In a monumental judgment which protects women in abusive marriages, a Supreme Court bench has ruled on a case and said that a woman who suffers physical or psychological mistreatment has the right to divorce and the payment of maintenance for her and her children by her husband. The case, which first went to the courts in 2015, was taken to the Supreme Court by a woman who had been given a similar right by a family court, but this ruling was later turned down by appellate courts including the Peshawar High Court. According to estimates by local and international agencies monitoring the rights of women, somewhere between 70 and 90 per cent of married Pakistani women suffer abuse of one kind or the other.
The recognition that psychological humiliation and abuse is incompatible with marriage is an especially important one in this situation. For social reasons, far too many women are reluctant to move for khula or initiate divorce proceedings. Given our social realities, the orders that the husband must pay for the health, living and education of his children as well as money to his former wife are significant as well. The Supreme Court bench cited the Holy Quran to back the verdict and pointed out that marriages revolve around compassion and mutual respect. This is a poorly understood concept in a country where domestic violence runs rampant.
This is a very timely verdict by the Supreme Court, and one hopes marks the beginning of more justice for women trapped in abusive households. Of course, there are still enormous hurdles that need to be crossed. Many women are reluctant to part ways in a marriage simply because of the stigma they face. There is however a rising level of awareness in the country that living in abusive circumstances is not necessary. More and more women are standing for their right to not tolerate domestic violence. Other basic rights such as the paying of the dower on demand of the woman should also be upheld both under religious and legal mandates. The Supreme Court has set out a path. We can only hope that from this point on, it will be followed by other courts and that this will give women the courage to go to court and state that they are suffering verbal or psychological abuse so that the justice system finally starts delivering for the women of the country.