RAMALLAH, September 1 (JMCC) - Palestinian judges last week announced a change in laws that had prevented Muslim women from requesting a divorce, reports the
No longer will women have to prove mistreatment in expensive drawn-out court proceedings, the new rules state. While women's rights advocates say the changes do not go far enough, they make Palestinian law more liberal than some other countries where Islamic law forms the basis for marriage and other family-related legal issues.
In Islamic law, the relation between spouses should be based on tenderness, love and understanding, said Sheik Yousef al-Dais, head of the Islamic courts in the Palestinian Authority, as he announced the changes Thursday. If there's hatred between them, should we force them to stay together?
Marriage rules throughout the Middle East are based on Islamic law but have been heavily influenced by stricter tribal traditions that erode rights enshrined to women in Islam, such as a dignified divorce. Proponents say the reforms still conform to Islamic law.
Under Palestinian law, women cannot unilaterally demand a divorce. That is still the privilege of men, who can divorce their wives without recourse to a court.
Instead, a woman must ask her husband for permission to end the marriage or go to court and prove he has treated her poorly.
Proving ill treatment often entangled women in years of court hearings as they struggled to produce tangible evidence, like a landlord testifying a husband never paid the rent, or medical certificates proving a woman was beaten. Some mistreatment like marital rape or psychological abuse was almost impossible to prove, judges said.
If a woman asks her husband for a divorce, she must return the dowry and gifts she receives from her husband upon marriage. Some men demand more out of spite: exclusive children's custody, thousands of dollars, apartments -- even ice-cream treats or bus tickets, said lawyers and judges. Or they can simply deny the divorce.
These women are investment projects for men, open to extortion at any time, said al-Dais.
The changes mean women no longer have to prove ill treatment. The Islamic judges who decide divorce cases for Palestinian Muslims will have the power to decide, without evidence, that her marriage is harmful for them. Husbands are also barred from seeking unreasonable sums of money beyond the dowry, and the divorce must be completed within three months.
It is potentially a radical change for women.