I met a woman recently and heard her life story. We shall call her Mia to protect her privacy. When she was in her early 20’s, she was raped by a drug addict. Not only did her parents not help her seek justice—they forced her to marry the rapist against her wishes. She said her parents cared more about their family honour than her happiness, so she petitioned for divorce as soon as she gave birth to his child, and the Syariah Court granted it. She said that living as a single mother in her community is not easy. She said that women like her are considered to be wanton, and if left unchecked, would be out seducing other people’s husbands. Wanting to make a life for herself and her child, she worked full time for some years and applied for a scholarship to further her studies, and to her surprise, she got it. Her child is about 5 years old now.
However, her mother—unhappy that her wayward daughter gave up her respectable marriage to a junkie rapist to live a life of a disreputable single working mother, forbade her from taking up the scholarship. Instead, she arranged a marriage with someone the community considered to be a good religious Muslim man. Again, Mia consented because she said in her culture, she had to respect her parent’s wishes.
Mia continued working full-time. Soon, she gave birth to a pair of twins but she stayed employed because her husband was not helping her financially despite earning more than her. She sometimes must ask for small amounts (50 bucks or so) at the end of the month just to make ends meet but she said often, she would have to give her husband money to help with his debts. She was expected to be responsible for 100% of housework, cooking and childcare as that was her role as a good Muslim woman. Working full time, she often must buy takeaway for her husband and children with her own money, just to fulfil her role in feeding her family.
She said that the one bright spot in her life was her workplace, where she had a lot of friends. But her husband felt that it is improper for her to be so social and forced her to change her job—and she complied because she said in her religion, a wife must listen to the authority of her husband. She became miserable after that because she has no friends in this new place and her new boss apparently grew to hate her for taking many medical leaves. She took those leaves because she had started seeing a psychiatrist.
Then one day, after 4 years of marriage, she received a call to go to the Islamic Department and found out there that her husband is divorcing her. The reason is because she is not performing her duties at home to his satisfaction. She countered, saying that he did not fulfil his responsibility as a husband and did not give her nafkah. Even when the counsellor agreed that the man had failed in his duty, they still allowed the divorce to happen because, as Mia put it, “It is his right as a man”.
She was pregnant—in the 2nd trimester—with this man’s 3rd child (her 4th) at the time of the divorce. It was agreed that he will buy only milk powder and diapers for the twins, and nothing more. I asked her if she intended to seek for spousal/child support, but she said the process is long and expensive and even if she gets it eventually, it wouldn’t help her when she needed it most. Mia’s mother was furious at Mia for ruining her marriage with this respectable man she arranged and blamed her for shirking her duty as a good Muslim wife.
This is what a misogynistic society does to women. Rapists get away unpunished. Husbands get away with making their wives into domestic slaves while contributing nothing to the family. Women are unjustly blamed, sometimes by their own mothers. I hear variations of this story almost every day.
This is why I am a feminist.
Originally posted as a Facebook update here.