By: Alexandra Kinias
It was not just humiliation that Rana Shemaly felt when she was brutally beaten by her husband and thrown into the street in the middle of the night after a confrontation over the extra marital relationship he was having.
“I was raged.” She told me years later. “At moments I feared that my heart would rupture from anger. It was the most profound experience I ever encountered in my life. It was worse than mourning my mother’s death. I not only felt disgraced, cheated and demeaned, but the feeling of powerlessness over my destiny was devastating.”
With no destination in mind, six months pregnant Shemaly wandered the streets in her nightgown, her vision blurred by her tears; her body ached and her mind numb. She never thought to go to the police station. Domestic violence in Egypt is rarely reported. It is viewed as a private matter between a man and his wife that doesn’t require police intervention. Abusive husbands are never punished by the law.
A cab driver stopped to help Shemaly. He drove her to her brother’s house at the other side of town and refused to collect fair, after all she had no money with her.
Shemaly returned back two days later to collect her belongings, but couldn’t get into the house. Her husband had changed the lock. When her brother intervened, the husband allowed her to pack only her clothes under his mother and sister’s watchful eyes. Shemaly didn’t find her jewelry box. Her sister in-law was already wearing one of her bracelets.
Millions of women in Egypt stay in abusive marriages because there is no way out. Those women are victims of a corrupt system that strip them their rights when they choose to terminate a dysfunctional marriage, yet it rewards the abuser. The divorce is a right given only to men. While women battle for years in courts to attain it, their estranged husbands are usually settled in with their second wives.
After years of suffering, the laws in Egypt finally allowed women to divorce their husbands on the condition that they leave behind the community property and return back all money and gifts received during their marriage.
Unfortunately, most of the divorce laws were drafted by men at a time when women were still kept captive in their homes. There is no doubt these laws are biased in favor of men. Until today women still excluded from participating in the drafting of divorce laws.
Over centuries, men became comfortable with the outcome of these laws that were intelligently drafted to assure women’s submission. Since man-made laws could be objected, debated, altered and repealed, such laws always had a splash of divinity attached to their label to appeal to a wider range of people, attract more supporters and become irrefutable.
Women’s rights organizations in Egypt are not idle. They are working very hard to bring changes to women’s lives. But the resistance is overwhelming. It is easier to start wars, invade a country or enforce sanctions on another than it is to issue a law that protects women’s rights. If a civil law is drafted, theologians always find a line in a forgotten book written a thousand years ago to justify why the law should be repealed.
In July 2010, women’s rights associations in Egypt introduced a draft law that included articles that would bring tremendous changes to the lives of millions of women. This draft included a number of issues that ranged between restricting polygamy, alimony, divorce, child support and wealth sharing.
It should not come as a surprise that loud voices are already objecting it on account that it is not only non-Islamic, but it also depicts Western life styles. And as Western life styles should never become a role model in Islamic societies, especially in the areas of restricting polygamy and dividing the husbands’ wealth after the divorce, the opposition for this law is growing.
The battle is still long. For it is not the Western life styles that Islamists are really fighting, but how to salvage the formula of submission that their ancestors had invented and has been enforced upon women for centuries.
Rana Shemaly hopes that such law will soon be drafted so her daughter Zeina who is now in college wouldn’t face a fate similar to hers. Zeina who helps her mother with the catering business that she started after her divorce to support them never gave up the hope yet that one day she might be able to collect the child support that her father never paid. She dreams to use it to expand her mother’s business.
The names have been changed for privacy.