An Egyptian study has found that divorce is on the rise in the Arab world – a trend which indicates a shift in the perception and status of women in these countries.

As modernization slips into Arab society, women have become more educated leading to greater financial independence and an acute awareness of their rights.

“Women are no longer obliged to tolerate abuse like their mothers and grandmothers used to. Today’s women are educated, they work and they occupy high positions in their areas of work,” said Manal Nahas, a researcher on divorce in Lebanon. “There is now equality between men and women.” 

Compounding this evolution is an older average age of marriage for women – from 24 years old a few decades ago – to 32 now. Also, divorce no longer carries the stigma it once did, rendering a woman a social outcast with nowhere to go.

“Women are cherished in their parents’ home before they get married. Therefore, getting a divorce is easier for them than continuing to live in an unbearable marriage. Divorce in Lebanese society is no longer considered a stigma,” Nahas said. “Most parents now re-embrace their divorced daughter instead of rejecting her. There has been a societal change. Almost everyone experiences divorce, as this is no longer considered a hard decision to take.”

According to the Egyptian Cabinet’s Information and Decision Support Center, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, and Qatar had the highest divorce rates among the Arab countries. In Kuwait, 48% of all marriages end in divorce, in Egypt the number is 40%, while Jordan saw 37.2% of all marriages dissolve. The number was 37% in Qatar, and 34% in both the UAE and Lebanon.

Sheikh Wassim Yousef Al-Falah, a Shariah judge at Beirut’s religious court, told Arab News that the “increasing divorce rate is a phenomenon that we have not seen before, although we do not favor divorce and focus on reconciliation.”

“Women no longer feel that they need men,” Al-Falah said. “Many wives have stood before my court, rejecting any settlement with their men because they feel that they are capable of being independent and do not want men to control their lives.”

Al-Falah said his court alone sees up to 16 divorce cases on some days.

Many times women are the ones filing legal requests to divorce, though Nahas noted that is still not an option within all of Lebanon’s religious sects.

“However, the current statistics compiled by the religious courts that handle the personal status of Lebanese citizens and foreigners residing in Lebanon reflect an increase in divorce requests, especially those submitted by women,” she said.

Other challenges have taken their toll on marriage, especially in Lebanon where the severe economic crisis was compounded by the coronavirus.  

“After the quarantine caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, we witnessed an increase in divorce requests,” Al-Falah said. “Some couples discovered that they could not tolerate each other and the rift between them became apparent. The rate of divorce requests increased after the economic crisis intensified; husbands stopped working, the banks stopped cashing out deposits, and soft housing loans were no longer given out.” 

“We are witnessing cases of divorce requests for couples who have lived together for 13 or 20 years, which was not the case before. We can say that divorce rates increased by 35 to 40% in Beirut’s religious court during this year.” Al-Falah said.

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