not just talking isolated cases." She says to Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, The New Arab's Arabic-language sister publication, that unofficial statistics indicate that over 10,000 khul' separation cases were registered in 2021 – a high number in relation to the number of registered marriages.

Women march through Algiers, Algeria, to mark International Women's Day on 8 March 2021. An increasing number of Algerian women who are unhappy in their marriages are seeking khul divorces [Billel Bensalem/NurPhoto via Getty]

In general, disputes between married couples which are leading to wives demanding khul' separations are linked to issues such as the wife working, or are to do with her salary, or because often the husband will seize her salary.

A psychologist (who wished to remain anonymous) pointed out that there are many factors converging behind women's increasing demands for khul' separations in Algeria. The most important reason is that most are unable to provide the kind of evidence which would be accepted by courts for material and psychological damage caused by disputes between them and their husbands – this evidence would be required for a woman to pursue a talaq divorce.

For example, if a husband is verbally abusive, it is difficult to provide evidence that would be acceptable to the court. With khul' separations, women are allowed to request the divorce without providing proof of harm or giving testimony regarding their motivations.

But men still have the final say...

However, many Algerian men will still refuse to acquiesce to a divorce, even when the woman has offered money in exchange for khul', because of the patriarchal nature of Algerian society which rejects the idea that women can initiate a divorce. That said, these circumstances are prompting women increasingly to request khul' separations, as they give a much easier (if not certain) route to divorce.

"The fact that Algerian women are more financially independent today than in the past has played a role in the rise of khul' in Algeria. Working women are able to support themselves"

Additionally, there are other factors that make a khul' easy in comparison with the procedures for talaq: Algerian law does not oblige the court to arrange reconciliation sessions before announcing a khul'. Instead, the judge simply needs to decide the financial amount the woman should pay.

Many factors play a role in this rise

Consequently, the fact that Algerian women are more financially independent today than in the past has played a role in the rise of khul' in Algeria. Working women are able to support themselves and don't need to continue in marriages that are not only unhappy but are also failing to contribute materially to their living standards.   

Fatiha Bourouina, a journalist, believes that married life today has changed drastically from how it was in the past, and one factor in this change is social media and modern modes of communication, as well as the expectations of couples having changed – old traditions and customs around marriage, are no longer adhered to as they used to be.

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A further factor she mentions is cinema – many of the younger generations are influenced by how love and romance are depicted in films, which doesn't always correspond with reality and thus can lead to problems between couples and actually result in divorces. Bourouina says both sides need to make efforts to sustain and preserve families, in the light of modern pressures which have led to increased strain on both spouses.   

"Divorces are rising continuously to alarming levels, which is posing a threat to Algerian families," revealed Khalafia Fatiha, director of the Algerian Association for Divorced Women's Rights. She indicated that 47,000 divorces were registered in 2014, which rose to 58,000 in 2016 and reached nearly 68,000 in 2018.

This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition. To read the original article click here.

Translated by Rose Chacko   

This article is taken from our Arabic sister publication, Al-Araby Al Jadeed and mirrors the source's original editorial guidelines and reporting policies. Any requests for correction or comment will be forwarded to the original authors and editors.

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